Celebrated British rock singer Polly Jean Harvey was in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Sept. 11, in the middle of a U.S. tour promoting her latest album, “Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea,” itself inspired in large part by Harvey’s six-month stay in New York City in 1999. So, not unexpectedly, her current live show has been dramatically altered by the recent tragic events: Some new songs that had been staples of her concerts, such as “Kamikaze” and “This Mess We’re In,” have been struck from the set list, presumably because of the now-unsettling Gotham references they contain. Further, as has been the case at nearly all concerts taking place around the country over the last two weeks, a sense of newfound purpose and intensity seemed to be in evidence on the small Knitting Factory stage, and for a commanding artist like Harvey, who gives it everything she has every night anyway, the result was spectacular.
Memorable 90-minute show — which was put on sale only one week in advance and took place the night before a soldout Palladium booking — focused mainly on the current “Stories” album (Island), which has been hailed as a return to Harvey’s acclaimed raw early work. Extra attention also was paid to 1993’s Steve Albini-produced “Rid of Me,” considered by many to be her best release.
It was easy to draw intense mental images from many of the new songs that were played, including “The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore,” an airy and propulsive rocker reminiscent of Radiohead. “Speak to me of universal laws,” Harvey sang. “All around me people bleed, speak to me your song of greed.”
Dressed provocatively in a red midriff-bearing top, glittery silver miniskirt and high-heeled black boots, Harvey presented a compelling, sometimes contradictory image of someone troubled by inner conflict and doubt, yet with a firm handle on her own humanity, sexuality and ability.
For all the fire and energy generated by Harvey and her talented band on such songs as early single “Sheela-Na-Gig” and the sexy new track “This Is Love,” it was a stirring solo acoustic version of 1993’s “Rid of Me,” a song of infatuation performed under a tight hot spotlight, that will be remembered as the climax of Harvey’s superb show.