PJ Harvey | Brixton Academy | 30 October 2016
There’s been nothing ordinary about the creation of ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’. The politically charged songs were written during exploratory trips to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington. The recording sessions were treated as an art installation open to the public. And, now, the shows of the accompanying tour are more performance art than sweaty gig.
There’s no support act, just gear illuminated on an otherwise empty stage. Each song ends with a fade to black or the musicians holding a pose. And there’s no breaking the fourth wall – or any acknowledgement of the audience – until Polly Harvey introduces the band at the end of the main set, and later smiles “thank you” after the encore.
Instead, there’s an emotionally charged performance of the new album – out of sequence – and powerful re-imaginations of back catalogue highlights by nine mercurial backing musicians. Harvey, who sometimes joins the brass section on saxophone, sings – and moves – with real intent throughout, clearly feeling words like “This is how the world will end”, “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”, and “Seven or eight thousand people killed by hand”.
The minimalist staging – including Brutalist concrete-style backdrop – by theatre director Ian Rickson and lack of between-song banter only amplifies the power of the lyrics and music. So, the jagged ‘50 Foot Queenie’ sounds truly visceral, ‘Down by the Water’ utterly haunting, ‘Let England Shake’ powerfully seismic, and the set closing ‘Is This Desire?’ simply heartbreaking.