Scenes From Saturday's Marijuana Deathsquads and Polica Show at Trees.
It was easy, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures, to forget where one was for large chunks of time at Trees Saturday night. The acts on stage — Marijuana Deathsquads and Polica — were so self-possessed, despite the intense complexity of both their sounds, that the whole scene seemed like it could have been going down in Minneapolis, the bands' shared hometown.
The fact that the openers had taken a starring turn across the street at Dada during last months Index Fest surely didn't hurt matters, but their show was impressive nonetheless. The two acts — both stemming from the seemingly ever-fertile Gayngs tree as Gayngs founder Ryan Olson is a permanent member of MDS and handles much of Polica's production work — were each mesmerizing, largely because of their dual-drummer setups and intricate electronics.
Taking the stage at about 9:30 in front of a somewhat restless crowd, MDS grabbed everyone's attention pretty quickly. Their set would be would be an assault on the senses, one that would come in waves of varying subtlety. The first to hit was the drumming. Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu — each of whom also created a similarly textured backbone for the headliners — provided the raw materials for MDS's wall of sound with a relentless call and response. They were rarely in unison, but always in sync.
Eventually, when the drumming became easier to process — from acclimatization rather than a drop in intensity from Christopherson and Ivascu — other elements of MDS's sound fought their way to prominence. Isaac Gale's vocals sounded like a sentient voice howling through a gap on the dial between AM radio stations. It wasn't pleasant, but it fit his band's sound perfectly, giving voice to Olson's deconstructed electronic elements.
With Gale on the mic, MDS is never boring, but they are an exacting listen, which is what made what happened about halfway through the opener's set so interesting. It was at that point that Polica frontwoman Channy Leaneagh, shielding her eyes from the swirling stage lighting, slipped down the stairs from Trees' green room and joined MDS for what would prove to be the rest of the band's set. It was a welcome change-up, and the mini-set Leaneagh and MDS proceeded to tear through was some of the best work of the night.
Once — much to audience's chagrin — that brief aside was over, Leaneagh and MDS retreated back up the stairs for a much-needed respite before much of the same crew would be called back into action for the main event.
Leaneagh, Christopherson and Ivascu, this time accompanied by bassist Chris Bierden, returned to the stage about a half hour later, looking, basically, no worse for the wear before kicking off Polica's set with “Spilling Lines” from October's Shulamith. The rest of the setlist would be heavy on the new album, breaking from it only for a trio of forays into the band's outstanding 2012 debut Give You the Ghost LP and one cover, a sparkling version of Lesley Gore's “You Don't Owe Me,” which Leaneagh read as a clear statement of intent.
The most striking thing about Polica's performance was the effect that the constraints of the band's live setup have on Leaneagh's vocals. On Give You the Ghost and Shulamith, the singer's vocals are often processed to the point that they are nearly unintelligible. Live, the distortions are still there, but they are significantly less prominent. The added clarity gives many of the band's cuts, best exemplified on this night by Give You the Ghost's “Wandering Star,” some welcome emotional punch. Leaneagh's voice is a powerful instrument — as anyone who's heard her work with folk project Roma di Luna can attest — and more than adequately makes up for any limitations Polica faces when stripped of its extensive studio production.
The band's setlist was so well-constructed that the band can almost be forgiven for failing to play Give You the Ghost's lead single “Dark Star.” I say almost because the song is just that good, as evidenced by the crowd's growing clamor for it as the show neared its end. The best thing that can be said is that it took guts not to play it.
Nevertheless, it was still clearly a bummer for anyone in the audience who had heard the song before.
But that something this minor was the worst thing that happened all evening should reinforce what a success Polica's Dallas debut really was. The group, we have no doubt, be back soon enough, turning another, probably larger, Dallas venue into Minneapolis south.
Maybe that time they'll play “Dark Star.”
All photos by Mikel Galicia.