Sunday Times Culture 30-8-98
Much More To Pop Than Pap
::

Diminutive West Country diva Polly Harvey and her band PJ Harvey previewed their new album to a devoted audience at the same venue. Harvey’s brilliant move seven years back was to foreground an approachable human voice within the nagging anti-rock shapes of her East Coast American heroes Slint, whom she once asked to join. Nearly a decade later, she is moving away from twitchy guitars to howl and intone over a subsonic bass so intense the fixtures and fittings at the back of the hall are providing their own percussive embellishments. Even when you can only see the top of her head, Harvey has a winning presence. When she fumbles the intro to Missed she makes an audible Homer Simpson "doh!" sound, and the power drill riff of the encore, 50ft Queenie, is an anthem of empowerment that makes you walk tall, whatever your gender.

Apparently, on the second of his two nights, Nick Cave had to abandon his reading due to persistent heckling. But for the most part, Flux audiences rose to the challenge they were offered. David Thomas’s most intimate sections really worked, and PJ Harvey’s unfamiliar new material was greeted as rapturously as old favourites. That said, when Yo La Tengo came back for their now traditional comedy encore, on this occasion a version of Sham 69’s yob rock terrace anthem Borstal Breakout, the clapometer went off the scale. Somewhere between Cave’s meditations on God, and an American trio who should know better urging us all to escape from the juvenile detention centre, this year’s Flux festival found a unique and vital identity. Steiner did make one unassailable point in his lecture, saying: "This is one of the great periods of music." Hopefully, the Flux festival will be back next year to help document it once more.

Stewart Lee