PJ Harvey: Hope Six Tour Review

22 January 2017

ICC Sydney

As much a theatrical performance as a musical one, this show is high concept.

Accompanied by a ten-piece band with sections of brass, keyboards, and drums, the show is themed entirely around the newest album, Hope Six Demolition Project. It’s a profoundly dark and politically-infused protest.

The sound is bluesy, brassy and percussive. The show begins with the band in a single file, drumming, then opens with Ministry of Defence, a wall of amplified guitar. It’s loud but nuanced. Polly’s vocals are masterful and she soars over the industry sounds and the male voices to pierce the rafters—pitch perfect, every note. One forgets what an extraordinary vocalist she is.

The lyrics are vivid and disturb. For example, this from Ministry of Defence:

Broken glass

A white jawbone

Syringes, razors

A plastic spoon

Human hair

A kitchen knife

And a ghost of a girl

Who runs and hides

Scratched in the wall in

Biro pen

This is how the

world will end

And the druggy zombified wasteland of Washington DC’s Hope Six and Ward 7, in Community of Hope:

Here’s the highway to death and destruction

South capitol is its name

And the school just looks like shit-hole

Does that look like a nice place?

Here’s the old mental institution

Now the homeland security base

And here’s god’s deliverance centre

A deli called M.L.K

Subtle it’s not.

The set is drab. The costumes are black. Polly has strips of material billowing from her arms, black feathers, and a hornlike tiara, like some mythical creature of the underworld.

The music and the set imagery is Kieferesque. A prefabricated wall serves as a looming warlike industrial backdrop for the murky yellow, grey, and blue light projections. 

The bevelled squares in the wall also casts shadows that, by turns, cushion or entrap.

Where Kiefer referenced World War Two, Harvey references are Kosovo, the United States, and Syria.

The performance is tight and seamlessly executed, with few and small pauses only to reconfigure the players and lighting. It’s like watching a very good version of a Samuel Beckett play. The set direction and stagecraft are impeccable.

After the first hour of new material from the Hope Six demolition album, we get served an obliterating 50-Foot Queenie, which got everyone jiggling in their seats, and Down By The Water. The encore was Route 61 and Is This Desire?

PJ is less a musician than an artist who uses the medium of music and theatre. She’s a powerhouse who can transform completely from one theme to another, but not within the same show.

This is not cheeky, sexy PJ. This is a darker and edgier PJ than we’ve seen yet. And it’s electrifying. I am still fizzing. And I will be for some time.

This performance confirms her place as one of the great musician artists of our time.