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Words and Photos: Caroline Polachek / Oklou at Liberty Hall

Caroline Polachek at Libety Hall. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Date: December 8, 2021

Liberty Hall - Lawrence, KS

Unless there's a show I'm overlooking, the Kansas City area is yet to host a performance from a capital-p popstar since the pandemic began (rock, hip-hop, and country stars have all played local arenas, stadiums, and large theaters since gigs got rolling again this past summer). One artist with boatloads of popstar potential that we have received a visit from, however, is Caroline Polachek. Fans at Liberty Hall earlier this month were treated to a headlining set that included the entirety of Polachek's 2019 debut, plus four songs from her yet-to-be-announced sophomore LP, a Corrs cover, and a Massive Attack cover accompanied by opening act Oklou.

First known as half of the indie pop duo Chairlift, Polachek has been working on solo material since the duo's breakup in 2017. Pang received critical acclaim upon its release late in 2019 and I was excited to hear of a 2020 tour announced just before the pandemic hit. Now, two full years after the album's release, Polachek fans across America finally got to experience it live on this month-long tour.

Danny L Harle (ex-PC Music, now Mad Decent) and Polachek were both credited as executive producers on Pang. The influence of Harle's former label (known for its futuristic aesthetics) is apparent on the album, though it certainly doesn't sound quite like anything in its catalog. Present are the post-Y2K pop sheen and the glitchiness of many PC Music releases, however the glitchiness is of a quieter type on Pang. Another surprise was the tremendous amount of breathing room it holds -- some of PC Music's best known hits have had maximalist tendencies.

Polachek paused after two songs to admire the theater's murals and divulge that she had two glasses of wine before taking the stage (she managed not to spill any on her white top, so declared that the night must be "blessed.") It sure felt blessed. Every note she sang and piece of gentle yet powerful choreography she executed was ethereal -- it makes complete sense that Enya was a childhood favorite of hers.

The other elements of the show were all in order, too. Her two-piece band never overstepped its bounds and helped translate the fairly digital sound of the album to the IRL setting of the stage. The stage itself was outfit with a large wrought iron-style gate (ornate, like Polachek's compositions) at its rear with pulsating colors and images projected onto it.

Throughout the show I gained newfound appreciations for album cuts like the title track and "Hit Me Where It Hurts." Singles "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings" (which closed the main set) and "Door" (which closed the encore) had balcony fans dancing in their seats; I was also struck by how these two songs qualify as bangers or bops for Caroline but any loud-enough shout could've been heard across the theater during their runtime (the crowd was respectful but not quite tame). The show was a small slice of heaven in an era marked by its hellishness.

French musician and fellow PC Music collaborator Oklou was the night's lone opening act. The singer-songwriter and producer's output is often minimalist in nature, even more so than Polachek's (who herself has dabbled in ambient music before), with all songs but a small handful lacking rhythmic pop structure in favor of more flittering percussion and other flowery and fragile instrumentation. Oklou's performance was exceptionally charming (love the headset mic), though it was apparent that fans were restless and ready for Caroline by the end of her 40-minute set.


[Shuttlecock was a media partner on this show.]

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