Performing live is a full body, mind and soul experience for Caroline Polachek. Her limbs ripple and roll as she howls operatic whistles, guiding her hand past her chest and along her throat, miming the exit of the notes from her mouth as if she’s passing them over from her palm.
Returning to the stage was not an easy ask of the experimental pop artist. “I don’t think I can live up to this. I don’t think I can hold this moment down,” she thought weeks before her triumphant comeback show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. But the stakes felt higher this time as she returned to London at the Camden Roundhouse, the city she performed her last show in before the pandemic shutdown.
“Are people gonna come to the show?” she recalled asking herself as tickets went on sale when she was on a bike ride with her sister. “I watched as you guys sold this place out in one hour. I just sat there and cried. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since,” she says, hugging her body tight in gratitude as cheers from the crowd make her visibly emotional.
Polachek’s last album ‘Pang’ is as much of a cathartic listen as it is for her to perform. The title track is desperately purging, with every gig-goer expelling their own demons in the deeply satisfying expulsion of air that the phonic sound requires. Her trance-like belts in ‘Door’ and ‘Breathless’ are cosmic, but ‘Insomnia’ brings the house to a stop as Polachek delivers her vocal best, positioning her profile off centre like she is delivering a sermon. The devastating ‘Ocean of Tears’ conjures up a similar air as her voice buckles and howls in heartache.
But she equally allows moments of silliness, beaming at the childish fun of the crowd hollering the “show me the banana” line in ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’, and wryly smirking at 3000 fans screaming “Caroline Shut Up” at her in the track of the same name. She bounds and slinks across the stage in ‘Pang’s’ more uptempo numbers, pulling her jumpsuit’s feline-like tassels behind her. She also brings out musical pals Danny L Harle and Sega Bodega to join on a couple tracks.
There’s room for recent singles too, throwing bunny hands to her forehead for summer bop ‘Bunny Is a Rider’, and playing three new tracks: the sunny flamenco-flared ‘Sunset’, the hopeful ‘Smoke’, and cinematic ‘Billions’ performed live with the Trinity Girls Choir.
“I think this is my favourite show I’ve ever played in my life,” Polachek proclaims to a doting crowd. They’re mutually elated. Polachek’s fierce vocals have never felt more transportive to a crowd that has waited two years to belt and wail and roar with her.
Caroline Polachek played:
‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’
‘Bunny Is a Rider’
‘Sunset’ (with Sega Bodega)
‘Hey Big Eyes’
‘I Give Up’
‘Look at Me Now’ (with Danny L Harle)
‘The Gate’ (with Danny L Harle)
‘Ocean of Tears’
‘Go as a Dream’
‘Caroline Shut Up’
‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’
‘Billions’ (with Trinity Girls Choir)
‘Door’ (with Trinity Girls Choir)