Thursday, May 21
Mick Harvey – the great sideman, known for his work supporting Nick Cave, as former Bad Seed and of course for his playing, arranging and producing with PJ Harvey too. Then there’s his own solo career where he’s become something of the quiet achiever, it makes more sense as it continues. From almost mischievous full-length covers albums through to song-cycles where he works the songs of others into his unique vision and the development he’s made as a writer of exquisite, charming, almost perfect baroque pop songs; his themes for imaginary westerns, his sum-of-influences gunslinger ballads that are a little bit Hazlewood here, a touch of Scott Walker too. And then so many of his contemporaries are in there too.
Seeing Harvey and his Intoxicate Men live I couldn’t get past the image of him as being like a Don Walker-type. The once-reluctant frontman now claiming rightful spot, stepping out from behind the big guys, and effortlessly hip with it since knowing he carries some of the very best songs with him. They’d always been in his head and in his heart. Now they’re right there in his pocket.
It’s a trim, taut set from Harvey – on stage at 10pm, as advertised. And complaining briefly about the god-awful between-band music. His faux-jaded banter is a delight, “that was a song off some album from, er, whenever and this next one’s from another album from, um, earlier…” – that sort of thing. It was a manufactured nonchalance though, just a bit of fun, because each and every song was delivered masterfully, his band doing all that was needed to dunk each tune in country before rubbing in the requisite amount of bar-room blues into the cracks and creases.
JP Shilo (of The Blackeyed Susans) was the hero with his guitar and violin, playing essentially the role that Harvey has played to others – the song colourist, dedicated sideman. In particular Shilo has that way of playing guitar – so Australian – where he brings in the crags of the landscape, in that way that Gaz from The Drones, or Ian Moss of Chisel or Mick Turner of The Dirty Three have all done for their bands; a bit of Paul Kelly-like twang-and-shimmer within the glimmer of mangled fragments, the shattered vestiges of guitar lines rearranged to sound just right. Rowland S. Howard would be smiling his crooked smile.
Hugo Cran (drums) and Glenn Lewis (bass) gave the material the rightful bottom end support. And Harvey tumbled out his hits, non-hits and should-be-hits, borrowed and blue.
From a song for Rowland (October Boy) through The Ballad of Jay Givens and I Wish That I Were Stone, Harvey can sketch out a story in (now) under three minutes; his songwriting seemingly becoming more economical with time.
There were highlights from Four (Acts of Love) (my favourite Harvey album) and material from across his career – including the early covers-focus and top tunes from 2007’s Two of Diamonds and 2011’s Sketches From The Book of the Dead.
His cover of the PJ Harvey outtake Slow-Motion-Movie-Star made yet another link between her and Nick Cave, this rendition feeling like it could have been made for a mid-90s Bad Seeds record.
And then it was over. Possibly too soon for some – but in reality the perfect showcase of Harvey’s skills.
A non-encore (nowhere to go, they were always going to play a few more) saw him dipping into his bag of Serge Gainsbourg covers, including a crowd-favourite Bonnie & Clyde, with audience assistance.
Again, short and sharp and all done in just over the hour and so some could complain about this or that, maybe there was one or two other songs they’d have liked to have seen and heard, possibly even in place of what we did hear and see. But there’s always going to be that.
What we got was excellent. Really good.