It may have been a day early (4/19), but an unmistakable trail of pot smoke lined the blocks on the long walk to Terminal 5, as if showing the way to PJ Harvey.
Without an opener to help ease the tension, the excitement level steadily rose as the large room filled to capacity. When she finally walked out on stage at around 8:45, the crowd's reaction caused vibrations in the floor. Intermittent bursts of "I love you, Polly Jean!" and "I will give you my firstborn child!" rippled through the crowd as if the audience as a whole had instantaneously given over to bouts of turrets.
Harvey wore an ankle-length, long-sleeve white dress, hiked up just enough in front to reveal large, black lace-up boots. A majestic (if not a morbid) black-feathered headdress topped off her look and called attention to both her beauty and her eccentricity.
With an autoharp cradled in her arms, Harvey and her three-man backing band wordlessly launched into "Let It Shake," the eponymous first song on her latest album (which is out now). Though she attempted to maintain a low profile on the far left side of the stage, all eyes were on her. Her striking appearance transformed her into mythical creature (whether she was a messenger of hope or a harbinger of death was uncertain).
As predicted, references to her motherland of England were many. Normally, such brazen patriotism would be a deal-breaker (even though the references aren't solely positive or nostalgic), but Harvey gets a free pass even with the obnoxious (some may say triumphant) bugle sample in "The Glorious Land." The new material is lively and well executed... and at least she's not singing about America.
Harvey breezed through the set, stopping only to briefly introduce her band mates. In an age when the passing thoughts of friends and stars alike are highly accessible thanks to sites like Twitter and Facebook, it's kind of refreshing to behold an artist who still manages to hold onto the mystique - even after twenty plus years as an award-winning musician. (To be fair, back in 2009, PJHarveyUK did tweet exactly one time. Doesn't lool like she wrote it though.)
But then as quickly as it had all began, the spotlights suddenly became brighter and everyone on stage stepped forward to bow. It seemed like no time had passed at all when in reality, Harvey had played nearly twenty songs.
After a break back stage, the group returned for a three-song encore of older songs. When she walked off stage for the second time, even the sound engineer seemed to be willing her to come back. Instead of immediately queuing up house music, the only sound for over ten minutes was the cheering and chanting of fans desperate for one last song.
The full setlist and more pictures from the first of two sold out nights at the Manhattan venue (the second show is tonight, 4/20), below....
Let England Shake
The Words that Maketh Murder
All and Everyone
The Guns Called Me Back Again
Written on the Forehead
In the Dark Places
Sky Lit Up
The Glorious Land
The Last Living Rose
The Pocket Knife
Down by the Water
Hanging in the Wire
On Battleship Hill
The Colour of the Earth