Like fellow octave-obliterating vocalist Leslie Feist, Caroline Polachek of Chairlift built early buzz for her band thanks in part to an Apple commercial. Last night at New York’s Bowery Ballroom she and bassist Patrick Wimberly proved that their music has gone clear beyond the realm of jingles; 10 of the set’s 13 tracks were new material from Chairlift’s sophomore album, Something (out today on Columbia), and “Bruises,” the endlessly repeatable ditty that Apple chose to get people jazzed about chromatic Nanos in 2008, didn’t even make the list.
Preceded by high-energy potshot sets from fellow New York band Violens and the young Brooklyn rock quartet DIVE, Chairlift introduced the gig as a booty-shaking thank-you note to its home base before embarking on a three-month world tour that kicks off in Australia this Saturday.
“It’s great to be playing a show with our friends and family,” Polachek told the crowd before the obligatory pre-encore fake finale an hour into the set. “I see a lot of friends in the audience tonight.”
Some friends, as yet unknown to Polachek, evidently took this as an invitation for some onstage embracing. One girl bolted through the crowd like a hug-seeking missile, mounted the stage and beckoned Polachek into a close dance before being escorted to the side stairs by a security guard. When the girl broke away from the first security envoy, she launched herself at Polachek with so much force that the singer lost several verses of the dancey new track “I Belong In Your Arms” to bouts of shocked laughter.
This brief explosion of energy was the tidal wave in an otherwise placid lagoon of ’80s-tinged dance fantasy. Polachek and Wimberly were joined on stage by a three-piece touring band, whose guitar, synthesizer and drumkit contributions built a sound far deeper and more cohesive than that on Chairlift’s debut, Does You Inspire You. Between slow jams like “Cool As Fire” and synth-blaring discotheque grooves like the faux-Frenchified “Le Flying Saucer Hat,” the night played out like Hipster Prom. Thick rimmed glasses clacked in collision when audience members in three-piece suits and floral spandex slow danced, butt bumped and made out through the set as stage fog and just a whiff of doobie smoke filled the hall. Polachek wore black short shorts under a sort of modified lab coat divided into patchwork quadrants of purple, yellow, white and streaked marble prints. During instrumental reprieves, Polachek pirouetted on black heels and busted out interpretive dance moves that came off as a mesmerizing flirtation of the robot and ballet.
The set reached a literal and cathartic peak when Wimberly pumped the unmistakable bass intro of encore track “Amanaemonesia,” whose ’80s pastiche music video provided fans some karaoke lyrics to obsess over since last fall. While Polachek took a ride between bipolar high-note vibratos and deep-throated refrains of “chasing the rabbit” (a lyric several audience members hollered in anticipation all night), the crowd was strapped in by her side, dancing up a crazed, hazy sweat while the band threw in extra guitar solos and mutated synth bells. The climax was such a loud, tight, undeniably dance-inducing reminder of what Chairlift has become that by the time it ended at 11:45 p.m., nobody standing stunned in the Bowery Ballroom questioned where their “Bruises” were.
Photos by Brandon Specktor