Running on Hi-Test: Talking Loud, Saying Something
PJ Harvey wants you to know.
Well, she doesn’t really
want you to know, but she wants to give you the impression that she’s letting you into her private world and therefore giving you the satisfaction that comes with such knowing. Because—as she admits at the end of this DVD’s interview—she, too, is a curious kitty who, while admiring the shadows and mystique of the past, wants to know the cold hard facts about the people whose art has influenced her. Except Harvey is an artist, too—one whose words are powerful but diminished by literal meaning, whose sexuality is overt yet unconventional and only one small piece of the seductive puzzle, who reaches intimacy with public movements and thrives on jumpcuts and juxtapositions. She isn’t about to give her secrets away. But she’ll let you peek if you’re polite.
Filmed during her 2004 tour in support of her seventh album, Uh Huh Her, Please Leave Quietly is an artfully constructed look at Harvey’s stage show. Longtime collaborator and director Maria Mochnacz seamlessly weaves a multitude of textures and performances together without losing a beat or lip-synch, reaching beyond the performance at hand and turning the video document into an artistic statement of its own. It helps that Harvey is a telegenic presence throughout. Besides a playful wardrobe that takes bohemian, thrift-store chic to an absurd, cheeky level, Harvey accentuates her songs with floating yet spastic movements that bring a heightened sense of drama to songs already teetering on the precipice.
Harvey is both an active and reactive artist. Or is it coincidence that at one point it’s as if she’s co-opted the look of Karen O’s PJ Harvey homage? Who can define the real deal? Harvey likes turning things on their heads, finding the scream in the silence, the point of vulnerability in the toughest shriek. “You think you know me? Think again,” she seems to say. It’s in that voice, however, that it all comes together. If you’ve ever doubted Harvey’s ability as a performer, or thought that perhaps she’s been given a wee too much critical leeway, listen to those seismic vocal jumps in “Big Exit” or immerse yourself in the subtle grace she sprinkles on “The Darker Days of Me & Him” and tell yourself what you’re hearing isn’t there.
Her bandmates—longtime drummer/keyboardist Rob Ellis, bassist Dingo and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer—provide merciless backing, attacking each song as if for the first time, while toiling behind her backstage, making the usual jokes, small talk and group drinking sessions that dull the pain of too much waiting around. The camera dutifully captures these moments without dwelling on them. Harvey wished to capture the “ramshackledness” of life on the road. Any incompetent could’ve caught that. Please Leave Quietly entertains much more, though it offers no real insights. Despite her public displays of affection, Harvey is still a very private person. But there are enough glimpses—and some awe-inspiring performances—to make you feel as if you were given a limited-access pass to a day in the life.