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on May 27, 2006
Finally, two years after Polly Jean Harvey hit the road in support of her most recent album Uh Huh Her, we get the long-awaited, official PJ Harvey live DVD, and the great news is it's excellent. Polly sets up the premise of the project right off the bat - she wants it to resemble a "patchwork quilt" of what life is like being in a rock band on the road, and to capture the messy, crazy, ragged feel of the whole whirlwind experience. To that end, Harvey's longtime music-video collaborator Maria Mochnacz does a terrific job of interweaving off-the-cuff backstage moments and practice sessions with live concert sequences. The DVD is generous to a fault at sparing time to chat with Harvey's endearingly scruffy bandmates; the resulting viewing makes for a strange and goofily warm family affair, as we watch Harvey's merry lot of musical vagabonds trot around the globe from gig to gig and bash out Harvey's gloriously dramatic and uncompromising, oftentimes despairing but never less than elating blues-rock.

With the sixteen songs selected for full inclusion here, Harvey and Mochnacz have done an admirable and mostly first-rate job of presenting the `total Polly Jean musical experience' for old-school fans & newcomers alike. Personally, I would've been fine with skipping some of Harvey's better-known tunes like `Meet Ze Monsta' off 1995's To Bring You My Love LP and `A Perfect Day Elise' from 1998's Is This Desire? LP, and focused on more of her lesser-known material; but with a discography as marvelously expansive as Harvey's, it's borderline impossible to completely satisfy one's desires for an ideal DVD setlist. I was lucky enough to see Polly & Co. play at the First Avenue music club in Minneapolis, MN on the opening night of her 2004 tour, and I wish Mochnacz might've tossed in a few more curveballs on the DVD, like the extraordinary live version of the blues classic "Shake Your Hips" which Harvey performed that evening. But at least we're fortunate enough to finally get the first official release of Harvey's scathing rock dirge about romantic rejection, "Uh Huh Her," which actually never made it to the final tracklist of the album proper (at the time, Harvey thought it sounded "too much like what people expected me to sound like").

Old standards like `Dress' and `Harder' sound better than ever, punched up and breathed full of new life by Harvey and her more-than-game band. The songs from Uh Huh Her come off terrifically as well - the sinister `It's You' is that album's sister to the equally forboding `Working For The Man' from To Bring You My Love. `Who the F**k?' is Harvey's own hilariously foulmouthed `Louie, Louie,' a tossed-off, bring-down-the-house, gutter-rock singalong. `The Darker Days of Me And Him' is a movingly mournful epic ballad about the painfuls lessons of past romances - although its placement smack in the middle of the DVD is a little quizzical, especially considering Harvey's very best full-on rock song from the latest LP (and quite possibly her best song ever), `The Letter,' is saved for last. In my opinion, Harvey has never written a song as immediately catchy, witty, melodically infectious or full of totally shameless romantic abandon as `The Letter'; over a twitchy guitar riff and martinet drum beat, she coyly tosses out deliciously X-rated innuendos like "your beautiful pen / take the cap off" and "wet the envelope / lick and lick it," and then literally takes the song to musical nirvana, wailing like some deranged banshee in heat, "IIIIIII waaaaaaaaaaaant you!!!!" Despite the corrosive (and somewhat over-intentional) romantic cynicism that pervades the majority of the Uh Huh Her album, it's at moments like this that you know you're in the company of a completely unabashed and utterly hopeless romantic.

There are some wonderful surprises on the DVD: `My Beautiful Leah' from Is This Desire? comes off much better live than on record - dirtier, slinkier, sexier (of course, Polly Jean vampishly prowling the stage in her tight short skirt and glow-in-the-dark high heels does nothing to diminish the sultriness). Harvey's performance of `Catherine' from the same album is fantastic - a stunning and haunted take on the aftermath of a tragic love affair (much rumored to be Harvey's quasi-ode to the singer/songwriter Nick Cave after the dissolution of their reportedly stormy & short-lived romance). Harvey daringly takes the P.O.V. of a man romantically jilted and left obsessively & destructively caught between total spite and lovestruck longing for his ex - "Catherine De Barra, you've ruined my thinking / I gave you my heart, you left the thing stinking / `til the light shines on me, I damn to hell every second you breathe" - and then, astonishingly, she does a 180-degree turn and closes with "oh my Catherine, with time I'd have won you / with guile I'd have won you." It's songs like this which suggest there may be no living songwriter more skilled at exploring and evoking (some might say excavating) the contradictions of the human heart than Polly Jean Harvey.

