PJ Harvey on Tour – a Review

Not long into this new dvd release Polly Harvey confesses to hating the average live album or dvd. She says her aim with this dvd was to do something different, a ‘patchwork quilt’ of images and sounds. ‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is certainly different to most other dvds of this kind, whether or not it achieves Harvey’s goal of making an authentic live document, rather than a ‘slick package’, is another matter.

The disc features sixteen songs from PJ Harvey’s ‘Uh Huh Her’ tour in 2004, representing, one assumes, a typical PJ performance. However, rather than just run through a show from start to finish, this collection pieces together snippets of different performances, even slipping from one to another mid-song. Interspersed with the songs are various behind-the-scenes clips – sound checks, rehearsals, interviews, backstage drinking competitions.

PJ Harvey has always shone as a live performer, and her efforts here are as good as might be expected. She swaggers, shakes, pouts, howls – in fact, the transformation from quietly spoken, shy Polly, as seen in some of the interview footage, to sexy, dangerous PJ on stage, is quite remarkable.

The songs from ‘Uh Huh Her’ in particular (which sounded somewhat muted on cd) are especially good. Other highlights include ‘Dress’, ‘Down By The Water’, ‘Victory’, ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ and ‘Harder’. Most of Harvey’s albums are represented here although, surprisingly, there is only one song – ‘Big Exit’ – from her most successful album, ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’.

While Polly is undoubtedly the focal point of proceedings, she is ably supported by an enthusiastic young band. Guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer, plays as though either blind drunk or in the midst of convulsions (or both) – he staggers, stumbles, falls over; while the Mohawk-haired bass-player, Dingo, stalks the stage like a man possessed.

Long term Harvey collaborator and director, Maria Mochnacz, has chosen to shoot the dvd in a variety of ways – fuzzy focus, grainy black and white, stark documentary-style realism. She also tries to capture the performances from as many angles as possible – front, back, above, below – even from cameras mounted on the instruments themselves. Altogether, this enormous range of shots helps to achieve PJ’s ‘patchwork quilt’ of images.

The only thing I did wonder about this approach – the melding together of so many different shots, from different locations and different performances – was the distance of the finished product from the original live show. The end result sometimes more closely resembles a promotional video rather than a live performance.

The ‘bonus feature’ on this dvd release is a 30 minute interview with PJ Harvey, during which she offers insights into the ‘Uh Huh Her’ project – recording techniques, artwork, working methods and so on. As Harvey has offered little in the way of such things in the past, it is all fascinating stuff.

‘PJ Harvey On Tour’ is an entertaining and insightful dvd release from one of the most original singer-songwriters of the last 10-15 years. Of course, it doesn’t come close to actually seeing PJ in concert, but then nothing does…


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