The Times 27th August 1998
Girl from the badlands

Though only in its second year the Flux Music Festival has continued to set Edinburgh alight. This year a unique collaboration between Spiritualized and Steve Martland was topped only by Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas’s bizarre set of fractured urban blues with Two Pale Boys, while Yo La Tengo indulged in a bizarre cover of Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout, proving once and for all that the geek shall inherit the earth. But the highlight for many was the return of PJ Harvey, the West Country girl whose unhinged excursions into badlands of her own making make for thrilling listening as well as viewing.

Clad in black and red, Harvey and band kicked off at the Jaffa Cake with a relatively sedate Is This Desire? before the spirit took hold and turned her into a seething torrent of back-woods rage. In a set drawn largely from her forthcoming album, tempos shifted and soared from bare-bone balladeering to full-throttle rock’n’roll. In between songs Harvey seems like such a well-behaved, peaches and cream kind of girl that you could almost take her home to mother. But then she is possessed again and the banshee wail becomes a roar. From Monsta to Heela, Harvey transcends any old-time kohl eyeliner notions of goth with the sheer force of songwriting skill on offer.

Proceedings closed with a suitably mammoth 50Foot Queenie, the song that made her a role model for anyone who can see beyond Miss Selfridge separates. Girl power? Forget it. Harvey is a woman at the height of her musical and performance powers. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Neil Cooper