Polly Jean Harvey’s voice is a Goliath-sized instrument.
On her current tour, Harvey sings with a noisy band dominated by two buzz-saw guitarists and an animated drummer.
John Parish leads the ensemble, which muscled up during a Thursday show at Broad Ripple’s Vogue nightclub to match, and sometimes overmatch, Harvey’s monster wail.
Selections from current album “A Man a Woman Walked By” and 1996’s “Dance Hall at Louse Point” – duo collaborations by Harvey and Parish – filled the set list. While Parish has served as producer for several celebrated PJ Harvey recordings, the estimated audience of 600 didn’t hear “Down by the Water” or “When Under Ether.”
Some Parish-Harvey compositions echo Butch Vig-Shirley Manson efforts in the band Garbage.
Parish and Vig are studio mavens who favor squealing, recursive riffs that create an ultra-modern, sanitized version of grunge.
Harvey and Manson are U.K.-based vocalists known for gutsy and provocative personas, but 10 out of 10 listeners likely would choose Harvey as the more artistic talent.
As always, Harvey threw herself into the performance at the Vogue.
A pairing of “Civil War Correspendent” and “The Soldier” revealed her emotive gifts.
“Save your tears for the next to die,” she sang during “Correspondent” (taken from “Dance Hall at Louse Point”). “I want you to share every pinprick of guilt,” she sang during “Soldier” (taken from “A Man a Woman Walked By”).
Featuring a reference to the 39th Parallel and apparently based on the Korean War, “Soldier” unfolded as a hushed meditation with Parish on ukulele and band member Eric Drew Feldman on piano.
The audience could have been quieter, but follow-up number “Taut” invited commotion as an example of over-the-top spazcore.
The title track of “A Man a Woman” brought out Harvey at her most unhinged. Peeved that a hermaphrodite won’t agree to be a boy/girl toy, the song’s narrator unleashes an R-rated tantrum.
Amid moments that ranged from near silence to sensory overload, Parish and Harvey also turned Led Zeppelin upside-down.
Fans of Zep’s unplugged “Going to California” and its fresh start for hippies should check out “Leaving California.”
Against fractured calliope tones, Harvey dialed in an elevated octave and radiated regret: “How could I have believed that I could live and breathe in you?”