Admittedly, I'm a bit saddened there isn't more emphasis in this DVD on material from my all-time favorite PJ Harvey album (and one of my own personal top 10 favorite albums of the last 20 years), 2000's Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea LP. We get the blistering rock of that album's opener `Big Exit,' but that's all - no `Good Fortune', no `This Mess We're In,' no `You Said Something.' Granted, it's perfectly understandable considering what Harvey was going for with her latest album and this DVD: in the generous supplementary interview included here (really a documentary on the making of the Uh Huh Her LP), Harvey explains how she's thrived on thematic extremes throughout her career, and that the best way for her to keep things creatively vital and fresh is to veer from one extreme to the other. In previous interviews she's described how she fully intended to go from a "beautiful" album to an "ugly" album - and since Stories was the prettily-produced, genuinely romantically-uplifting one, the intentionally predetermined path of Harvey's career basically mandated that Uh Huh Her had to be the darker and murkier and unsettling follow-up. (Still, Stories' monstrous, take-no-prisoners rocker `Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore' would've fit in perfectly with this DVD's sonic bombast.)

It may be a shame to some that this DVD - ostensibly the only official DVD that PJ Harvey will ever release - captures her at a moment in her career when she seems intent on creating almost solely within the ever-so-slightly-contrived emotional space of romantic doom, gloom and `sturm und drang,' rather than the passionate and wholly un-ironic personal and romantic happiness of her 'Stories' masterpiece. (Uh Huh Her is certainly passionate, to be sure - as are all of Harvey's records - but it's by and large the passion of "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," written and performed by an immensely talented yet momentarily unswervingly-cynical rock'n'roll Dorothy Parker.) Perhaps Harvey's next album will return her and her listeners to a musical space of emotional self-acceptance and fulfilled romantic longings and a basic, intrinsic joy of living life. Until then, the most important facts of the matter are: A. Polly Jean Harvey is a truly legendary songwriter and performer who rocks like few other female musicians, let alone musicians of either gender, have EVER rocked; and B. sometimes all she or we really need to reach that beauteous state of audience-performer bliss is a few power chords, a banshee's wail and the furious onstage stomp of glow-in-the-dark high heels.
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on May 21, 2006
This DVD is great. Polly puts on an incredible, indescribable show. I only wish I could have seen her live after viewing this. I hope one day I do. She has so much energy and intensity in her performaces. And the songs sound incredible life. I never cared much for the studio version of Who the F*ck? but it sounds amazing here. I played it over like 10 times. What's more, Catherine is on here...that is my all-time favorite PJ song. She doesn't have too many "Stories..." songs on here, and nothing from "Rid Of Me" but all the songs on here are fantastic: pure, raw, wild...you have to see it. The camera angles and color schemes shift along with the music...it's different but you get used to it. Polly is a different artist, so it's expected that her DVD would be unique.

The only shame is that there isn't 30 more songs on here. It's so addicting to watch. The extras are great: Polly drinking, hanging with her bandmates, soundcheck, fooling around, and a great fairly long, in-depth interview with more cool stuff. You can see a lot of personality, which is much more fun and silly (and her speaking voice so soft and almost child-like in ways). It's a must for PJ fans. Get it!!!!
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on May 16, 2006
...where the director can't keep his mitts off the "change camera angle" button or can't help mixing superfluous offstage shenanigans with what we really bought the disc for in the first place...to watch a concert.

And this is one of those where they switch from one particular concert to another in each song. You know, you don't get a continuous show from start to finish. That's whack, if ya ask me.

See The Black Crowes "FREAK AND ROLL INTO THE FOG" if you wanna see how a concert should be filmed. Sure, they mix various nights in with one song, but it's practically seamless and doesn't interrupt your concentration.

The music in ON TOUR:PLEASE LEAVE QUIETLY is really good, but there oughtta be a law...station a few cameras at strategic points in the concert hall and just lazily go from one to another and let us enjoy the show as if we were there.
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VINE VOICEon June 18, 2006
I've been a PJ fan for quite some time and look forward to pretty much everything she releases, but I honestly had a hard time just paying attention to this "film". It opens with Polly explaining how much she hates live albums and concert videos, claiming that she wants this one to be different from all the rest, but it's actually pretty much the same as everything else that's ever been released; lots of jumpy cuts between noise-laden Handycam footage interspersed with extraordinarily drawn out scenes of the band members enjoying their own tragically boring inside jokes. Now I don't expect every band in the world to regurgitate their own "Stop Making Sense" or anything, but there is simply nothing about this footage as assembled here that I feel accurately captures the experience of seeing PJ live, nor does it really present any heretofore unseen biographical information that could truly be called interesting. The disc's one saving grace for me is that it contains a nice rendition of "It's a Perfect Day, Elise," which I've sadly never seen performed live before. At $11, it's certainly no bank-breaker, but if you do pick it up, just skip around to the songs you like and ignore all the stupid backstage footage of people cutting out words written on paper and laughing hysterically at themselves for doing such a crazy madcap thing unless you're a teenage art school student who regularly films yourself cutting out words written on paper and laughing hysterically, of course. In that case you'll probably gain a strong sense of identity by drawing meaningless analogies between your own banal dorm room activities and those of a bona-fide rockstar.
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on February 9, 2016
Thinking of all the GREAT DVDS or music documentaries by other artists, this exploration of Harvey's tour is barely interesting, revealing or exciting. It definitely falls into a FOR FANS video: meaning anybody who is a PJ Harvey fanatic will simply refuse to be critical about it (this coming from someone who owns and likes every Harvey record!) So don't be an undiscerning goob - this video is hardly worth your time!

