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Poliça at the Biltmore Cabaret

Channy Leanagh with Polica

Channy Leanagh with Polica at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Aug 16 2012. Tamara Lee photo.

Review and photos РPoli̤a at the Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver, Aug 16 2012

– review by Shawn Conner/photos by Tamara Lee

Doleful, pretty and languorous, Poliça‘s songs are inviting. But they don’t exactly put down their bonbons and leap off of the divan to open the door for you.

At least that’s the sense I get from Give You the Ghost, the Minneapolis band’s 2012 debut.

But, kicking off a North American tour last night, Channy Leanagh and her three-piece forced the songs out of their shells and into the mood lighting of the real world.

Who are Poliça?

The band came out of the Minneapolis collective Gayngs (whom I actually saw but have almost no recollection of, the show having been in craft-beer capital Portland). Leanagh and fellow Gayngs member Ryan Olson collaborated on what would become Give You the Ghost, which also features vocals from Bon Iver‘s Mike Noyce.

For the touring version, Poliça features Leanagh, drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson and bassist Chris Bierden. And some backing tracks.

Give You the Ghost

Emerging in cool blue light, the four-piece proceeded to perform most if not all of Give You the Ghost. I can’t say in which order, since the songs aren’t given to obvious choruses or taglines; this is not a band you chant along with (the press release says their music “re-shape[s] the intersection of pop and digitised R&B,” which is as good a description as any I guess).

Any misgivings I had before the show –  that Poliça might be more of an album/headphones band than a live act – were swiftly blown away by the room-filling combination of war drums and diva vocals. And Leanagh’s performance; eyes closed, head nodding, hand making shapes in the air, the vulcan-ish singer held our attention, at least when we could see her through the clouds of fog.

The highlights on record were the highlights live: the sinuous “Amongster”; the unravelling pop of “Dark Star”; the darkly cheerful “Leading to Death”.  The decision to tour with two drummers is an inspired one – the massive beats transform the songs live, and showcase even more the power of Leanagh’s sultry, humid voice. Between the two more powerful forces, the bass might have gotten lost, but Bierden helped give the songs a more solid foundation.

Supreme Cuts

With the manic and rave-y energy they brought to their performance, which consisted mainly of tapping sample-generating pads and keys, openers Supreme Cuts seemed like nothing so much as a Saturday Night Live parody (I’m picturing Bill Hader) of the Chemical Brothers. The duo had that 10-years-in-the-basement feel, as though they had just emerged from a long process of experimenting with sound and were just now blinking in the sunlight.

Austin Keultjes and Mike Perry, aka Supreme Cuts, played a precisely-long-enough (about 35 minutes) of sample collages my girlfriend said reminded her of Animal Collective. The duo certainly had their adherents – a troupe of dancers, faces aglow, hugged and danced in front of the stage, as though warming up for Shambhala.

I alternated between really enjoying the band’s trippy arrangements to, by the third track annoyance at what seemed like a gimmicky reliance on sampled (female) vocals. And then back to enjoyment again when the duo started mixing things up a little more.

At their best, Supreme Cuts are definitely advancing the conversation between indie-rock and dance music. And they certainly put on a show that, in spots, had me wondering if they would overshadow the headliners. They didn’t, but I’m sure they helped spur Poliça on.

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