Perhaps it’s something about PJ Harvey’s crowds. Every time I have been to see the Dorset songstress play, the support act has been largely ignored and rudely talked over. The fact that tonight I have specifically come to see North Dakota singer songwriter Tom Brosseau makes this doubly annoying.
Blinking into the lights, Brosseau acknowledges the fact that his is a thankless task, with a declaration of hope that he doesn’t bore anyone in the half empty hall. Performing solo, Brosseau’s delicately picked guitar rings brightly as he airs material from forthcoming album Posthumous Success. Stripped of the shuffling drums and extra guitar parts the songs reveal a simple beauty, and make Brosseau’s guitar work and frequently witty lyrics stand for itself, his gentle, occasionally nasal voice calling to mind the earlier works of Turin Brakes.
The biggest cheer of the night comes as the softly spoken American introduces new album opener (and closer) ‘Favourite Colour Blue’, a charming fingerpicked ditty about, er, a recurring dream about having to rescue Dave Grohl from drumming in Hole. While this raises some cheers from the crowd, by the third or fourth song the double denim wearing troubadour starts loosing his battle against the chatter of the slowly filling room. On other nights, in other venues, Brosseau has the ability to silence even the most unwilling of audiences, but tonight’s show is slightly too big for his delicate and fragile love songs to weave their spell, his clever wordplay lost on a largely ambivalent audience. Twenty minutes after first stepping on stage he departs from whence he came.
Quite why it then takes a further 40 minutes for Harvey, Parish and their finely be-hatted cohorts to take their stage is inexplicable. Skipping on stage theatrically, Ms Harvey thanks the audience for their patience before launching into the evenings main event. Drawing solely from Harvey and Parish’s two collaborative albums, the show is somewhat of a let down, devoid of the fire and heart that Harvey has previously been known for. In it’s place is a set full of droning dirges with quasi mystical spoken word pieces added. Elsewhere, there is sub-Sonic Youth jangle and proto-Mary Chain-isms. For all Harvey’s theatrical shimmying there is something clearly missing in tonight’s performance- at times Parish and the other members of her band seem bored. Even the notorious title track of ‘A Woman a Man Walked By’ fails to deliver, the snarled threat of ‘I want your Fucking Ass’ falling flat against the lumpen, muted backing that never delivers on it’s threat to explode into life.
As I join many others making an early exit from the show, Harvey intones the lyrics to ‘Passionless, Pointless’. Sadly, it sums up the show rather well.