Sometimes, it pays to ask for what you want. NPR Music snagged all sorts of video sessions at the SXSW music conference and festival this past March — St. Vincent in a rehearsal space, Grandaddy's Jason Lytle in a busy hotel lobby, et al — but we weren't so optimistic about securing a chunk of Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish's time, especially once their road manager showed up to find our ramshackle set-up.
But after an extensive negotiation involving three cups of hot green tea and a late change of venue to a private suite at Austin's Driskill Hotel, we were finally given the go-ahead. At that point, Harvey and Parish showed up, sat down, produced a steel guitar and two amplifiers (Harvey's was only slightly larger than a juice box), and performed two beautiful songs from their then-forthcoming album, A Woman a Man Walked By.
During the course of a career spanning nearly two decades, Harvey has carved out a mysterious, almost unknowable persona, and it was easy to see how: Thin and impeccably dressed, pleasant but visibly shy, she rarely made eye contact but sang with abandon. An exceptional guitarist and equal partner, Parish made a perfect foil: Similarly striking in appearance, he balanced Harvey's otherworldliness with gorgeous guitar lines and a laid-back demeanor. The music was ethereal, almost ghostly, yet strangely sweet — a natural extension of a body of work that keeps reaching in new and unexpected directions. The set spanned only two songs, but they said plenty.
Watch: "Black Hearted Love"