My freshman year of college, in that awkward late teenage time when your music tastes are finally being carved into something worthwhile, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a friend’s copy of PJ Harvey and John Parish’s collaboration album, Dance Hall at Louse Point. While I knew PJ Harvey from her rough and sultry solo albums–Rid of Me, Is This Desire?, Stories from the city stories from the sea–this collaboration featured the deep, blues-like rock instrumentation of John Parish, paired with Polly Jean’s lonesome, wailing vocals. The album was a gem, including her heartbreaking rendition of the song Is That All There Is? My burned copy is still in rotation of my beloved music, all these years later.
Naturally, I freaked when I noticed that sxsw’s lineup included PJ Harvey + John Parish. This elation was quickly curbed, though: as with many other large acts, like Tori Amos, The Decemberists, and Andrew Bird, I had to remind myself that, without a wristband or badge, there was a snowball’s chance in hell that I could get into these headlining shows. It would involve three hour waits in line, and lots of luck.
Imagine my glee, then, when my friend told me that the Seattle radio station KEXP was doing live recordings of Andrew Bird, Peter Bjorn + John, PJ Harvey + John Parish, and others at the TV station down the road from her house. Each recording would allow about a hundred audience members into the intimate studio session for free.
We queued up with others about an hour before Andrew Bird, and the sweet KEXP people told us that if we wanted to see the other acts, we would be given priority in the queue, since we were here first. Done and done.
(I have to take a moment here and say: the camera on my iphone sucks. Lighting washes people out, and it’s way too shaky. Add to this my not having taken pictures since some half assed attempt at a photography class in college, and you have less than excellent photos. I only post to illustrate some kind of visual to my verbal account.)
When they opened the studio, it was so small and intimate that I was about fifteen feet from Andrew Bird as he whistled, strummed, and chatted his way through a set of new songs, plus one from a former album.
Swedish pop indy rock band Peter Bjorn and John played new songs (I was longing to hear the popular whistling song that I associate with the first episode of Gossip Girl), making jokes and switching places as the act went on.
And then, about five hours after I had first arrived, we were being allowed into the studio for PJ Harvey + John Parish. I sat right up front. I could’ve stood up and kissed her (resisting the urge to do so was all based out of courtesy, I swear). She wore a lovely crepe black dress with a crepe pink rose on the front, and tall stiletto heels (the same dress she wears from the promos for the album, I think).
The songs were all from her and John Parish’s new collaboration (“It only took us twelve years,” she joked about the lapse of time between albums), plus one track (Civil War Correspondent) from Dance Hall at Louse Point. The heady vocals brought me right back to that first time I heard their collaboration.
Leaving the studio, everyone seemed as dazed and giddy as I was–had we just seen PJ Harvey in a studio? We had just seen PJ Harvey in a studio! Unlocking my bike and pedaling away, I didn’t think my sxsw could get any better than this.