Caroline Polachek sings like she was always meant to perform in the Orpheum.
Normally the home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Polachek took over the venue on Monday night for an electro-pop fantasia late in the North American leg of her Spiraling tour.
While I was expecting the alternative crowd to feel out of place, the flashing lights and synth from Polachek’s set seemed to fit right in with the ornate gold walls and angels painted above the Orpheum chandelier.
Polachek’s stage presence bridges that gap. Her clear high notes rang through rows of speakers, showing technical ability like a soprano powering through an aria, but eliciting screams of “We love you gemini queen!” from the crowd.
The rounded corners of the theatre bounced sound around with ease, enveloping the crowd with the blaring bass of the concert alongside our own cheering.
Built for an orchestra, the stage is also low to the ground with a couple of feet between the front row and the performers. More light from the stage shone on the audience than at a festival or stadium — something Polachek noted early in the show and made the set feel all the more intimate.
Through the concert, she sang the entirety of her new album Desire, I Want to Turn Into You (2023), along with a few songs from Pang (2019).
Polachek’s songs are poetic, painting a picture of desire in “Blood and Butter,” and of an anxious love in “Crude Drawing Of An Angel,” which she described as her contribution to the scorny (scary and horny) genre.
Like Polachek’s discography, the set list flowed between genres — from electronic hyperpop in “Fly To You” to acoustic flamenco in “Sunset.”
“Parachute” and “Ocean of Tears” from Pang also showed off Polachek’s vocal control, easily brushing through vocal runs that spanned octaves.
Polachek’s dancing on stage isn’t quite choreography — it's more ‘strong movement’ — but what might look awkward on a less assured artist seemed natural on her. She struck angular poses with lighting cues, skipped/trotted across the stage, and sang into the mic from every possible angle, which sometimes meant contorting her arm around her head.
When she fell to her knees in prayer during “I Believe,” a song dedicated to the late pioneering hyperpop producer SOPHIE, it didn't feel contrived.
Throughout the show, the abstract set had me questioning what I was seeing. Little fabric waves adorned the stage while a huge one obscured part of the psychedelic projections behind the performers.
At times I thought Polachek was in the ocean, in the clouds or walking between sand dunes. It’s a question she didn’t answer until the very last song of the show.
“It’s just smoke / floating over the volcano,” she sang. Smoke flowed from the back of the set, the volcano visual suddenly clicking into place.
Polachek has said that the song inspired the tour’s production, and its central metaphor of focusing on smoke instead of a terrifying active volcano is an apt description of her music.
It’s floaty and ethereal, until the bass drops and big emotions hit you.