Happy birthday, dear PJ

Last night I saw PJ Harvey at Avalon. And when I say “saw,” I mean experienced, in the form of a gorgeous gut-punch. The night started less promisingly, with a quick set from Moris Tepper, which I mostly missed but which made me think fondly of a time, before artists like Tepper, when tuning one’s voice to the same key as one’s guitar was still important. (His songs sounded good, but the effects on his mic spread his vocal pitch over a minor 3rd around whatever note he was actually singing.)

Then PJ took the stage, and the whole thing kicked up a notch. Opening with “Who the Fuck” and “The Letter” from her most recent album, she dropped in and rocked hard on “Dress,” which I have been waiting about twelve years to hear live and which lived up to all my inflated expectations. Other songs on the list (not in order) included “Me Jane” (!) “Meet Ze Monsta,” “Down By The Water,” “A Perfect Day Elise,” “Gun,” “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” “Good Fortune,” “Shame,” “You Come Through,“ Surprises included “Janet Vs. Johnny,” “Taut” (from the collaboration with John Parish), “Harder” (the B-side), and “Cmon Billy” (played solo by PJ, with only a guitar bigger than she was to accompany that big big voice).

The overall sound, with a drummer, one guitarist cum drummer, and one really heavy bassist backing PJ, was bass heavy and menacing, and really tight. By total contrast, the chorus led by two guys behind me of “Happy Birthday” that greeted PJ when she returned for the encore was ragged but moving—she actually waved a birthday hat above her head and smiled for the crowd before jumping into the first encore song.

Other reports from the concert on the PJ Harvey bulletin board.

America: where it’s better not to be a poet

On Friday we caught up with our long elusive Irish friend Niall, newly returned from Ireland after a summer of dissipation and waiting for his US visa situation to straighten out. He said that he was getting grumpy about the scene in the embassy, until he turned around and looked behind him and realized he was sitting near Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate. He mentioned that it was apparently better not to be a poet when getting a travel visa. Heaney was trying to get a visa to go over for a six-week-long guest professorship at Harvard, and the official kept probing, “What are you going to do when your professorship is up? Do you have a job to come back to in Ireland?”

Ah, the hard life of a poet in America. Didn’t we use to go out of our way to make sure that vital creative people from other nations could visit our country easily? I guess the ideology of the free exchange of ideas is as dead as the Cold War.