Considering it's 2015 and PJ Harvey has 26 music videos outside the recent 12 videos made specifically for the Let England Shake DVD - doesn't it seem obvious people would rather BUY THAT! If there was enough money or profit margin to release this sad affair, then surely Harvey could make money releasing a video collection compiling 20 years of her career! Jeez!
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on January 4, 2007
I love PJ Harvey and have been listening to her for about 12 years now, I was SO excited when this DVD came out...what a disappointment.

The live footage isn't very high quality, some of it almost looks like it was filmed with a camera phone!??!...the interviews are alright, but all in all I don't think there was as much thought put into this as there should have been considering how great it finally was to have some PJH to play on the TV!
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on June 2, 2006
The problem with these reviews is simply this: Fans give their favorite artist five stars, period. Detracters or disgruntled fans give artists one star reviews with their axes set on grind. Well, I'm guilty of giving PJ five stars, but this under-rated artist actually deserves the rating. PJ Harvey challenges Radiohead as the best musical artist of the last fifteen years. This DVD brilliantly showcases everything that makes PJ so special: Her amazing vocals whispering beautifully one song and setting your hair on fire the next; her talented backing band blistering thru her back catalog (with emphasis on Uh Huh Her); a unique backstage portrait of the painfully shy artist revealing her to be funny, engaging and slyly alluring. From the mud thick Robert Johnson blues riff of "Meet Ze Monsta" to the epic DVD closing "The Letter", PJ delivers with every ounce of her small frame. She leaves it all on stage - passion, love, hate and teeth rattling alt/blues rock - for her adoring fans. My only complaint is that there aren't enough songs from "Stories...", "Rid of Me" and "To Bring You My Love". Why she hasn't recieved the recognition she deserves is a mystery. Oh well, her fans are reluctant to share her with the masses. They just shower her with five star reviews...
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on June 7, 2006
This DVD is a total experience, as PJ says in the course of the film, she did not want it to be just another 'Concert DVD', and it is not. Having seen PJ at the Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC in 2001, I can say that this captures the excitement, raw power and contrasting sensitivity of her music, her songs and her performance.

PJ is a truely unique and genuine artist and this DVD conveys that. The concert sequences and interview fragments meld together to create the feeling that matches the intent and title - PJ on Tour - that is why this is not just a Concert on DVD. The film maker has acheived the artist's intention perfectly. The 'extra' PJ interview is likewise a work that combines her music with an artistic feel and presentation to give us a unique insight into PJ's artistic expression.

PJ Harvey's music and performance come together here in a way that trancends the medium and takes us as close as can be to 'being there'.
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on May 30, 2011
I just saw PJ live for the Let England Shake tour and she was marvelous. This is equally good in a completely different way. This was a very loud, hard rock oriented time for her, and the cut-and-paste quality of the editing works very well with the raw sound of the music. Her band is very energetic, and PJ is, as always, mesmerizing. It's true that sometimes you want the camera and editing to calm down a little bit because the herky-jerky quality gets a little old after a few songs, but if you are a true fan of hers (especially if you like her howling, crazed, blues-punk stuff), you absolutely have to have this.
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on June 1, 2006
I have to agree with reviewer S. Kurtz. The music on this DVD is a solid 5 stars easy, smokin band, great performance, great sound.

The problem is all the freaking cuts. At one point I noticed the picture changed with EVERY sylabel of a sentence. I could not concentrate and just enjoy the performance. Note overly clever film editors, people who purchase music DVD of music they generally already own do not need the phoney added excitment of being blasted of images of the artist.

We buy this stuff becasue of the MUSIC, so STOP STOP STOP it, it is totally not needed. PJ Harvey fans will buy this anyway, get over yourselves. If you want to see how a concert DVD should be done check out "X: Live in Los Angeles". Yes there are cuts during songs but certainly not in the 100's per song.
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