PJ Harvey review, Glastonbury 2024: Casting herself as a provocative rockabilily re-inventor of old

PJ Harvey performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2024, Friday 28 June (Getty)
PJ Harvey performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 2024, Friday 28 June (Getty)

Performance artist Marina Abramovich, given a brief slot on the Pyramid Stage ahead of PJ Harvey, claims she wants the entire field to engage in seven minutes of silence while she stands onstage dressed as a giant peace symbol because “the world is a really s***** place”.

Bombay Bicycle Club, seeping over from the Other Stage, clearly didn’t get the memo, but the contemplative break also gives Glastonbury pause from Sugababes’ “Round Round” to recalibrate itself to Harvey’s enthralling modern-ancient aesthetic.

As Emily Eavis bangs a gong to mark the end of the silence, Polly Jean seems to rise from the leyline itself dressed as a haunted crow tree, and in these fittingly mystical environs, the latest stage in her career-long, Bowie-esque evolution reaches its immersive conclusion.

Over in the Theatre Field, there are wags wandering around dressed as classical paintings, frames and all, but the opening clutch of songs from Harvey’s latest album I Inside The Old Year Dying present her more as 15th Century artist Jan van Eyck’s depiction of St Vincent; the one-time garage provocateur, glamourpuss and dream pop Lady of the Lake has been cast this past decade as a medieval experimentalist.

“Prayer at the Gate” and “The Nether-Edge” – swirled by spirit voices and played on what sounds like wishing sticks and summoning pipes – are funereal, electronic pagan pieces that could have soundtracked the final scene of Kill List. As “dark-haired lords” abound, shepherd girls weave and Harvey conjures lyrics of death and romance in Anglo-Saxon dialect, Lankum definitely have her to thank. Although heaven knows what the Dua Lipa space-keepers down the front make of it all.

The textures here are so dank and enveloping that when the hunting horns of “The Glorious Land”, from 2011’s celebrated Let England Shake, blare out and Harvey sings, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? Its fruit is deformed children”, it’s greeted as a virtual party banger by the (noticeably thin) crowd.

Likewise the rattling clap-along of “The Words That Maketh Murder”, although a fresher pace arrives as Harvey whips off the tree dress and dives into “50ft Queenie”, crawling across the stage and caressing herself like the visceral and provocative rockabilly re-inventor of old.

There’s a shame-free relief in the fact that Harvey hasn’t discarded classic material such as “Man-Size” as she’s progressed; indeed, when she hammers into the staccato chords of her 1991 debut single “Dress” a through-line emerges... the roots of her current sepulchral graininess were embedded here.

She closes with a particularly Patti Smith take on “To Bring You My Love”, a brooding overture to a night of leotarded poptimism that shows how many other sonic worlds are possible. If you stay silent another minute or two, you might just hear the old gods rocking out.