A year and a half worth of collaboration and creation culminated in Friday night’s world premiere of Poliça and s t a r g a z e: Music for the Long Emergency at the historic Fitzgerald Theater. The sold-out show wasn’t just a concert, but an artistic experience that allowed the audience a glimpse into the ingenious minds onstage.
While many are familiar with the work of hometown favorites Poliça, Friday night was the first time many Minnesotans encountered the work of the Berlin ensemble s t a r g a z e, as this show marked their U.S. debut. The unlikely international collaboration came about through Liquid Music, who tracked the creative process behind Music for the Long Emergency through a virtual residency. The inspiration behind the artistic project came from a book by James Howard Kunstler, titled The Long Emergency, with the name of the project referring to the beauty of destruction.
The night’s opening piece was an experimental rendition of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood.” Slowly the ensemble members made their way onto the dark stage as more instruments were gradually added to the repetitive and steady beat. Vocalist Channy Leaneagh drifted on stage to incorporate a layer of otherworldly vocals to the existing sound. With the musicians largely shrouded in darkness but for the red stage lights, the opening served as an ominous and enthralling premonition of what was to come.
The ensemble then transitioned into an original piece, titled “Agree,” that was decidedly more upbeat and contrastingly optimistic. Amidst the originals, the musicians performed a heartfelt Prince medley was performed as they were flooded in purple by the lights above and the lines “does not compute” echoed throughout the theater.
Leaneagh then took a chance to address the crowd, her words reaching the audience as a dreamy echo from the effects of the microphone. She shared the excitement felt by her and her fellow musicians about being all together in Minnesota for the first time. She also jokingly mentioned another, unofficial sponsor of the event, Mickey’s Diner — which is where the members of s t a r g a z e had apparently been eating breakfast every morning since their arrival in Minnesota. She then went on to say that after working together for a little over a year, it was hard to see the collaborative project end.
For their penultimate song, “Curse,” rapper Alexei Casselle — known as Crescent Moon from the Twin Cities hip-hop duo Kill the Vultures, and Leaneagh’s former bandmate in Roma di Luna — was invited on stage. Together, Casselle and Leaneagh intermittently crouched near the floor at the front of the stage, alternating between rapping and singing.
Finding that they had some extra time to spare before their concluding number, Leaneagh decided to take the opportunity to do something unanticipated. “That’s the joy of being on stage,” she said. “I can do something unexpected.”
The surprise ended up being a bit of a political statement as Leaneagh read a passage from an essay by Sarah Kendzior on “how to be your own light” in the wake of this month’s election. The final line Leanagh read sounded a warning: “Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.”
Leaneagh then thanked the audience as the musicians transitioned into their last piece of the night, “The Long Emergency.”
The finale was slightly reminiscent of the beginning, with the presence of the red lights and ominous tempo. At one point, Leaneagh stood at the front center of the stage, with the white spotlight shining only on her as she stood motionless, like the figurehead of this musical movement.
The evening ended with a standing ovation for the musicians; the cheers continued even after Poliça and s t a r g a z e had left the stage, anddidn’t cease until they had been beckoned back onstage for another bow, the crowd encouraging them to bask in the overwhelming success of their 18-month creative endeavour.
Lillian Speakman is a junior at Hamline University and a DJ for HU Radio.