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Life as a buzz band must be both thrilling and exhausting. Quickly thrust into the spotlight, a band must learn how to swim or be ravenously eaten up by critics and disappointed fans alike. Crazy how much excitement one or two songs that can create, ramping up expectations for bands who shouldn’t have to worry about pleasing the public as much as pleasing themselves.
Set up as a creative release following the break-up of both a previous band and a previous marriage, Polica (with a soft “c”) rose to prominence with their first album Give You the Ghost in 2012. Their synth-drive, beat heavy sound captured the zeitgeist of modern music and the band quickly made their touring rounds, initially as support for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, before heading off on their own headlining tour post-SXSW. Fronted by Channy Leaneagh, Polica got a good amount of press from various outlets such as NPR and Jools Holland, giving them the necessary push to headline venues like the Paradise. Leaneagh mentioned that this was their third time in the past two years that they’ve played the Paradise; not bad for a band who only formed in 2011.
Opening the show was Marijuana Deathsquads. Hailing from the same city as Polica (Minneapolis for those keeping score), they shared a drummer with Polica (the excellent Ben Ivascu) along with the similar set up of two drum kits. In the past, Marijuana Deathsquads have performed with a number of big names, ranging from Eric Wareheim (of Tim and Eric), Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) and David Yow (of The Jesus Lizard), but this time they were on their own.
Getting right down to it, the band fell into a nice groove of ultra-high distortion and steady 4/4 beats. Reminiscent, at points, of aggressive electronic acts such as F**k Buttons and XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream, Marijuana Deathsquads rained sonic doom on the slowly growing crowd. Singer Isaac Gale didn’t really sing but shriek over the loud, programmed bass lines and pounding rhythms. At times, they were majestically powerful, weaving danceable electronica into hi-gain fuzz freak-outs. However, their act lacked variety, their singular blasts of noise rarely changed while the two drummers rarely fell onto any interesting patterns, emphasizing raw power over any subtlety.
Luckily, Polica more than enough made up for the lack of any delicacy, opting for a quieter but groovier set of songs that emphasized various rhythms and moods. Their set focused heavily on their new album, the very new Shulamith, and as a result was somewhat downbeat but in a very danceable way. Opener “Spilling Lines” danced along to racing drum line only to fall out into Leaneagh’s soft vocals and some wobbling electronics behind her. Much of their latest album recalls some of the more innovative acts of the past few decades with “Very Cruel”’s broken melody and forbidding synths recalling Portishead’s signature brand of trip-hop while “Torre” was part Portishead, part Bjork.
Their heavy reliance on new material meant their set moved along to darkly sensual R&B inspired grooves all held down by their precise rhythm section. As previously mentioned, two drummers backed Leaneagh and (unlike Marijuana Deathsquad’s set) created some intricate and groovy rhythms, almost acting as the lead instrument at times. Bassist Chris Bierden did a fantastic job of holding down the low-end on some of the more frantic sections, at points mirroring the repeated, looped riffs of the the band’s sequencers, while still finding time to break free and lay down some smooth bass lines.
The band also briefly dipped into the poppier side of their first album, the aforementioned Give You the Ghost, treating their long time fans to songs such as the tremolo driven “Amongster” and the bouncy “Dark Star.” However, it was very obvious that the band’s main goal was to showcase their latest album. Its important for younger bands to establish the idea that they are constantly growing and changing and, considering there is only a year apart between Polica’s first and second album, the band seem to be on the right track. While the two albums don’t differ greatly, there is a nice sense of growth and maturity on Shulamith.
The band opted to end their set on an interesting note, opening up their encore with a stripped down and shortened version of “Wandering Star” before leading into an interesting cover of Lesley Gore’s (most famous for her pop hit “It’s My Party”) “You Don’t Own Me”. In a testament to the band’s live prowess, the cover didn’t sound out of place at all amongst their own songs. The final song of the night was “Matty,” a song that (even in comparison to their other tunes) is very rhythm heavy, allowing the two drummers to stretch their limbs and provide a suitably rousing ending.
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