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PJ Harvey Inside the Old Year Roundhouse: A Haunting Artistry

Photo by Mika Vaisanen via Wikimedia (Under License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

With the Roundhouse venue as her stage, PJ Harvey dedicates the beginning of her show to encompassing the twelve tracks that make up I Inside the Old Year Dying. Cold, but not harsh, hues of white and blue single her out on the elevated platform as she opens with, “As childhood died the old year…” from ‘Prayer at the Gate’. Her voice was elevated too, and rarely did it drop to lower registers as she raised her arms fluidly, meticulously, almost as if the song could be seen through her movements and heard through her voice.

PJ Harvey delivers a haunting live performance of I Inside the Old Year Dying, an album that is equally stylistic and dreamy. It’s a return to music for Harvey after seven years, taking the epic narrative poem Orlam she wrote in 2022 and adapting its concepts and lyrics for the album.

Each performance not only seamlessly blended together sonically, but also visually. Theatrical and eerie, the otherworldly atmosphere was preserved with field recordings of birdsongs, church bells, far away cries of children. ‘Lwonesome Night’ in particular was a monument to PJ Harvey’s haunting—birdsongs lured the audience into a forest, the venue lightings established the night, and Harvey sang in falsettos and vibratos while moving from one edge of the stage to the other and back to the centre. Her voice carried over beautifully, leaving no doubt in how well Harvey has taken care of her voice throughout these many years.

The Roundhouse stage in all of its space was manoeuvred primarily by Harvey, but her band also moved in and out of songs, of spotlights, in a manner so harmonious with her that their contributions could not have gone unnoticed at any point in the show. ‘A Noiseless Noise’ closes the first half of PJ Harvery’s setlist with an escalation of the unease underlying most of I Inside the Old Year Dying lead by James Johnston’s violin playing. The catharsis is felt during the interlude, where James Johnston, Jean-Marc Butty, Giovanni Ferrario, and John Parish perform ‘The Colour of the Earth’ similar to a marching band.

Here is where PJ Harvey begins to pull from a back catalogue spanning thirty years. That fact itself is daunting, especially considering the myriad of genres Harvey has delved into, because it posed the question of how different—or similar—the second half of the setlist could be. It is artistic, then, the careful consideration with which songs from her discography were picked to continue the atmosphere of I Inside the Old Year Dying. ‘The Glorious Land’, the first of ten tracks that are to be sung, propels the motif of childhood even further. The lights are warmer now, a complimentary shade of red to Harvey’s white dress, coming off blood-like to the audience PJ Harvey has kept with her since the 80’s.

‘The Desperate Kingdom of Love’ from 2004’s Imposter is a lonely performance placed in between loud and striking songs, delivered by Harvey and an acoustic guitar. It’s intense and rather sombre, and her voice not so much demands the audience’s attention as it does beckon it. Here, the concert ends with a haunting, devastating empty rendition of ‘To Bring You My Love’. ‘C’mon Billy’ and ‘White Chalk’ make up the encore, rotating back to a dying childhood with a mother of an unborn child confessing to having blood on her hands.

To find out more about PJ Harvey, visit her Spotify, Website and Youtube

Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor


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