No one, not even Kipling Dynamite, loves technology like Poliça. Created last summer from loose parts of other Minneapolis indie bands, the quartet uses technology to enormous effect on their first album, Give You the Ghost, relying heavily on distortion, looping, and digital manipulation of practically every note and instrument to spawn an ethereal, haunting set of songs. It’s always with a healthy dose of skepticism that we see if a band can pull off a live show to support such a record. At the Red Palace on Friday, where laptops and what appeared to be a Helicon voice processor featured as heavily as the actual band members, Poliça (pronounced Po-lisa) put on a text-book display of how to digitally assist a live performance and not come off looking like a bunch of poseurs.
Let’s get this out of the way right now -- lead singer Channy Leaneagh does not use Auto-tune in the same way that pop stars use Auto-tune. The processor added layered effects to her voice without substantially altering the pitch, while Auto-tune is usually implemented to mask a defect or a complete lack of talent in the vocal department. For the live performance, Leaneagh used her processor much like a guitarist would use a floor pedal, adding reverb, multiple delays and overlays, but her true voice was clearly distinguishable under the effects. Since she sounds like Sinead O’Connor before the multiple marriages and constant inappropriate sharing of personal information, this was a good thing.
The downside of the processor is that lyrics were rendered unintelligible under the weight of the effects, but the overall sound was still beautiful and translated well in the small venue. It’s also not like the lyrics are works of genius, and no one could understand the Cocteau Twins, either.
Poliça is ably rounded out by bassist Chris Bierdan and drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu, proving that the only thing awesomer than one awesome drummer is two awesome drummers. The laptop-produced backing tracks made a lead guitar unnecessary, and the points in the show where the drummers played in sync with one another were pretty remarkable. While the album is a contained, hypnotic collection of songs that flow together in one long seam, these same songs performed live with dual drum kits and a very active bass player turn into something more. Seeing Poliça live makes GYTG better, giving you a deeper appreciation of the individual components that comprise each song.
What saves an electronic band from pitching straight off a cliff into pretension is a sense of sincerity and an underlying true musical talent, both of which were fortunately evident here; additionally, all four band mates seemed to truly enjoy performing together, and that makes any show a thousand times better. Far from hiding a love of things that are plugged into outlets, Leaneagh requested a chair midway into the evening to put her processor front and center, when it became too unwieldy to constantly stomp at it with her toe. Bobbing and weaving around the stage throughout the performance, Leaneagh broke out her charming smile at the end of each song and seemed genuinely touched that so many people were dancing.
While Poliça may bend the ideals of what defines a live show, purists can take comfort in knowing that if the 2012 predictions come true and we lose all forms of electricity, Poliça would still sound pretty solid. Their live performances, stripped of everything manufactured, would more than likely transition just fine to acoustic. While the material would probably translate into a collection of smoky torch songs rather than electronic dance music, Poliça would still be a band you’d like to have around in your doomsday bunker.