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Video: PJ Harvey And John Parish At SXSW

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.

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Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson is a host, writer and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist and guest host on All Songs Considered. Thompson also co-hosts the daily NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created with NPR's Linda Holmes in 2010. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)