Once the lights went down at the Shrine Expo and PJ Harvey’s band marched in to the drumline of “Chain of Keys,” a scathing view of an excursion through war torn Kosovo, it was clear that PJ’s long awaited return to LA was towing a message of social disparity with it. The last time PJ Harvey played a club show in Los Angeles was in 2009 at The Wiltern, prior to her 1st real foray into political rock, which featured a set list with subject matter that was quite demurer.
The politically charged set list doesn’t come as a particular surprise as PJs last two albums have seen her delve into World War I through the eyes of England, and more recently given us a musical tour of the disparity and decimation taking place across the world and in our own backyards. What was a bit unexpected was hearing every single song from her new album The Hope Six Demolition Project, albeit shuffled up into a few different segments and not all the way through. For a woman whose catalog spans back about 25 years to only play a handful of songs that weren’t on her latest two projects speaks to where PJ is both mentally and musically these days. I’m apprehensive to say gone are the days of PJs tongue-in-cheek, punk as fuck, rock for the sake of rock anthems; let’s just say she’s put that persona on the shelf in favor of a more serious attitude.
That’s not to say this show, or PJ’s last two albums, are downers. One of PJ’s many gifts is the ability to set weighty lyrics to music that not only diffuses the blow but acts as a digestif. It’s a monumental task to get people to be aware about the world that exists outside their own arms reach, let alone to dance to music about its condition. But the delicate balance of delivering a somber message in a passionate way that doesn’t feel preachy is exactly what PJ has showed on her last two albums, and again was a theme this night at the Shrine Expo Hall.
Whether or not PJ Harvey will continue her journey impugning past and present political states through her music is impossible to know. What’s clear is whatever direction she’ll move in will be delivered and cleverly handled. Whenever the next opportunity is to see this member of rock royalty, it will be thrilling to see.
Words & Photography: Ben Irwin