Photography by Peter Sharp @ASharperImage
In 2012, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon described the Minneapolis group Poliça as “The best band I’ve ever heard.” With that acclaim from their peer and fellow Gayngs member, it was onwards and upwards for the indie rock outfit. Now four years and three albums later, Poliça returned to Sydney to share with us their 2016 release, United Crushers.
Amongst an audience of what felt like long time fans, The Joan Sutherland Theatre slowly filled until the last house light dimmed and the room fell silent in anticipation for the first burst of colour and sound.
Opening with a trio of tracks from their latest record, their mellow Oxford Art Factory gig in 2013 seemed more than distant. Track ‘Summer Please’ was introduced with drowning blue hue lights that were distorted through a smoky haze. Lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh disguised herself in the illuminations as she shifted from what is usually a delicate head voice into deep, synth heavy vocals. What followed from then on was evocative of United Crushers – a highly emotional presence and extremely polished musicianship.
Trickling through their set we were treated to an old favourite ‘Lay Your Cards Out’, which was blocked from my view unashamedly by the swaying silhouettes of three girls out of their seats. There was no doubt that most of the crowd was experiencing that warm and affirming subconscious feeling of solitude within a packed room, and a quick scan across the theatre showed more groups of friends, families and lovers spreading those vibes.
Leaneagh’s voice is an intriguing instrument of its own. Angelic and captivating, she reached incredible highs with breathy force sending reverb through the floor of the theatre and out through my chest. She glides across the stage with ballerina-esque grace and control, all while the audience is transfixed and in awe. The hauntingly beautiful delayed vocals in ‘Someway’ were accompanied by a tight double drum section and guided along by bassist Chris Bierden into a sound unlike any Poliça fan had heard before. Its faster, its sharper, but it was still that serene, intriguing familiarity we’ve come to love.
What continued to flow through the night was a beautiful melting pot of light, music and art, perfectly encapsulating the core reason for Vivid Live’s existence. Poliça gave Sydney a reminder that musical experiences are more than just artists, songs and audiences by putting on a light show that only further elevated their set.
Each of their three records were well represented across the night, showing a real progression from their soft rock influences heard in Give You The Ghost towards a stronger synth-pop presence and percussion focus that excels within United Crushers.
Tagging alongside a Vivid line-up of heavy weights including Bon Iver, New Order and Hiatus Kaiyote, this small four piece from Minneapolis, Minnesota did not just hold their own, but shattered all expectations of what could be misconstrued as a quite tame and dreamlike record sound.