PJ Harvey’s Voice Is a Weapon

April 21st, 2011

PJ Harvey – Terminal 5 – April 20, 2011

PJ Harvey - Terminal 5 - April 20, 2011
Looking a bit otherworldly in a floor-length white gown with a flurry of black feathers atop her head, PJ Harvey hugged an autoharp to her chest and gave a small nod to the crowd at the start of the second of two sold-out shows at Terminal 5. Touring in support of Let England Shake, her new record inspired by the history of conflict and war, Harvey’s set contained songs full of arresting imagery, tales of violence and destruction and ruminations on death.

Despite the serious subject matter, Harvey and her band, comprised of album-collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty, set a tone that was anything but somber. In fact, the show was largely lively, with intricate guitars and upbeat drums complementing Harvey’s sound, which at times recalled hints of Nick Cave, Kate Bush, Björk and Tom Waits. Numbers like “The Words That Maketh Murder” and “C’mon Billy” highlighted the nice contrast between Harvey’s delicate voice and the appealingly gruff, soft-edged backing vocals from the male musicians.

Harvey alternated between autoharp and electric and acoustic guitars throughout the set, but perhaps the most engaging moments of the evening came when she sang empty-handed, during songs like “The Devil” and “Pocket Knife,” slowly and gracefully swaying to the music, letting the focus rest on her powerful voice as it moved from bright and operatic to deep and throaty. Although Harvey sings about the extreme power of tanks and guns in her new songs, at Terminal 5 last night, her voice was perhaps the most powerful weapon of all. —Alena Kastin

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood |