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.