Review: Polica at Bluebird Theater, 11/26/13
Somewhere in the relentless blur of the first ten minutes of Poliça's pounding performance at the Bluebird Theater last night, Chris Bierden's bass strings broke, and Poliça had to do something it has rarely done since hitting the scene a few years ago -- it paused. The act's charming frontwoman Channy Leaneagh took the opportunity to make a weed joke and soak in the near capacity crowd in a venue that the outfit has played before in the last two years but never seen quite this full.
Since the fall release of the group's second album, Shulamith, Polica's rep has grown bigger and bigger. Judging from the reactions of the audience, this crowd was either intimately familiar with the Minneapolis quartet's two albums or becoming fast new fans. The setlist was a best of the story so far that mostly concentrated on the claustrophobic vibes of Shulamith interspersed with highlights from the first album like "Chain My Name."
You simply can't help but be seduced by the sound of a band that has dedicated 50 percent of its efforts to the rhythm section. As a singer, Leaneagh seems to be in love with the interplay of lilting vocals against hard beats, so much so that her lyrics are near impossible to pick out on casual listen. The effect draws you in, to the extent that the crowd was slow to come out of their haze and applaud some songs, others were hanging over the rail on the mezzanine, as if the only thing holding them up was Leaneagh's voice.
People like to talk a lot about the double drums of Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu, and for good reason: Their parity keeps the navel gazing funky, which is something a lot of electro bands forget to do. "Dark Star" jams hard in this arrangement, and the menacing "Very Cruel" threatened to overwhelm the venue with rumbling drums. Interestingly Leaneagh laid off the vocal effects that her band has become known for. The effects were subtle here and barely audible in the mix and mostly augmented her vocals, which were stunning.
Perhaps the most stunning thing about Poliça is that they feel like they have always existed. People constantly compare them stylistically and sonically to other acts like Portishead, but I think that is more an effort to reconcile their newness with the accessibility of the band's sound. As they closed, Leaneagh announced, "We are going to leave the stage unless you call us back." They knew leaving the stage the crowd would call them back. It was just another rare pause, a moment for them to soak it all in again.
Opening act Marijuana Deathsquads certainly brought their brand of vibes. A blend of aggro metal drums with paranoid electro strains, the band's sound was a great counter piece to the headliner. Deathsquads feels very side project-y. It's the kind of band that your friend who is in a band is super into. Mere mortals are left to feign intense interest -- or in the case of most of the early attendees on Tuesday, relegate them to background noise while they have a conversation.
Personal Bias: There's a simple trick that a lot of bands forget to do: play live drums over a drum machine. This never fails. Poliça never made a big deal out of all their electronic kit onstage but when those drum machine beats combined with the live drums, you suddenly got what electronic music is all about.
Random Detail: Holy Grind Time, Batman! I get that the downtempo electro R&B vibe makes people feel some type of way, but sheesh! There were lots of couples grinding and swaying and getting all close and stuff. Minneapolis breeds musicians that make music for long winters indoors. May I suggest Poliça for your winter playlist.
By The Way: The incredible turnout was really hard to explain. It's not like this band is enjoying much more than a ton of indie circuit love right now. NPR has been on them since day one, and even Rolling Stone has lauded them, but it's not like their songs are destroying radio. Having said that, it was awesome to see so many fans turn out for the show. Maybe Bon Iver's street cred has led to a Poliça bump? Thanks, Kanye?
BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.