A hot night with PJ Harvey (transcript)

Published June 3rd, 2017

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Hello drip drops, you high and Mighty Morphin Power Strangers, here it is again, THIS IS NOT A TEST, and here I am again, Michael Phillips, live and direct. I mean, I’m live right now. I’m alive right now, and you must be too. Is this thing on? Good lord, good lord, good lord. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it.

Well, if you’ve never heard of Polly Harvey, then you’ve never heard what is, in my never humble opinion, the greatest or second greatest rock and roll record of the 20th century, “Dry.” I say greatest or second greatest only because on any given day it is up there jostling with the Stooges Funhouse for the number one spot. Now, I’d tell you stop listening to this right now and go buy the record, but you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to buy a record anymore, so, however you do it, go buy it. Now. You can thank me later. PJ Harvey: Dry. I repeat, PJ Harvey: Dry.

Dry is what they’d call an old record these days I suppose. It came out in 1992, during the depths of the “grunge” depression, and it was the first PJ Harvey record. Even though it was of the time, “Dry” is not of the genre. Meaning it is not grunge. It was recorded in England, 4,500 miles from Seattle and in a different psychic space entirely. If you’ve been alive and semi-listening to popular music in the past couple of decades, or actually, music on the fringes of really popular music, you’ve probably heard a song or two from PJ Harvey’s second album, “Rid of Me.” That one had “Man Size,” and “50 Foot Queenie,” and she had a lot of other songs you may have heard, like, “Down by the Water, “It’s a Perfect day, Elise” and some others. They’re all different styles, because Ms. Harvey likes to…change shit up. So you never really know what the next record is going to sound like. “Dry,” “Rid of Me” and “4 Track Demos,” her first three albums, are straight ahead rocking voodoo jumping jive, but then she went in a completely different direction on “To Bring You My Love,” and it’s been all over the place ever since. Which, for a lesser talent would be a bad thing, changing styles and personas and music all the time, but Harvey is not a lesser talent.

I’ve been listening to her music for 25 years now but I’ve never gone to see her play live. She’s played in Los Angeles a dozen times, and I tried to get tickets to see her play at McCabe’s back in 1993 or so, but they sold out in 8 or 9 seconds. McCabe’s is a guitar shop on the west side and they have, or had, concerts in a little upstairs room, Maybe 50 seats. I saw Allen Ginsburg do a reading there once, and my friend Trevy fell asleep during the reading, which I thought was an appropriate response to what was happening on the tiny stage. Anyway, I would have loved to see her there, and if I had, I’d still be bragging about it to this day, but what can you do. It’s stupid, but I know that part of me was thinking, “Well, it will never be as good as it would have been at McCabes, so why bother.” I’m kind of insane like that. That’s not the only reason though, I’m not that insane, so yeah, all the times since McCabes I don’t know why I haven’t gone. But I went this last time. I know that.

The show was in the not-so-great outdoors at the Greek Theater. I’m not a huge fan of outdoor shows for a lot of reasons, the main one being it’s absolutely and unquestionably the worst place to listen to music of any kind, but we were up front so the sound was really good, and aside from it being an unseasonably cold night for May, it was a good show. The show felt like performance art sometimes, because she poses a lot and has a bagful of dramatic gestures and moves. It sounds corny, but she’s good at those kinds of things, and they go with her weird, mysterious, shifting persona. After 25 years her voice is still loud and pure and strong. That shouldn’t have surprised me, but a lot of times singers continue to croak for dollars as they’re fading. Well, Polly is only 47 or 48, but a lot of rock singers are shot by then. Mick Jagger wasn’t exactly kicking out the jams in 1990, when he was getting close to 50, so it was good to hear such great vocals for Harvey.

