If you’re going to see PJ Harvey in 2017, try to see her under the stars, where the sky can brood as purple-black as she does. That may not be possible many places, but in Los Angeles it is, and to hear Harvey’s towering indictments and witness her stoic performing persona while simultaneously looking up at trees and stars felt like a juxtaposition dreamed up in one of her vivid, visceral songs. Watching Harvey is an unusual experience, because in an age of social media oversharing, she remains completely closed off on a personal level. She may be opening up herself artistically with complete intimacy, and a deadset earnestness, but we get little access to Polly Jean herself. Perhaps, that’s been the better route all along.
At the Greek Theatre on Friday night, Harvey held court over a venue brimming with die-hard fans of all ages, who have been converted by her abrasive, unrelenting punk from 1992 onward. For the last twenty five years Harvey has helped carve out a space for female anger in rock that practically didn’t exist before her emergence. On the way in, clusters of young people smoked joints in corners, bootleggers offered $10 knockoff tees, and dignified-looking elders made their way into Griffith Park to take their seats before Harvey’s stage. There was no unifying demographic or aesthetic, her fans are as diverse as her many, consistently different records.
Polly Jean Harvey takes herself very seriously, and this self-seriousness is born out into every element of her live show. It’s there in her regal, imperious vocal delivery, and the way she preens and struts all over the stage, wagging her plumed feather headpiece like a crown. Harvey is 47, but she seems to have the energy and physical force of someone two or even three decades younger, and she carries the brunt of the show’s energy with haughty ease, stomping around the stage in enormous over-the-knee black boots that look like they were made for exactly such purpose.