Polica at Turner Hall
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The juxtaposition of the human and the computer is so ingrained in pop-music consciousness that it goes beyond trendy; even making that conflict the essence of your band has been done to death. Auto-Tune itself has already cycled from novelty to backlash to hip and back again in the past decade. Polica benefits immeasurably from this post-everything climate; all of the potential gimmicks (i.e. the dual drummer setup, so last-week-Melvins) have become neutral conditions that rely wholly on songs and performance for substance. Polica is defined by the clash between technology and soul, and the latter came to the fore Wednesday night at Turner Hall in revelatory fashion.
On record, Channy Leaneagh’s heavily treated vocals and the band’s highly danceable grooves create a deceptively electronic-sounding collection of pop songs. Live, despite the pre-recorded synth loops and other additives, Polica is almost like a rock band. Chris Bierden’s driving bass lines don’t approximate a guitar, but the two drummers (Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson) frequently bring subtle slow jams to explosive rock-ish conclusions that are only hinted at on the band’s February debut, Give You The Ghost. The moody ambience of the album is reminiscent of Fever Ray, with Leaneagh’s vocals being the clear focus. In Turner Hall, the booming percussive attack took on new life, becoming the dominant musical force.
In most cases, songs started quietly with a minimal synthesized melody, but were soon overwhelmed by the pure bass/drum/vocal ensemble—to the point where anything else became superfluous. These songs could survive without loops, and might even be better without them. The album sounds positively mellow, even incomplete, compared to the dynamic live performance. Yet even with the relentlessly organic feel of the show, these songs (especially “Dark Star”) are sweaty club hits waiting to happen; the beats are infectious, and few in the packed house could keep still for long.
Of course, there’s another way to take this music. You could point out that the band’s Bon Iver connection screams “bandwagon,” and that Leaneagh’s singing is more a game than a performance, a one-woman contest to minimize or transcend the pervasive computerization of her voice. You could insist that a live guitarist and/or keyboardist would only enhance the band. But none of these philosophical quandaries had any bearing on the show. Leaneagh is feline-smooth onstage, and her band is tight and captivating. The new, unrecorded tunes suggested a more collaborative, warmer sound overall; it’s impossible to know whether it will translate in the studio—but based on this show, Polica is one of those rare indie-pop bands best experienced live.