In this series Fugitive Sounds’ Contributing Editor Cameron Howell posts selected stubs from his cache of concert tickets, along with his memories of the shows—a “little exercise” that he says “is as much about memory and explaining memories as it is about music or concerts.” Check back at noon each Thursday for the latest installment.
9:30 Club (Washington, DC)
September 10, 2001
P.J. Harvey’s 2000 record Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea restored Polly Jean Harvey and her band with grit and swagger. Dance Hall at Louse Point (Harvey’s 1996 collaboration with John Parish) and Is This Desire? (1998) were, in my opinion, underwhelming. Or maybe I never gave either record appropriate attention.
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea grabbed my attention. Yes, the record was more polished than Dry (1992) or Rid of Me (1993). Yes, the record seemed almost happy (sacrilege!), compared with To Bring You My Love (1995). But the new songs had urgency. The melodies stuck in your head.
I drove from Charlottesville, VA to Washington, DC for this 2001 show at the 9:30 Club. A friend and I ate sushi at a hip restaurant before we entered the District. We arrived at the venue a few songs into the band’s set and watched from the back of the room.
Polly Jean Harvey paced across the stage, the lipstick on her wide mouth contrasting with the pale skin of her face. From one moment to the next, she was feline, powerful, sleek, muscular, feminine, vulnerable, seething, reassuring, or dangerous. I was smitten.
Some corner of the Internet records the following as the night’s setlist:
This Mess We’re In
The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore
Send His Love to Me
The Sky Lit Up
Somebody’s Down Somebody’s Name
Rid of Me
This Is Love
Down by the Water
Horses in My Dreams
Will Oldham’s Song
This Wicked Tongue
Nina in Ecstasy 2
P.J. Harvey closed the night with an encore for the band’s truest fans. Each of the encore’s songs was a bit obscure.
My friend and I took a scenic drive through Washington to begin our travel back to Charlottesville, down Constitution Avenue, past the White House lit up to our right, the Washington Monument towering on the left. Across the Roosevelt Bridge into Virginia.
We stopped at a gas station, had a coffee mishap, and made the long drive through the dark, south to Charlottesville.
The next morning, I woke and showered and dressed in time to buy coffee and be at my desk for my internship by 8:30 a.m. or so. I was tired from the late night and long drive.
I was reading the morning’s news online when I accessed the CNN website. There was a photo of one of the World Trade Center towers with a gash in its side. The headline read something about a plane. It looked like a small plane had flown into the side of the building.
I and three coworkers were the last inhabitants of Miller Hall at the University of Virginia that month. Built originally to house science classrooms, Miller Hall had more recently been the home of the University’s Office of Admissions, along with a few other, small units. Admissions staff had already moved into a new home in Peabody Hall. My coworkers and I would soon vacate Miller for a temporary location, before moving back to central “Grounds.” There were just four of us in Miller Hall, which was scheduled for demolition, to make way for a new library facility, all day on September 11, 2001.
We did not have a television, and Internet and cellphone connections soon clogged so that communications out or in were not possible. I listened to the news on the radio.
A second plane hit a second tower. A third plane hit the Pentagon. The towers fell. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. It was all a jumble. Reporters on the radio repeated rumors of flames on The Mall in Washington. In those hours, any tragic news—however horrid—seemed possible. It was surreal. Perhaps more surreal because we could not see the news as it happened on television. We imagined the scenes, and we felt small and remote but still unsafe.
These lyrics by P.J. Harvey kept playing in my head:
Look out ahead
I see danger come
I want a pistol
I want a gun
I’m scared baby
I wanna run
This world’s crazy
Give me the gun
Ain’t it true
When I’m with you
But I want a pistol
In my hand
I wanna go to
A different land
. . .
I see the children
Sharp as knives
I see the children
Dead and alive
I just feel like
It’s the end of the world
Polly Jean Harvey was in a hotel in Washington, DC that morning, as terror unfolded in the United States. She was notified that she had won the Mercury Prize, the preeminent award for music in the United Kingdom (there is no true U.S. equivalent) for 2001. Years later, she spoke about that day in an interview, which you can read here.