CULTURE

PJ Harvey returns without her usual rock band support

Indie-rock great PJ Harvey, who has performed a number of shows here since the mid-90s, returns for one performance in Athens on Monday, this time alone, without her customary rock band backing. The one-woman performance, which has received glowing reviews, is no major surprise, considering the more tranquil nature of Harvey’s most recent project, «White Chalk,» a piano-based album released earlier this year. It features performances from Eric Drew Feldman, who appeared on Harvey’s breakthrough album «To Bring You My Love» in the mid-90s, as well as Jim White, drummer of the wayward violin-led trio Dirty Three. Alone on stage and equipped with a number of instruments, including guitar, piano, keyboards and autoharp for her set, Harvey is expected to deliver both her newer material as well as older work. The prospect of sparser versions, particularly Harvey’s older songs, some of which are bruisingly intense, adds particular intrigue to this upcoming performance. Though «White Chalk» is by far Harvey’s most tranquil album to date, the 39-year-old artist has said its subdued sound was not shaped by her return to the English countryside in Dorset, where she grew up, following years of big-city life in London, Bristol and LA. The album’s material, according to Harvey, was written while she was still based in Los Angeles. She says she did not start playing piano – the main instrumental element of «White Chalk» – until three years ago. And this happened by chance, after a friend who was moving left a piano behind. Harvey, who began guitar and saxophone lessons as an 11-year-old, grew up feeling close to the family’s record collection amassed by her parents. The youngster would focus in for attentive listenings. Foreshadowing a musical future, she would pay attention to song details and what participating musicians were doing for overall results. Harvey eventually formed a bass-drums-guitar trio for her debut release, a single titled «Dress,» released in 1991 on an independent label, Too Pure. It made an impact. A second single, «Sheela-Na-Gig,» which appeared shortly afterward, generated further excitement ahead of the emerging act’s debut album. Released midway through 1992, «Dry» was hailed as an astonishing debut album. PJ Harvey signed with Island Records and released the follow-up album, «Rid of Me,» early in 1993. It earned Harvey her first Mercury Prize nomination in the UK. But the trio dissolved soon afterward. This did not prove to be any setback. Harvey broke through to a wider audience with her third album, «To Bring You My Love,» an eclectic album co-produced with Flood. The tour that followed introduced a theatrical aspect to Harvey’s stage persona. Harvey’s next album, «Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea,» won her the Mercury Music Prize, making her the first female artist to win the UK award. Harvey has explored new styles over the years while maintaining a distinctive quality. Her self-perceived lack of musicianship, which Harvey has said «often liberates you because it allows your imagination to function more,» may help explain the sustained interest inherent in her work nearly two decades on. Tickets for Harvey’s Badminton Theater performance on Monday are available at Virgin Megastores, the venue and online at www.ticketnet.gr.