It can be a tough proposition to attend a show by a band that hit it big through licensing a song to a commercial. That’s not a comment on “selling out” or the politics of such a decision—bands need to get paid, and it’s become more difficult than ever for them to make that happen in a big way. No, I’m talking about snobbery of a different sort. When you put hundreds of people into a room whose greatest shared interest is less listening to music than watching television, you’ll likely get a live atmosphere of, shall we say, a different sort. Less watching, more talking; fewer sensible shoes, more stilettos.
Chairlift, whose Brooklyn-by-Boulder synthpop reached the masses in the vessel of an Apple ad soundtracked by their “Bruises”, made the most of a tough situation. In fact, vocalist Caroline Polachek seemed oblivious to the chattering crowd, repeatedly lavishing those at DC’s U Street Music Hall with the title of ‘Best Crowd Ever’. One would hope not. But for those paying attention above the din of clinking drinks and giggling young professionals, Polachek and her band gave an ebullient, engaging performance.
On record, Chairlift sounds eminently professional, every electronic beat compressed just so, all the production in service of Polachek’s gorgeous voice. Rich and airy, confident and playful, her vocals could be regulated as a Class A substance, an opiate with dangerously enveloping power. Live, her voice couldn’t help but lose some of its power—not as a result of any loss of talent or poise, but simply through the natural effect of piping that voice through a well-used PA rather than a pristine recording studio. Polachek, for her part, more than made up for shift in setting with her natural charisma, dancing her heart out and giving the crowd at least twice the energy they gave her.
Tracks like “Take It Out on Me” and opener “Sidewalk Safari” popped and vibrated with a different sort of life than on record, fleshed out by a full band. The band’s best song, “Wrong Opinion”—a warm, affirming, flawless slice of pop songcraft—sounded bigger here, amped up by the addition of those extra bodies on stage. By the time the band got to its most energized material, undeniable tracks like “I Belong in Your Arms” and “Amanaemonesia”, they’d won over even the most distracted drunks. “Bruises”, of course, got the most applause and attention, though it seems a paler, less refined song in comparison to the material on the band’s most recent record, Something (2011). Still, it’s hard not to wish every moment of the day was soundtracked by Polachek’s voice.
Take It Out on Me
Guilty as Charged
I Belong in Your Arms
Cool as a Fire