Last time Caroline Polachek played in the capital, in March 2020, a distinct sense of unease loitered. “This is the last show we might be at for a long time, so let’s make it a good one,” she ominously told the crowds between showcasing songs from 2019’s ‘Pang’, her grandly baroque twisted-pop ode to the slightly terrifying rush of free-falling helplessly into love.
Polachek’s warning was accurate: lockdown would arrive just a fortnight later. Finally, she’s greeted by an elated crowd versed in every single lyrical ad-lib on the former Charlift singer’s first solo record. She’s a powerful, classically trained vocalist who wields her own vocal like a synthesiser; recreating the artificial stutter of autotune and using operatic techniques, her voice is a truly sublime thing. Though the Roundhouse audience can’t possibly hope to equal the spellbinding vocal melody at the heart of the deliciously melodramatic ‘Ocean of Tears’, they certainly give it their best – during the giddy ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’ the song’s twisted vocal-guitar solo is backed by an entire venue singing “show me the banana”.
In return, Polachek treats Roundhouse to several new airings. Early on, she’s joined by the Irish left-field pop producer Sega Bodega for their unreleased new song ‘Sunset’. Pulling in flamenco influences and punctuated by percussive claps, it suggests like how Polachek might sound if she ever found herself performing at Eurovision. Underpinned backing vocals that might sound like French pop genre yé-yé with fewer ethereal washes of melody, ‘Smoke’ lays out the all-consuming urge to tread too close to a red hot volcano of desire: “Yeah, the fallout doesn’t phase me,” she sings. And sandwiched in the middle of the encore, the choir-backed ‘Billions’ – recorded with British producer Danny L Harle, who also pops up as a guest during tonight’s show – skitters and soars. It’s magical when the accompanying Trinity Girls Choir, from nearby Croydon, burst into song.
Throughout, a gothic wrought-iron gate looms over Polachek as she throws herself into ‘Pang’ – other than a clutch of new songs, the setlist and staging broadly resembles the set-up of Polachek’s previous tour. If tonight is missing one thing, it’s perhaps a brief swerve into different territory.
Yet tonight’s crowd is undoubtedly one of the loudest to ever fill the Roundhouse; before the encore, its industrial dome shudders with the roar of stamping feet. It’s visibly overwhelming for Polachek, who places her hands over her heart and smiles back. “This is my favourite show I’ve ever played in my life,” she beams.
Caroline Polachek played:
‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’
‘Bunny Is a Rider’
‘Sunset’ (with Sega Bodega)
‘Hey Big Eyes’
‘I Give Up’
‘Look at Me Now’ (with Danny L Harle)
‘The Gate’ (with Danny L Harle)
‘Ocean of Tears’
‘Breathless’ (The Corrs cover)
‘Go as a Dream’
‘Caroline Shut Up’
‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’
‘Billions’ (with Trinity Girls Choir)
‘Door’ (with Trinity Girls Choir)