She mostly played songs from her latest album, “The Hope Six Demolition Project,” which she recorded at some palace in London. The sessions were part of an art installation called, predictably enough, “Recording in Progress,” and they were open to anyone who wanted to show up and watch through one-way glass. “The Hope Six Demolition Project” is her latest album, but it’s been out for a year now. And her previous record, “Let England Shake,” came out five years before that. So she hasn’t been dropping a record every year or two like people do early in their careers, but then she’s not early in her career, so what do you want.

“Hope Six Demolition Project” and “Let England Shake” are dense records. Deep layers of sound, lots of instruments, lots of layers of backing vocals – they’re unique in the PJ Harvey catalog, which ranges from the balls-out blasting cap rock of the early and mid 90s to sparse electronic music to acoustic folk music to more traditional, modern pop sounding production – like I said, all over the place. What’s unusual about “Hope Six” is the sound is a lot like the album before it, “Let England Shake,” which was kind of surprising, since she doesn’t usually put out similar sounding records back to back. But now that I say that I realize that she has done it before, so I don’t know why I was so surprised. She just hasn’t done it lately, I guess is the thing.

Anyway, for the first 20 minutes or so of the show, between songs, people were screaming out the names of her older songs as she was preparing to play another one off the latest album. After a while I think it dawned on the screamers that this wasn’t a greatest hits show, it was about the latest stuff, so everyone settled down and got into the flow. When she finally did play a few older songs – “50ft Queenie,” “Down by the Water,” “To Bring You My Love” – near the end of the set, the audience lost its mind, which I guess is something that everyone with a 25 year career in music – or in any kind of entertainment – has to suffer through. People clamoring for what you did decades ago when all you want to do is something new.

It’s hard for any artist to stay relevant. And even if they do stay relevant, that older material is still there creating waves of nostalgia in everyone who hears it. Or maybe the older stuff was just better, which is probably true in a lot of cases. What’s the last new Aerosmith or Rolling Stones album you listened to? Not just bought, really listened to. Yeah, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Because those guys, and most of the old bands, don’t evolve, so there’s nothing new there.

It was a good show. It was nice to finally see and hear her sing after all these years, though she didn’t ever pick up a guitar, which is a shame, because she’s a great and distinctive guitar player. But she plays a dozen other instruments too, and she blew on a saxophone for a couple songs, but other than that, she was the singer, and like I said, the singing was really good. Nothing about the show particularly blew me away, but then you’re only blown away every so often, aren’t you. If you were blown away every time you saw someone play, well then it wouldn’t be “blown away” anymore, would it. It would just be normal. In recent years, First Aid Kit blew me away in 2015. Fiona Apple – yes, Fiona Apple – blew me away in 2012. At the same Greek Theater, only on a sweltering summer night – it was transcendent, if you’ll allow me such a hackneyed form of superlative. Well, Polly Harvey blew me away with her records, and that’s good enough for me.

I have to say though, that I think it’s enough already. With the live shows, I mean. I’ve been going to concerts for 43 years and I’ve seen more bands than I can even remember. Sometimes someone will mention a band or I’ll see their name and I’ll think, “Oh yeah, I saw them,” but I think it’s time to retire. Not because I hate the venues and the waiting around and being herded like cattle, or the sweating or freezing, the suffering through terrible sound almost everywhere, hundred dollar tickets, $40 t-shirts and $8 beers, parking a mile away from the venue or any of those other lovely things. Those aren’t what make me want to retire, to hang up my spurs. No, what’s making me quit is people. All of them. Every last fucking one of them. I truly hate them and —

