Photo by JOSH HELTA-PELLER/KOALA FOTOGRAPHY
If the name Chairlift doesn’t ring a bell, search your memory banks for “Ch-Ching” and/or “Bruises,” both of which appeared on Apple commercials and probably burrowed into your brain. Still don’t recognize them after a quick Google search? Well, that’s too bad, because the band’s breaking up, and their show at Union Transfer on Friday night was their second-to-last. There’s good news, though, and it’s twofold; 1) we live in a digital world in which their music can be easily accessed, and 2) the art-pop duo is breaking up on good terms, so that bassist/drummer Patrick Wimberly and frontwoman Caroline Polachek [pictured above, right] can pursue more ambitious projects. Chairlift has been a difficult band to categorize since their inception, considering they’ve been a part of the Brooklyn-based indie music scene, but have been signed to Columbia records since their initial 2008 release of Does You Inspire You?, not to mention those aforementioned Apple commercials. It’s a pretty bold play for a band signed to a major label like Columbia to dissolve in order to go after something bigger, but if the show is any indication, it’s the right move. Chairlift was a great vehicle for Polachek to get her career started, but seeing her perform at Union Transfer on Friday night was almost like watching a Giant Tortoise trying to squeeze itself into a Hermit Crab shell. Fuck shells, though, because this woman is breaking out of all of them, and I won’t be surprised if she ends up playing the Wells Fargo Center next time she plays Philly. Now let’s get to the show.
Polachek strutted on stage in four-inch heels, wearing some sort of high-fashion poncho, which she shed after a couple songs to reveal a skin-tight unitard, bedazzled with rhinestones. It would have been completely ridiculous, except she rocked it like the bonafide pop-goddess she’s transformed into. This being Chairlift’s penultimate show, there was certain gravity to the proceedings. It was like being at a rocket-launch for Polachek’s post-Chairlift career. Standing behind her synth, she displayed masterful control of her Regina Spektor-meets-Bjork voice, which somersaulted through Patrick Wimberly’s drums/bass, Danny Meyer’s baritone sax, and Brian Kelly’s electric guitar. Pulling no punches, the band played both their commercial-famous pop hits “Ch-Ching” and “Bruises,” to a very appreciative, dancey crowd. Among the roar of the applause, though, there was the weight of the knowledge that it was among the last times that these songs would ever be played live for an audience. But, if anything, it fueled Wimberly and Polachek’s performance, lending it a vitality and sense of urgency. Shedding a few tears between songs at one point, Polachek powered through the set with the confidence of a little girl singing alone in her room into a hairbrush microphone, dreaming of pop grandeur. Adorned in that sparkly unitard, Polachek postured her slender body as sculpture throughout the night, striking some poses that expressed her power. A power that comes from being really, really fucking talented and realizing her dream, singing into a real microphone to a crowd of adoring fans.
The burly, bearded bartender I talked to said that Chairlift’s music wasn’t what he normally listened to, but that he was getting swept up in the sound and the energy. The mountainous, tatted-up bouncer I talked to effectively said the same thing. Even if Chairlift’s not your cup of tea, it’s hard to deny the skill of the musicians, and, last night, it was impossible not to at least sense the band’s inertia. I ran into Kera and Jason, a pair of old friends who had flown to Philly from Georgia just to see the show. Worth it, they said. While Kera and Jason’s level of devotion is an outlier, I did see a hell of a lot of devotion in the crowd’s facial expressions, their dance moves, and their body language. I shit you not, there were several times throughout the show that I saw people hold their quavering hands up in the air with the zeal of worshippers. In its request for an encore, the crowd screamed and clapped, as per usual, but they also stomped their feet on the up-beat of their claps’ downbeat. It was really cool, and just one more indicator that Caroline Polachek’s wave is swelling. She invited Kristin back on stage to tackle “Ghost Tonight” as a duet. Shit, how could I not have mentioned the opening act sooner, ya know, like at the beginning? That would have been too easy.
A quick aside: Kristin Kontrol is a synth-pop threesome in which the members were wearing all black. The dude on the synth and the dude on the drum pad both had hair longer than frontwoman Kristin’s chic bob ]pictured, above left]. If the opening act is meant as an amuse bouche for the headliner, well then 10 out of 10 for Kristin Kontrol. With their synth foundation and strong female vocals, the band was definitely, like Chairlift, nostalgic for 80’s synth sonics, but distinguished themselves with a steadier sound, and darker undertones. Check out their album, X-Communicate. Now, where was I?
Chairlift closed the set with one of the first songs they wrote, “Planet Health.” Before starting, Polachek taught the crowd the chorus, “We’re feeling great tonight,” sung four times. When we got it down, she played the sad, sleepy hook on her synth, and the audience showed up and sang along. The song’s melancholy tone was compounded by the fast-approaching end of the show and Chairlift’s looming dissolution. I felt, in my belly, a childish sense of loss, witnessing the end of such a tight band, but Polachek has more in store for us. She wrote that song “No Angel” for Beyoncé for god’s sake. And, as that dude Jason from Georgia said, “I think after you write a song for Beyoncé, you just wear heels for the rest of your life.” I’m looking forward to watching Caroline Polachek kick down some damn doors in those heels, ponchos, unitards, or whatever else she sees fit, on her quest to realize her post-Chairlift sound. — DILLON ALEXANDER