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15 Feb

“Don’t write about people who have paid you money,” was the watchword running through my head at the sold-out Poliça show at First Avenue on Tuesday night. “Or if you are going to write about them, at least let people know.” So, two years ago when Roma di Luna was getting ready to release Then the Morning Came, Channy Leaneagh, then Casselle, cut me a check for some promotional work which included writing a new bio and onesheet which opened with a quote from the mythologist Joseph Campbell, “Love is a friendship set to music.” That seemed appropriate at the time, but the times and tunes have changed. Also, that money is long gone as well.

Anyone who has paid any attention to Poliça knows the story by now. Leaneagh’s band and marriage came apart and as she sought a new outlet, she turned to GAYNGS impresario & producer Ryan Olson with some rough demos. Olson visioned a whole new band and sound and brought in the talents of drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson along with bass player Chris Bierden, cut a record, and then released it as Give You The Ghost last night. The whole process took about eight months. (Wallacian sidebar – In this sense, Poliça mirrors another recent local success story, Peter Wolf Crier. Peter Pisano broke up with his band, The Wars of 1812, and then in a flurry of productivity wrote a record, recorded it with Brian Moen of Laarks, and put it out a heap of buzz and acclaim. Point being, when we know talent, we thrill from newness and seeing the scope of that talent.)

If Poliça is a release from the strain of being in Roma di Luna for Leaneagh (my inclination to simply write “Channy” as a thread of continuity is overcome by the acknowledgment that this is, if not a new beginning, then a different incarnation of the artist) then it is as much because it pushes her talents as much as it buoys them. Poliça would not exist without Leaneagh taking center stage but also does its best, paradoxically, to mitigate her individual presence in live performance. Onstage at First Avenue, her lyricism, often about loss and love, unsurprisingly enough but also critically important, was lost in the bellowing blanket created around her, as only the tone of her voice made it through both the instrumentation and wall of Autotune. (On record, or in a controlled environment, such as the Daytrotter session which just dropped, it is a song of a different color, to coin a phrase, and a stage of a different shape.)

Part of this blanket comes from the level of talent onstage underpinned by Olson and his beats providing a metronomic stability that is both entrancing and comforting. Ivascu and Christopherson are both top-shelf drummers in a city full of talent whose precision and ability to explode a beat from danceable to fundamental is a joy to behold. Bierden’s fluid elasticity along the neck of a bass is magnified by his full-bodied, closed-eyed enjoyment of making music. Yes, Leaneagh writes a lot of the material; yes, the spotlight is on her; yes she sings and dances, but it is also in a totally different context than her previous work. The elements of Poliça wrap around her so that the pressure, is, in a sense, off, whereas in other context where her gorgeously unique voice had to carry the moment, the pressure was definitely on. In Poliça, the lines are polished, confident and presentational and as much as the songs are about vulnerability and loss, they are built around a sameness that makes them a performance, albeit a stellar one. (This is the point we were trying to make a few months ago with a blog post about the dual live videos for “Wandering Star”.)

The most thrilling parts of the night, then, were two moments of newness, as cynical as that might be to say about a band just releasing their first record. But if (like Peter Wolf Crier’s Inter-Be, to continue that parallel) the speed of recording superseded the development of an actual band aesthetic, on the Mainroom stage Poliça flashed us just a bit of where they might go. At one point in a new song there was a break in everything and Christopherson and Ivascu shared a moment of snapping their sticks on the frames of their kits, high pitched, frenetic and then just as just at their peak, with an exploding rush everything plugged back in to glorious effect. In the other moment, for the encore, Bierden and Leaneagh opened up with a muscular, confident, clean duet that showcased how skilled both of them are in art and craft. Those moments were as thrilling in the subtraction as in the skill, reinforcing the scope of the potential for Poliça.

When, after shimmying around stage, Leaneagh stopped to tell the enthralled audience that they were her Valentine’s date and that she was so happy “to perform these songs for you,” that note of performance was especially apt. Being so new still, we have just been on our first dates with Poliça. We are seeing where the performances are, where the emotion lies and how much exposure we might get to the world underneath, especially if Poliça helps Leaneagh give up the ghost. We would be friends, and with that music, maybe get a chance to love again.

Bonus: Check out Staciaann’s slideshow for City Pages.

Double Bonus: Openers Brute Heart were fabulous; drums, viola and bass melding with a chorale like a scatting Hildegard von Bingen put through a tropicalia wringer. Gorgeous live art well worth giving a serious listen.

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  1. Brute Heart | Cake In 15 - March 8, 2012

    […] you were at the packed Poliça show in the Mainroom on Valentine’s Day, hopefully you showed up early enough for the openers […]

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