Poliça sound best in the darkness. Sometimes that’s in your bedroom with headphones. Sometimes it’s on a late-night drive around a lake. On Saturday, it was at First Avenue, the rock club’s floor full and the lights low. I’d seen the band outdoors at Eaux Claires and Rock the Garden before, but something about their woozy, bass-laden electronica fit so well with a darker setting and nightlife crowd that First Avenue became my favorite show yet.
The reason the local band supplied for playing a show this weekend was their five-year anniversary (their first album, Give You the Ghost, came out on Valentine’s in 2012). But Channy Leaneagh, the band’s vocalist, said, “Five years isn’t really that long. We just wanted to play a show.”
For all of the attention Poliça get for their electronic, experimental production, I wasn’t expecting them to open a capella. But Leaneagh sang most of “Wandering Star” on her own, steadily shuffling through the haze on stage. Auto-Tune barely tinged her vocals, so the lyrics — “When the day is done/ I lay me down” — rang out loud and clear. Chris Bierden gradually joined her on bass, and the “Starchild” sparkle (like the noise of a video game level unlocking) ornamented the mix.
“Someway” departed from its album version, too, slowing to about the tempo of “Lately” (also from United Crushers). But from there, the set’s experimentation largely dropped off. Poliça shifted into a comfortable, fast-paced string of songs from all over their discography, hitting most of the essentials (“Wedding,” “Chain My Name,” “Warrior Lord” cross-faded into “Lay Your Cards Out”; they left out “Tiff” and “Dark Star”). Like usual, Leaneagh moved in short, swaying hops — sort of like a soulful Irish dancer.
They also debuted a few new songs, including collaborations with orchestral collective s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e and Spank Rock, their opener. Their first new one, which featured the lyric, “You don’t know me,” warmed the room considerably. It may not please those who thought United Crushers was too conventional, but I found it instantly likeable.
Of course, the overall lack of surprises didn’t mean it wasn’t emotional. Leaneagh, Bierden, and Drew Christopherson (one of two drummers) had their eyes closed for most of “Someway,” and Leaneagh lay down on her stomach in “Lose You.” “Lately,” a fiercely feeling song they performed from United Crushers, analyzes a fruitful relationship and decides that space is a good thing.
Leaneagh didn’t address the crowd often on Saturday, but when she did, it left an impact. “I spent every night in high school dancing on these floors,” she said, although she never makes it out anymore. During “Leading To Death,” she promises an unknown being she won’t weep in the time before their death. While she sang the song live, she cried, “We’re not gonna weep when Trump is dead!”
Due to the stage’s incredible backdrop (a similar look to the band’s website), it seems appropriate to close with a shout-out to Eric Carlson, United Crushers‘s art director. The black, pink, green, and red album cover gushes with symbolism; poppies and hands cut off at the ring finger border a woman who’s clearly pregnant. It’s become a key part of Poliça iconography, and it provides plenty of avenues for the band to continue to develop.
As people are listening to United Crushers tonight want to thank Eric Carlson for his art direction on this record and making it look good.
— POLIÇA (@thisispolica) February 26, 2016
“There will be noise complaints,” Spank Rock rapped while opening for Poliça, but my main problem was with his relentless lyrics. A black paddle hung from a belt loop, and the Baltimore artist sounded fervent as he chanted, “Ass is for freaking.” It should have been fun, but thanks to borderline lyrical priapism, I felt like he’d taken Big Freedia’s booty jams and flipped them from celebration to violation. I’m still wrestling with this, because his techno/trap beats (many of them written by Boys Noize) had my attention. But I can’t say I’ll see him next time he’s in town.
You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore cover)
Spank Rock & Poliça song
New song (s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e collaboration)
Lay Your Cards Out
Leading To Death
Chain My Name