Review: PJ Harvey, Edinburgh International Festival, The Playhouse

‘Shamanic’, ‘utterly enthralling’, ‘incredible to behold’ and ‘more or less perfect’. These were just some of the epithets thrown the way of Polly Jean Harvey following the first of her two-night residency at the Edinburgh Playhouse.

The second of the mercurial Ms Harvey’s two sold out EIF shows at the Greenside Place venue was no less spectacular.

Performing tracks from her latest critically acclaimed album,  The Hope Six Demolition Project, as well as material from a formidable back catalogue, Harvey and her nine-piece band delivered a show that will live long in the memory of all those in attendance.

She may be the only artist ever to have won the Mercury Prize twice, but there was no gimmicky grand entrance for this girl. Indeed, it was only when the instrumental introduction of Chain Of Keys finished that the singer stepped forward from around the other musicians and took centre stage – saxophone in hand, her jet-black hair sculpted into small devil horns.

Harvey used her incredible voice to its fullest range as she unleashed an almost limitless arsenal of musical ideas on the audience, but this was very much a group effort. The Dorset-raised singer-songwriter has always surrounded herself with some of music’s most gifted performers, and her current ensemble of multi-instrumentalists – which includes Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ Mick Harvey (no relation) and long-time collaborator John Parish – are no exception.

As expected, the setlist was heavy on The Hope Six Demolition Project, with glorious takes on the richly textured likes of The Ministry Of Defence, The Community Of Hope, Dollar, Dollar and the aforementioned Chain Of Keys, but Harvey also threw in some gems from her Mercury-winning Let England Shake album – including the title track, The Last Living Rose and The Words That Maketh Murder.

She may have entirely left out songs from Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, which also scooped British music’s most prestigious prize, but there were plenty of other highlights to be had.

White Chalk, To Bring You My Love, River Anacostia and the set-closing Is This Desire? were particular standouts.

All told, it was incredibly powerful stuff from one of the best musicians Britain has ever produced and, quite fittingly, Harvey and her band received two standing ovations before departing the stage.

‘Shamanic’, ‘utterly enthralling’, incredible to behold’ and ‘more or less perfect’. All that, yes – and then some.

Words: Gary Flockhart

Leave a Comment