If you could tune out cheers from the sold out crowd, PJ Harvey’s stop in Richmond felt distinctly funereal. But as it was, it seemed a darkly joyful proceeding, an end-of-the-world party with Harvey and her nine piece band as the horsemen ushering in the demise of all things.
The National was among the band’s first stops touring off of her latest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. A mix of fans young and old stood outside in the drizzling rain, filling the venue long before she hit the stage.
Harvey and her band entered as a march, a slow and steady dirge playing, leading into “Chain of Keys.” Beginning the show on saxophone, her new instrument of choice, Harvey stood on the back line with the horn section before stepping to the mic.
With sax in one hand while singing, Harvey reached her hand palm-up to the audience like an offering, other times, she passed her hand in front of her eyes, as if narrating the passing scenery of the D.C. city block in songs like “Community of Hope.”
Though she could complacently play the hits for years, Harvey has consistently evolved her sound into new and exciting directions, and accordingly, her setlist and performance change night to night (and vastly different from album to album).
Nevertheless, the crowd was just as enthusiastic to hear new singles like “The Ministry of Defense” and “Community of Hope” as Harvey’s older hits; though, of course, the beginning strains of songs like “Down by the River” elicited shrieks and screams of recognition by their first few chords.
Their inclusion wasn’t a record scratch from her new material, a conciliatory move for the audience’s sake, but a seamless transition, a collection of songs chosen not only for their belovedness but how well they meshed with Harvey’s new songs.
Older, blues rock numbers like “50 ft Queenie” were met with similarly raucous cheers, but the song’s inclusion felt like a natural high point for the set.
“We were all really excited by the crowd,” said John Parish, Harvey’s longtime guitarist and collaborator, after the show. “As a band, you feed off that energy. It was really great.”
Parish not only noted the enthusiasm of Richmond, but also his and Harvey’s own connections to the city via Mark Linkous, otherwise known as Sparklehorse. Harvey and Parish both collaborated on Linkous’ 2001 album It’s a Wonderful Life.
Parish also appeared in the documentary The Sad & Beautiful World of Sparklehorse, recounting his friendship with the late Linkous, who died 2010.
So if this is the “way the world will end,” as Harvey sings in “Ministry of Defence,” then it can’t be so bad.
Chain of Keys
The Ministry of Defence
The Community of Hope
The Orange Monkey
A Line in the Sand
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
The Glorious Land
Written on the Forehead
To Talk to You
The Ministry of Social Affairs
Down by the Water
To Bring You My Love
Is This Desire?
photos by Craig Zirpolo