It’s a mild overcast June evening as I drive to the train station, the torrential rains of last night are all but gone yet the weather is still unsettled and cooler than it should be for this time of year. I’m going to see P J Harvey and John Parish at the Beacon Theater on Broadway in New York City. The reviews are good but I know they will not be playing any of her old songs that I really like, just the music recorded by them on an old and new cd released this year. On board the train now speeding towards Penn station I listen to a group of friends talking over business stuff, one of them is leaving the job and they discuss various exit strategies. There is much laughter and many suggestions are made as to how to leave, nicely with class and professionalism or badly to leave a mark and strike back at the evil empire. But even those who suggest the path of class are bitter. They seem to have much disdain for the place they work, an all too familiar theme these days.
When we get to New Hyde Park station a few friends get on talking loud and acting out. The girl is very brash and annoying, trying to take pictures of her fat friends “man boobs” with her cell phone. Some people have no class or shame, they behave like children who talk like adults. yet no one wants to make a scene because to do so would be to give the attention they seem to be craving, especially the girl seems to relish using bad language in creative ways. So I look out the window and try to tune them out.
Between New Hyde Park and Jamaica Station we pass by a bunch of lovely little cottages, two story affairs with front and back porches, some have little pools in back while others have patio decks where I see people sitting talking on cell phones, sunning themselves or firing up the barbecue while doing chores. Except for the passing trains it seems like a nice place to live. The train however is delayed by someone who was standing on the tracks? Some guy wandering around loose, we creep along losing time until they sort him out and we get underway again. I hear people complaining about the expected 50 cent fare hike coming soon as we descend into the station and come to a halt so I fly up the stairs to get topside as fast as I can after losing time.
The great thing about good weather is that it’s easy to get a cab right away, and I score a great old Jamaican driver who weaves in and out of traffic and gets me to the Beacon in just ten minutes! That’s 30 blocks with traffic lights and going over three avenues as well, he passed by others with inches to spare but I have never had a better ride. I toss him a tip after telling him how great he was and wish it could be bigger but maybe I’ll ride with him again someday. I go in to the theater and get my seat deciding against an expensive drink. This is a beautiful old theater I haven’t seen in years, I think the last time I was here was for YES about 2002 or 2003, the lights go down and the opening act comes out. Some guy comes out called Pip Pakova and plays about eight of the most annoying songs I’ve ever heard in a high pitched voice while playing guitar. The songs are all sexual innuendo, tongue in cheek farce, and very self aggrandizing. Just way more kitsch than I want on a Tuesday night, I mean this guy needs a punch in the face and a kick in the ass, he makes me want to jump off a cliff…with him to break my fall!
I sit and rub my temples a little, my allergies are driving me nuts and I’m starting a headache but soon the lights go down again and John Parish and the band come out and begin playing. They are all dressed in suits and look a little like old time gangsters and P J comes out in a simple black dress and bare feet. They launch into material off their new cd which I have never heard and old material from their first days together before she was a cult figure, as I said no classic P J material will be played. The thing is that it doesn’t matter, it’s P J that you come to see and hear. She fascinates me… although she is not a raving beauty she has enormous sex appeal. P J moves onstage not with the poise of a dancer but rather the abandon of a flower child in an almost Gothic style. She is tough and strong yet vulnerable and definitely erotic. P J delivers the vocal equivalent of a chef’s tasting menu, reaching high and going low, cupping the mike for effect. The band supports her with minimal movement, while not being called shoegazers. Only the drummer comes close to the physicality of P J.
The audience is a mixed bag of personalities and types who explode into applause at the end of each song, also screaming out songs they want to hear and many “I love you”s coming from guys and girls. It’s a great show with a three song encore and with many smiles and waves she leaves us till next time. I saw her 2001, five days before 911 and again during the Uh Huh Her Tour after that and then her solo show two years ago. Each time P J presents with a slightly different version of herself and a new set of songs to tell her stories, I wonder what she will bring us next time around.
I leave the theater and begin walking down Broadway heading south, it’s a lovely night and I wish I could sit down and eat outside one of the many eateries I pass as I look for a copy of the Village Voice. I walk with other excited fans as we start off in a bunch and gradually thin out in all directions, some going to subways others to apartments somewhere in the city and others to New Jersey or Long Island. I open box after box looking for my free newspaper but all are empty, then I find one with a few copies inside reaching in I find them damp from what I hope is the rain and not something else. I’m really loving this walk but it’s a work night so I cross Broadway and flag down a cab outside Lincoln Center to get home a little earlier. I get a cab easily and we glide down 9th Ave and I take note of all the bars and eateries whose names I’ve seen online but have never been inside. Jake’s Bar, Puttanesca, Bar 69, and Marseilles. Many more whip by in a flash of shape and color. Mere static images forming a backdrop for the speeding cars around us and the people moving slowly between us and their massive brightly lit forms. Like the human body, the Avenues are the lifeblood of the city. The shops and restaurants are the walls of the arteries with the people playing the role of slow moving plaque and the traffic moving fast is the blood flow to all points in the system.
The driver lets me off at the 7th Ave entrance and I ride the escalator down to Penn Station once more, I can see the big board in the distance and right away I can see I have about thirty minutes before my train so I head immediately to Tracks for a washup in the loo and then sit down for a quick rum and coke to kill some time before making trackside.
I sigh a little as I look at the clock, I will be getting home a lot later than I would like but a P J Harvey concert is well worth a few lost hours of sleep.