PJ Harvey – in concert at La Cigale, Paris – November 15, 1992 – Radio France FIP –
PJ Harvey in concert to start the week. Recorded live a La Cigale in Paris on November 15, 1992 by Radio France and broadcast via the FIP channel.
PJ Harvey is a perennial favorite and has been for years. Her music is deeply personal and in turn profound – there is so much to be gotten out of her music that nothing she’s done can be played once. It demands repeated hearings because her music is such a rich trove of sonic experiences and musical tapestries – you can’t absorb it all one sitting.
This concert comes from the period that produced Dry and Rid Of Me; two milestone albums which gathered a wide range of accolades. In January 1991, following her departure from Automatic Dlamini, Harvey formed her own band with former bandmates Rob Ellis and Ian Oliver. Harvey decided to name the trio PJ Harvey after rejecting other names as “nothing felt right at all or just suggested the wrong type of sound”, and also to allow her to continue music as a solo artist. The trio consisted of Harvey on vocals and guitars, Ellis on drums and backing vocals, and Oliver on bass. Oliver later departed to rejoin the still-active Automatic Dlamini. He was subsequently replaced with Steve Vaughan. The trio’s “disastrous” debut performance was held at a skittle alley in Charmouth Village Hall in April 1991. Harvey later recounted the event saying: “we started playing and I suppose there was about fifty people there, and during the first song we cleared the hall. There was only about two people left. And a woman came up to us, came up to my drummer, it was only a three piece, while we were playing and shouted at him ‘Don’t you realise nobody likes you! We’ll pay you, you can stop playing, we’ll still pay you!'” The band relocated to London in June 1991 when Harvey applied to study sculpture at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, still undecided as to her future career. During this time, the band recorded a set of demo songs and distributed them to record labels. Independent label Too Pure agreed to release the band’s debut single “Dress” in October 1991, and later signed PJ Harvey. “Dress” received mass critical acclaim upon its release and was voted Single of the Week in Melody Maker by guest reviewer John Peel, who admired “the way Polly Jean seems crushed by the weight of her own songs and arrangements, as if the air is literally being sucked out of them … admirable if not always enjoyable.” However, Too Pure provided little promotion for the single and critics claim that “Melody Maker had more to do with the success of the “Dress” single than Too Pure Records.” A week after its release, the band recorded a live radio session for Peel on BBC Radio 1 on 29 October featuring “Oh, My Lover”, “Victory”, “Sheela-Na-Gig” and “Water”.
The following February, the trio released “Sheela-Na-Gig” as their equally-acclaimed second single and their debut studio album, Dry (1992), followed in March. Like the singles preceding it, Dry received an overwhelming international critical response. The album was cited by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana as his sixteenth-favourite album ever in his posthumously-published Journals. Rolling Stone also named Harvey as Songwriter of the Year and Best New Female Singer. A limited edition double LP version of Dry was released alongside the regular version of the album, containing both the original and demo versions of each track, called Dry Demonstration, and the band also received significant coverage at the Reading Festival in 1992.
The album’s title track “ricochets violently between revenge fantasies and the desperate neediness of the backing chorus.”
Island (PolyGram) signed the trio amid a major label bidding war in mid-1992, and in December 1992 the trio travelled to Cannon Falls, Minnesota in the United States to record the follow-up to Dry with producer Steve Albini. Prior to recording with Albini, the band recorded a second session with John Peel on 22 September and recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” and two new songs “Me Jane” and “Ecstasy.” The recording sessions with Albini took place at Pachyderm Recording Studio and resulted in the band’s major label debut Rid of Me in May 1993. Rolling Stone wrote that it “is charged with aggressive eroticism and rock fury. It careens from blues to goth to grunge, often in the space of a single song.” The album was promoted by two singles, “50ft Queenie” and “Man-Size”, as well as tours of the United Kingdom in May and of the United States in June, continuing there during the summer.
As a reminder, crank this one up, sit back and relax – word of caution: the French announcer is very excited and manages to cram every spare second with his own accolades – coming dangerously close to, but not succeeding in, stomping over song intros. Lucky us.