Their shouted, inane conversations that they have to fill every moment silence with.
Their “hippie dancing” that they learned from a YouTube video.
Their snack bar jalapeno nachos and spinach wraps.
Their insistence on experiencing concerts through the shitty lenses of their shitty phone cameras.
Their multitude or mysterious odors.
Their meandering and loitering in every corridor and open space without regard to anyone but themselves.
Their inability to sit still for 50 minutes, or 10 minutes for that matter.
Their picnic baskets and cheese platters.
Their sloppy, spilled beers, spilled food, spilled brains.
Their big clunky shoes that they dig out of the back of the closet where they’re stored along with the rest of their “concert clothes.”
Their insistence on experiencing concerts through the shitty lenses of their shitty phone cameras.
Their loud conversations about things like the pimple on their friend’s testicle.
Their arriving 30 minutes after the show has started. Or 45 minutes after it’s started. Or 15 minutes before it ends, as someone did the other night.
Their big heads that are always in the way.
Their coughing and sneezing.
Their vomit.
Their piss all over the restroom floors.
Their insistence on experiencing concerts through the shitty lenses of their shitty phone cameras.
Their clueless, entitled inconsideration.
Their complete lack of interest in the band or musician they paid to come and see and hear.
Their lack of awareness of their surroundings or the needs or rights of anyone other than themselves.
Did I mention their insistence on experiencing concerts through the shitty lenses of their shitty phone cameras?
Do you see where I’m going with this?

Now listen, listen here, looky here – yes, a good number of the people in this world are wonderful. Just delightful and marvelous and the salt of the earth. Whatever the hell that means. An equal number though are simply pieces of shit. Awful, worthless pieces of shit. You can go ahead and think, “Oh, mjp, you cynical old cow,” that’s fine. But I’m right. And you know I’m right. You’re just afraid to agree because you’re not supposed to accuse half of humanity of being shit. It’s just not done in polite society.

Well the joke’s on you, because there is no such thing as polite society anymore. You don’t have to go to a concert to see it. You can see it at the grocery store, the post office, the movie theater in your car on the way to the grocery store or post office or movie theater – everywhere. Can you find some common ground with these pieces of shit? Can you have a decent conversation or even a good time with them or around them? Sure. Once in a while. But mostly you can’t, because they are, as I may have mentioned, pieces of shit.

It could well be that some people become pieces of shit when they get out into public. Or when they are someplace where they believe they have to put on a groovy act, like a concert. But if I don’t live with you, all I know of you is what you are in public, so I can’t really take back what I said, or apologize or capitulate or cogitate or regurgitate. Not going to do any of those things. I’ve had to deal with far too many assholes in my life, such as it is, to change my mind now. I know, it’s all very harsh, isn’t it. Well, the concert the other night was only half enjoyable, and that isn’t because of anything that was happening on the stage. It was all because of what was happening off stage, in the audience.

And speaking of snack bar jalapeno nachos and spinach wraps and $8 beers, I’ll tell you, when I was kid – why, in my day! – you know what you had to eat or drink at a concert? Whatever you could stuff down your pants and sneak in. There was no snack bar with flatbreads and fennel salad, no beer booths, no bartenders mixing cocktails, no jerkoffs with clipboards pestering you to sign up to win a Mercedes Benz or a movie ticket. None of that. There might have been a table – if you could find it – where an off-season carny or ex-con was selling the band’s tour program and one style of t-shirt in two sizes: small and large, and that was it. Every other person had one of those filthy wineskins under their filthy arm, and a pocketful of herb, and that seemed to be enough. There were no video screens, no clowns or jugglers, no public executions, none of the diversions that everyone seems to need now.

No one can just “be” anymore. Just sit and look around and take in the fucking world around you. Listen look, think about things. Shut the fuck up. Ha. Complaining about these things is like complaining that the earth revolves around the sun, or however all that planet stuff works. I really love people anyway. It’s true. They just keep doing things that force me to hate them. It’s not my fault. Just remember, I’m perfect. But no one in this shithole gets me, because I don’t put out. Selah.

In other news – the circus has ended. Well, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, anyway. A lot of people seem to be pretty sad about that, but isn’t the circus exactly the kind of old timey thing that should die? Most of the people who went to a Ringling Bros. circus in the last 20 or 30 years were probably only dragging their kids to it because they had some fond, dusty memory of their parents dragging them to it. “Oh, Penelope and Braden have to see the circus! It’s part of being a kid!” No it isn’t.

