If critics were looking for the merest speck of rust then PJ Harvey left them deflated. From the moment she walked on stage in Dublin's Olympia Theatre, accompanied by her four member band, she performed flawlessly. The temptation to add that she pulled it off effortlessly should be resisted. That would be to devalue the endeavour that had gone into finetuning the opening act of her latest tour. For a solid month she and her accomplished band had bedded down in her Dorset homestead, making sure that once the act hit the road the audience would get what it paid for. This was not a band on the run but a band on a roll.
When she played Belfast's Waterfront Hall nineteen years ago this month, I was there along with my wife. It was her who had introduced me to the musical delights of Polly, having procured every album she had released. I had just finished the Morning Star's 48 ounce steak challenge - the bar staff said it was a first - washed down with copious quantities of Smithwick's, before meeting up with my wife already in situ. She was ready to dance while I was ready to drop. PJ Harvey revived me.
This time I didn't eat quite so much although some may be sceptical about that claim given the size of the plate in front of me at the wonderful French Restaurant Chez Max which hugs the gates of Dublin Castle. It was my first foray into French food since feasting on snails among other delicacies in Paris a few years ago. Parisian cuisine has armed French gastronomy with an ineluctable pull, and Chez Max is a piquant ambassador for the chefery's authenticity on shores distant from the French capital.
This tour after a six year hiatus coincides with the release of the album I Inside the Old Year Dying. I wondered how it or any other album might ever reach the stratospheric height attained by Let England Shake from twelve years ago. It doesn't have to. PJ Harvey's musical and artistic brilliance remain undiminished.
The band rendered the entire album in Dublin followed by some of her earlier music. My wife had secured front row balcony seats 1 & 2 for us. We were not quite within touching distance of PJ Harvey but it seemed as good as. By the time she had completed her first song there was no doubt she had not just captured her audience but had seduced it. First a sensuous dance at one end of the stage then a repeat at the other. The applause was rapturous. Dublin was hers.
There was a ghostly quality to the stage given the props used, accentuated by Harvey's waif-like persona. Often it seemed we were in a theatre watching a well rehearsed play. There was artistry in abundance from the multi-instrumental maestro. We did not want it to end. The standing ovation before she returned for an encore was prolonged.
In the nineteen years since I last attended her in concert, PJ Harvey has not aged, just matured. Her debut 1992 album was named Dry: thirty one years on the genius has not dried up.