Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Concert Review: PJ Harvey & John Parish In Atlanta 6/2/09

It takes a lot to drag my lazy carcass to a concert these days. I've finally narrowed it down to six motivating factors:

1. I personally know the artist and feel obligated to attend.
2. Friends are attending and the artist is adventitious to the social interaction.
3. I am assured a padded seat with an unobstructed view of the artist.
4. I can get in the door for free.
5. I can get drinks for free.
6. The artist is on my shortlist of people I need to see play before I die.

If none of these factors apply, chances are I'd rather spend an evening at home listening to In On The Kill Taker for the five-thousandth time than go spend money and two hours of my life in a smoky club listening to the latest self-indulgent, experimental, gypsy/vaudevillian, furrycore, noise-pop septet from Brooklyn pretend to be artists. It's just not that appealing to me any more.

Fortunately, in the case of PJ Harvey and John Parish's June 2nd concert at Center Stage in Atlanta, several of the motivating factors above came into play. The first being that I had never seen PJ Harvey before and she was definitely on my short list. The second being that, through a bit of luck, I won two tickets to the show by entering an Idolator give-away.

This was key, because a main obstacle on whether I was going to go see her in the first place was the high admission cost—upwards of $130 for two tickets—very expensive for my domestic beer budget. Especially since she was only playing material from her two albums with John Parish, 1996's Dance Hall At Louse Point and this year's A Man A Woman Walked By; which are good and all, but not her best moments.

What I couldn't have taken into account having never seen her before is Harvey's stage presence and innate ability to transform even the most manic, aurally challenging dirges —such as the show closing "Pig Will Not"— into compelling vignettes on stage. Whether she's snarling, yelping, chanting, crooning or serenading, her voice is as good, if not better, live as it is on any record. I found myself a bit starstruck to see her so up close, a feeling I haven't experienced since my teenage years. I really felt like I was in the presence of greatness.

John Parish and his well-dressed band (Giovanni Ferrario on guitar/bass, Eric Drew Feldman on bass/keyboards, and Jean-Marc Butty on drums) played remarkably tight, like a well-seasoned and road-tested crew. Together with Harvey, they turned a mere 3 Bazooka record into an utterly spellbinding experience live.

Songs like the mystical "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", the droning "Cracks In The Canvas", and the almost free-form "The Chair", were elevated to a level well above their respective recorded versions.

It's seemingly a rarity these days to see a band that is able to live up to the often clichéd, "they're better live than on record" label; I often find the opposite to be true with younger bands that are aided by the insulation and discretionary capacity of the recording process.

With PJ Harvey and John Parish, it felt as if they made the record to promote their live show, and not the other way around. And that is definitely a motivating factor to go see them practice their craft in the flesh.

The set list:

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