“Better to sleep through the sunrise / Than to stumble sleeping through the night life”
With its Art Deco interior and a booth-fitted circle overlooking the crammed stalls, The Troxy marks an auspicious final venue for Poliça’s international tour in support of Shulamith. Tonight the former cinema (and bingo hall during the 80s) is sunken in violet light and an arsenal of synths, samplers and two drum kits sits on stage below the bloody backdrop of Shulamith’s album cover. An inconspicuous mirrorball hangs from the lighting rig as more people come in from the cool and damp of the February night.
Just after eight all conversation is drowned out by cavernous feedback verging on the deafening bottom end of human hearing, signalling that support act Marijuana Deathsquads have taken to the stage. This rumbling continues until all attention is fixed on the figures on stage centred around a mission control desk of synths and samplers, before plummeting into a furore of crashing primeval riffs. Part punk snottiness, part drum and bass cacophony; the Minneapolis noisemakers make for a confrontational opening act, riding a continuous wave of twisted samples backed by the dual drum assault of Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson (also of Poliça). Tonight offers a rare live appearance from Ryan Olson, whose dizzying list of brain children (Poliça, Marijuana Deathsquads, Gayng et al) has made him a svengali-like figure of the Minneapolis music scene. Strait-laced and white shirted, he hovers hungrily over a sampler like a velociraptor, barking orders over headsets to the other members while vocalist Isaac Gale wanders the stage wailing in varying degrees of vocal distortion. As the members become lost in a miasma of violet/orange dry-ice focus is placed entirely on the noise, punctuated on two instances by the Troxy’s fire alarms going off (it isn’t clear if this is cause for alarm or just part of the orchestrated chaos). Marijuana Deathsquads provide a brutal counterpart to Poliça’s glacial melodies, emphasised when the skinny, high-heeled and hoodied form of Poliça vocalist Channy Leaneagh enters the stage to lend vocal duties (digitally manipulated by Olson) for the last few numbers. Things get more melodic from there on out, but only just.
The stage is bathed in crimson light when Poliça take the stage and power into the dampened club beats of ‘Slipping Lines’. With a setlist honed and streamlined from four weeks on the road, Poliça hit every mark. While the focus is definitely on the new material (eleven of the seventeen songs performed are from their recent album), the dreamier crowd favourites on Give You The Ghost sit comfortably alongside the more confrontational songs of Shulamith. ‘Very Cruel’s sinister synth loop and fathom deep breaks of silence feeds seamlessly into GYTG anthem ‘Amongster’, which sees Leaneagh losing herself in the building groove laid down by Ivascu and Christoperson amongst wisps of red smoke. Meanwhile on ‘Smug’, which features Olson back on vocal manipulation duty, flashing blue lights and siren-like synths give the atmosphere of a slow night drive, powered by a cavernous 4/4 beat.
As a live entity the band display a tight chemistry, excelling in creating moments of tension and release and weaving the same magic as they do on record with an intense stage presence. Throughout the show bassist Chris Bierden exhibits ox-like calm dishing out his fluid bass lines while Ivascu and Christopherson seem to operate as a symbiotic percussive unit rather than separate musicians. Their parts either interweave each other or lock in sync perfectly, as is the case in the cascading drum climaxes on ‘Lay Your Cards Out’ and ‘Amongster’ which build into crashing supernovas in a live environment. The deep, grounding force of Bierden’s bass counterpoints Leaneagh’s cooing vocals and fluttering synth loops on ‘Warrior Lord’, before segueing into the hazy beat of ‘Vegas’. Leaneagh’s lost, childlike vocal delivery on the former take on an accusatory tone on the latter’s repeated assertion “You were mean to me” and the whispered demand “Don’t forget”.
Despite her sleight frame Leaneagh cuts a powerful figure, commanding the stage with her voice and backed by a startling barrage of lights. She goads the crowd on ‘Chain My Name’ and stalks the stage on ‘Tiff’, making up for Justin Vernon’s absence with her arresting delivery among medicated beats and Bierden’s purring harmonies. Bubblegum pop song ‘I Need $’ and the funky ‘Dark Star’, which see Leaneagh kick off her boots to groove to Bierden’s moody bass lines, make an appearance before the main set closes with haunting duets on the ponderous, down tempo ‘So Leave’.
On their return to the stage, Leaneagh explains that this is her eleventh time in London. “This a good place” she says grinning, although Ben Ivascu probably conveys the sentiment better with a simple “Cheers, m’dears”. Cue a paranoiac take on ‘Matty’ with an extended instrumental break that wouldn’t go amiss on the soundtrack of Aliens, featuring chittering hi-hat and unnerving synth loops that simmer away before crashing back to earth with drums and loping bass for the final verse. Possibly in anticipation of upcoming Valentine’s Day, the night closes with a spaced-out cover of Lesley Gore’s ballad ‘You Don’t Own Me’. The band are in playful spirit, yearning for the stars as Leaneagh in particularly dramatic flair retreats to her knees after giving it her all. If Elvis really was abducted by aliens, this is what he’d be performing now.
Lay Your Cards Out
I See My Mother
So Very Cruel
Chain My Name
I Need $
You Don’t Own Me