Caroline Polachek, Hoxton Hall: supernatural, super-modern pop ★★★★

A glimpse into the weird, witchy kingdom Polachek creates in Pang

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 12:26 pm

Updated Thursday, 31st October 2019, 12:50 pm

An elaborate, wrought gate hung on a banner behind Caroline Polachek and throughout her show the space between the bars lit up with Disney sketches, medieval ruins, spinning vortexes and a starlit city. It was a portal that gave glimpses into the weird, witchy kingdom Polachek creates in Pang, her first solo album under her own name.

The 34-year-old American singer arrived on Hoxton Hall’s small stage in clouds of mint green smoke, lights shining from behind her and on to the audience. As she opened with “The Gate,” sounds reverberated throughout the seats of narrow, gothic hall, making the whole tower-like room vibrate with immediacy.  In the album’s titular song, the word “pang” jolts out from her like an electric shock.

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Polachek is known as the vocalist for Brooklyn indie band Chairlift, as well as for writing and producing Beyoncé’s song “No Angel” and collaborating with artists like Charli XCX. She spoke this month about feeling forced to be more direct by finally using her own name. 

The album is named after the bursts of adrenaline that jerked Polachek out of sleep, as well as the sense of longing and lack that the word “pang” evokes. “Go on and hit me in the heart, hit me where it hurts,” she sang at one point. 

This was her first UK performance in three years and her setlist was based on the new album. PC Music’s Danny L Harle, an executive producer on much of Pang, performed on stage too. “Most of this album was made in London which feels like its spiritual home,” she said. 

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Her set was just an hour long, but had everything: the acoustic, romantic “Look at Me Now”, the tongue in cheek “Shut Up Caroline” –  the line that got the loudest shout back of the night – and the energetic, vibey “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”. 

The two of them did not take themselves too seriously. At one point, flames behind the gate glitch  – intentionally – after she gasps to become a Windows PC background with a jumble of files in the corner. “I want to do something that’s not from the album now,” she said earlier before covering The Corrs’ “Breathless”. 

Harle’s presence is more felt live than in the album, his techy, glitchy sounds an equal rather than a backing to Polachek’s voice. He anchors her supernatural, medieval presence in the urban now in a way that feels very 2019. But her intoxicating performance steals the show thanks to her careful, jerky dancing, full skirted-dress and incredible, floaty, regimented vocals. “Back in the city” she sings in “Door”, her final and probably best known song, bringing the audience back to the present.


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