The circus is a weird holdover from a time when most people in America had never seen an elephant or a camel or any animal that wasn’t indigenous to north America. I’m actually a little shocked that something like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus lasted into the 21st century. Find me a kid who voluntarily wants to go to a circus now. Not only have they all seen everything there is to see, they’re jaded. If you told most of them you were taking them to see a public execution they’d just sigh dramatically and complain that they’d gone through their public execution phase in middle school and then slam the door in your face.

I don’t remember ever being excited about going to the circus. I didn’t grow up on a farm or around elephants or with clowns. Wait though, maybe I did – my dad was in the St. Paul Clown Club. Did I ever tell you about that? Maybe one day I will. It’s funny though, it reminds me that there was a time when I hadn’t seen everything. Maybe you remember a time like that too. Maybe the generation that came up in the 80s does too, but that’s probably the cut off for being able to live in a world where you couldn’t see or hear anything you wanted to see or hear within a few seconds. I’m not saying technology is bad. It pays my rent and I happen to love the fact that I can find the answer to just about any question I might have in a few seconds. But then I’m a grown ass man, not a toddler. A toddler should be in the dark about some things. About most things.

But that’s not the way the world is anymore. At least not until the electric grid is blown up and we all go back to farming or cannibalism. Now everything is available all the time, and it’ll be interesting to see how the current wired generation turns out in 20 or 30 years. You know, to see if any of them want to get involved in something as archaic as politics or public service. They’ll probably be too smart for that, and politicians will just die out as a species. All governmental decisions will be crowdsourced through an app and Amazon and Google will collect the taxes and fix the roads. Or no one will collect the taxes and fix the roads, what with not having an electric grid and the cannibalism and whatnot.

Cirque du Soleil has hijacked the circus, and they don’t even own one elephant, or even a dog that can jump through hoops, as far as I know. The people are the new dogs and elephants, jumping around and balancing on things and doing whatever clowns do. We’ve become the circus, just as Phineas T. Barnum probably predicted would happen in a speech or on a broadside somewhere. So the ringmaster retires, and those hoop jumping dogs and the BMX kids and whoever else was in the circus, the Ringling trains stop running and all the circus folk find new jobs at Smashburger or Home Depot. Or in politics. Okay. Goodbye Barnum & Bailey. Goodbye Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theater. Goodbye $8 beers and the fools who wield them as weapons. Goodbye, goodbye.

Oh, but before I go: fan mail from some flounder. Here’s a couple of messages from the hotline. Don’t forget, kids, you can call the hotline yourself at (628) 333-4860. Okay.

Fuck you! Never mind. How was your day? I hope it was good. Don’t fuck you. Don’t fuck yourself. We love you. Okay. We hope your day was good, you know, just wanted to call this number. So have a great day even though my day fucking sucked you piece of shit.

Oh mom. I can always count on you to participate. Thank you.

Yes, hello, there mjp. This is Hosho McCreesh calling. I am a long time listener, one time guest, first time caller. And I’m telling you, I’m always enjoying the show, but I’m also always waiting for a church watt trip watch update and on top of a trip watch update. I’m also very interested in actual audio of Chirp watch, can you please give us some actual audio? So that I can reminisce. Okay, that’s all.

Oh, Mr. McCreesh, would that I could give you chirpwatch audio, but my attempts to record it have just been too noisy, between wind, air conditioners, the general noise of people and their shit, so I don’t have good chirpwatch audio. Maybe I can get some at night, when it’s quieter around here. Because the chirping is still going strong. It’s got to be close to two years that the neighbor’s smoke alarms have been putting out a loud, high-pitched chirp every 15 seconds. A warning to change the battery, but these neighbors apparently don’t have access to batteries.

So I don’t have chirpwatch audio, but I have some other chirping for you. I recorded this last night, just after midnight, and it was going on for hours. Now you tell me what kind of bird this is, because I have no fucking idea. Adios, chirpies.