Thursday, 30 April 2009

PJ Harvey & John Parish @ Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 26 Apr

PJ Harvey and John Parish @ The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 26/04/09
live review for the skinny

Tom Brosseau (**) is no frills, defined. White tucked-in-shirt, straight jeans, side-parted silver hair, guitar, man. Brosseau keeps it so minimal, he barely even plays chords. The hushed Queen's Hall is a dream for a musician of his persuasion, who demands the kind of close patient attention that drunks in most other venues wouldn't afford. His voice is compelling, as feminine as Nina Simone's is masculine, and young like it's barely been used - indeed, his gentle between-song burr suggests it rarely is. Problem is, such spare arrangements focus more attention on the lyrics than they can bear. A songwriter with lines like "I like it when the colour bleeds, I don't like watermelons 'cos of the seeds" frankly needs to obscure them with noise, not highlight them with quiet. Unfortunately, the closer you listen to Brosseau's words, the more they seem like empty parcels wrapped in shiny paper.

PJ Harvey and John Parish (****) tear the house down with every song, but that reaction seems to be more in reverence to the barefoot Polly Jean than to tonight's songs as such. They're jointly billed, of course, so we can't complain that PJ doesn't play a single solo song - but her work with JP just isn't quite as strong. Tonight's setlist is hit-and-miss, but when it's good it's great. PJ's voice is impeccable - she sings creepy new song Leaving California so high she's almost whistling; she's subtly controlled but forceful in the aggressive biters; and theatrical final song April is revelatory. Cowering over the mic, eyes closed and still, she sings like a frail and frightened old lady, before the staid and steady musical background gathers life, allowing PJ to throw off her elderly shackles and exult "I dream!" like a woman reborn. Come back soon Polly Jean, and mind to bring that other songbook along too eh?

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