Sometimes the biggest factor in a disappointing show isn’t a bad performance. On the contrary, a fantastic performance can be absolutely killed by technical mishaps.
As they showed at the TLA last Thursday, PJ Harvery and her four-piece band are extremely tight performers. Their set started off mellow, with Polly Jean standing timidly behind the microphone. But the show gradually built up with each song, and by the time the wailingly desperate “Send His Love To Me” emerged from the speakers followed by “The Whore’s Hustle and The Hustler’s Whore,” the band’s intensity had peaked. P.J. fiercely stalked about the stage, giving an unparalleled vocal delivery.
The band’s performance kept up during the set’s peaks and valleys: the Patti Smithesque “Good Fortune”, the frantic “C’mon Billy”, and the brooding “Beautiful Feeling.” Also of note was a guitar, bass, and drum performance of “Man Size,” which featured just P.J., Mick Harvey, and Rob Ellis, recreating the trio that recorded Dry and Rid Of Me. Had there been no mishaps, the show would have been absolutely brilliant.
But mishaps there were. Firstly, throughout the set, the vocal mix was off. P.J.’s voice was either too dominant or buried in the mix; not extreme to the point where it was obtrusive or inaudible, but enough that it was distracting. The soundperson tried to remedy the problem for a while, and once it reached a decent level, guitar problems emerged.
First, the backing guitar’s amp flat out died just before a performance of “Big Exit.” The sound tech quickly switched to another amp, and the show continued. The song sounded great, far more driven than the album version, but in the midst of it, the second guitar player managed to break a guitar string as she beat the instrument with a drum stick.
The band walked offstage, and re-emerged some five minutes later, as P.J. apologized for the problems. “This show is a technical nightmare,” she said.
Only two more songs were performed, cutting the intended set list short. The band left for good to the strains of “Kamikaze.” They had been on stage for a total of perhaps 70 minutes.
The most bizarre aspect of the technical difficulties was the half-hour or more the road crew took to sound check prior to the set. Okay, the broken guitar string was strictly due to instrument abuse, but surely the road crew was allotted enough time to work out any kinks in the sound.
On the whole, P.J. Harvey and her band are some of the most intense performers around today…but by no fault of their own, their TLA set was a major let down.