Iceland Airwaves 2016: PJ Harvey


Iceland Airwaves 2016: PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey Iceland Airwaves

Photo: Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves.

The Sunday night grand finale of Iceland Airwaves, has developed into a bit of a legends spot. 2013 brought us Kraftwerk, while in 2014 we got to experience a jaw dropping performance from The Flaming Lips. This year it was PJ Harvey who closed the festival.

It is understandable that you would choose to line the biggest name, by far, on the last night of the festival. Otherwise, quite frankly, nobody would show up on Sunday night. It is an extremely difficult spot to play. The mood is quite somber, after the full four days of partying, so something special is needed to light up the crowd. Polly Jean did not quite manage to that last Sunday, at least not on a consistent level.

About half of the 20 song strong set-list was from her latest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, meaning that almost the entire album got played. Now, that is in its own right very respectable. The tour is named after the album, so that should not really surprise anyone and in any case all creative artists should be urged to show off their latest work. But it did have an effect of unfamiliarity for long spells during the concert.

PJ Harvey Iceland Airwaves

Photos: Alexander Matukhno/Iceland Airwaves.

The rest of the set-list in fact drew quite heavily on PJ’s work after the change of the century, four songs from 2011’s Let England Shake and two from 2007’s White Chalk, while only a handful of songs represented her 90s presumed heyday.

The show’s highlights where in the latter half of the show when the stronger songs from the new album (‘The Wheel,’ ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’) were mixed up with the older hits, if you can really call any of PJ Harvey’s songs hits. The set ended with an epic cover of Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ followed by a very fitting rendition of ‘Is This Desire.’

PJ Harvey Iceland Airwaves

Even though some gigs were more fun, more enthusiastic, more powerful than this one during the festival weekend, one thing struck me quite hard during PJ’s performance—I was now watching the big stage, the major league. The festival is built around the idea of giving up-and-coming bands and artists a chance to make their mark. Watching this performance should give them something to aspire to: playing on the big stage with a ten piece band of only top-professionals and even legends—such as Mick Harvey (formerly of the Bad Seeds), who has played with PJ since the 90s. Artists like her have a huge back catalogue to draw from, but still have the confidence to focus on your latest work. Now that is an inspiration, a truly influential artist.

Brynjar Vatnsdal – brynjarvatnsdal(at)

Brynjar Vatnsdal is a biomedical engineer by profession and a devoted music fan and record collector. He has a collection of a few thousand CDs and vinyl records spanning the past 50 years of musical history, both local and international.

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