Poliça do not fit comfortably on the Turf Club stage anymore. The two drum kits of Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu were stretched crash-cymbal-to-crash-cymbal across the small stage at the band's homecoming gig Wednesday night.
The whole event was intimate and generous, as Poliça could effortlessly pack several nights at First Avenue’s Mainroom. But instead, upon the March 4 release of their third album, United Crushers, the band chose to do a trio of shows starting with last night’s in St. Paul, then Thursday at the 7th St. Entry and concluding with a Mainroom show Friday. Case in point: All three nights sold out.
Wednesday's openers — R&B singer Sarah White and synth-pop duo Fraea — are close, old friends of Poliça singer-songwriter Channy Leaneagh. Their respective vibes segued beautifully into the headlining set, one that proved powerful and elegant, never mind the indifferent response it elicited from the packed audience (more on that in a bit).
Poliça kicked off the night with “Summer Please,” the opening track off United Crushers, which Leaneagh told City Pages grapples with the heightened violence in Minneapolis and Chicago this past Fourth of July. Aside from Shulamith tracks “Smug" and Spilling Lines” and Give You the Ghost breakout hit “Wandering Star,” the set featured all United Crushers songs.
Leaneagh’s signature suave yet intensely powerful stage presence is a selling point of any Poliça show, and part of the mystique of the band is seeing their sound perfectly mirror this same character. It’s groovy music, but it’s not automatically fun. You can dance, but you can’t always smile. This quality makes Poliça work so well, and it came on strongly at the Turf.
Though Leaneagh motioned discontent several times with the volume of her mic (it was too loud, she thought), she broke out of her usually serious demeanor during “Spilling Lines” and sported an unusually toothy grin while doing a dance so happy it looked like an Irish jig.
For something as special as a super-seasoned, ultra-talented local band with almost 100,000 fans on Facebook, the audience wasn’t as hyped or awe-filled as warranted.
It was magical watching the quartet perform on the tiniest stage they might ever play again — at least in the Twin Cities — and act like everything was business as usual. A crowd projecting such nonchalance was unexpected. Overall, attendees spent more time grabbing brews from the bar than with their eyes glazed over at an essential hometown band’s history unfolding in front of them.
A fight erupted in the first couple rows during United Crushers single “Lately,” an elegant track about vulnerability in love, resulting in the removal of several “fans” by Turf bouncers.
Though the band played for about an hour, the whole night felt a little rushed, possibly because Leaneagh’s anxiety crept up in the form of sickness. “I thought someone slipped me some drugs,” she said after getting back on stage for the two-song encore. Leaneagh alluded to almost getting sick backstage, but said she might just feel feverous because of nerves.
The encore took a surprising turn when Leaneagh introduced a cover and gave a rendition of rapper Drake’s song “Madonna” from his 2015 mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Poliça followed up with their first big single, “Wandering Star” from Give You the Ghost. Bassist Chris Bierden took a verse on the track, as if his masterful bass slapping and popping wasn’t impressive enough.
A lackluster applause followed the the band's exit. Perhaps more enthusiastic fans saved their money for the larger shows to follow.
Critic’s bias: Poliça are my ride-or-die Minneapolis band, thus my assertion that they deserve all the attention and praise available.
The crowd: Sucked! See above. Mostly middle-aged white dudes, for some reason. I blame 89.3 the Current.
Random notebook dump: Har Mar Superstar, noted friend of City Pages, stood side-stage throughout the night and took it upon himself to shine his relatively dim phone light on the stairs as Poliça exited the stage.