Live Review: Caroline Polachek Opens The Door
Sam Godden reviews Caroline Polachek’s show at the Islington Assembly Hall.
An increasingly common buzzword in music these days is ethereal, especially regarding artists who draw comparisons from critics to Kate Bush or Björk – think FKA Twigs or Grimes. One other artist whose name is very much front and centre of the ‘ethereal’ category at the moment is Caroline Polachek. In fact, a Spotify playlist co-curated by Grimes with the name “Ethereal” featured a picture of Caroline Polachek as its cover art. It was perhaps no surprise, then, that the pre-set playlist for the show consisted, solely, of songs from Cocteau Twins’ dreamy Heaven or Las Vegas.
Whilst the label may sometimes seem like a catch-all term for any female artist making slightly left-of-centre pop, it is definitely well suited to Polachek. There are few albums released in the last few years with the world-building genius of her debut solo release under her own name, Pang, and there are even fewer artists who could translate that world so well onto a stage, let alone for a show for which tickets were announced just 2 weeks in advance. Not only could Caroline be described as ethereal, but also her fans themselves, who could have easily been mistaken for beings that had stepped through a portal from another dimension, given the display of incredible outfits, best described as ‘renaissance-meets-y2k’.
“these vocal acrobatics were not autotune, and instead were a feat of superhuman vocal abilities.”
One of the most unique and arresting aspects of Polachek is her vocal delivery, being able to switch between her falsetto and chest voice seamlessly, sounding almost like an operatic cyborg. Upon listening to her studio albums, you would be forgiven for thinking much of the recordings were heavily autotuned, but by midway through her set, having heard her perform ‘Ocean Of Tears‘, ‘Look At Me Now ‘and a cover of The Corrs’ ‘Breathless‘, you would have no doubts that these vocal acrobatics were not autotune, and instead a feat of superhuman vocal abilities.
Throughout the show, a fan could be heard screaming, “OPEN THE DOOR CAROLINE”, in reference to Pang’s incredible first single, ‘Door‘, to which she eventually replied, “The door’s already open”, with a bewitchingly playful tone. And it truly was. For the entire hour and a half that she performed, the world outside of the Islington Assembly Hall seemed as if it didn’t exist, or if it did, it was so far detached from the world that was being built within the venue that it didn’t seem important. This was especially true during the main set-list closer of fan-favourite, ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings‘, which entailed hundreds of people screaming along to the words “show me your banana” during the bridge.
“Not only could Caroline be described as ethereal, but also her fans themselves”
Stepping back on stage for her encore performance, Caroline told the story of a dream she had which served as the inspiration for Pang’s closer ‘Parachute’. It details a fall from an aeroplane on fire, and her being saved from drowning by a parachute pulling her back, inland, towards the coast of LA, as well as the thought process she had whilst falling, and coming to terms with her supposedly certain death. At the climax of the song, Polachek, obviously, nailed an almost impossible high note. Whilst a high note like this from many artists may immediately elicit rapturous applause and cheering from the crowd, this one was met with a distinct silence from an audience seemingly completely entranced for a few seconds, before the spell was lifted and the applause thundered around the room. Of course, the encore was finished with ‘Door‘, with the stage backdrop lit up with graphics from the music video, depicting a swirling landscape from a different world which, to quote a comment from the comments section of the YouTube video for the song, ‘feels like it was made in a decade that never happened’. If you ever get a chance to step through Caroline’s door, make sure you take it, and give yourself the opportunity to experience her world of mystique, even if just for a few hours.