There’s a lot going on right now. Flume’s whipping around the country on a massive national tour, Meredith Festival is fast approaching and the sideshows are starting amp up and on top of that work christmas parties are leading many to have wild nights mid-week and spent the rest of the week in a puddle of regret. With all that in mind, it’s somewhat unsurprising that Brooklyn duo Charilift are making their way around the country right now with very little fuss. Still, for the room of people who made it out to see them on a steamy, Sunday night in Sydney, they made it a night that will no doubt stamp itself as a highlight in many gig-goers’ 2016 calendar.
Chairlift have always been a band that have quietly gone about clocking up achievements. They toured here in 2012 as part of Laneway Festival and left one of the firm favourites purely based on the merit of their live shows, frontwoman Caroline Polachek had written for Beyoncé and earlier this year they popped out their poignant pop record Moth. Subtlety is key with Chairlift and that’s exactly how they approached their live show in Sydney. Polacheck slid on the stage for opener Look Up with elegant fluidity, hitting the accents with gusto and gradually pulling the crowd into their world.
In terms of the aesthetic, there was little fuss to the whole set. There were no fancy visuals, just lights which Polachek asked to be turned down as to make the whole thing more “romantic”. They simply used their bodies and voices to create the spectacle and it was utterly captivating from start to finish. Moth was the focus of the night with all but one song slotted into the setlist. Polymorphing brought an early sunniness to the set and Romeo got people moving as Polachek donned heart-shaped glasses thrown from the crowd.
For a sleepy Sunday night, the atmosphere in the Metro was electric. It was partly due to Chairlift who declared early on that they’d decided to have fun and partly due to the crowd who matched their energy and then gave some more. Polachek and bandmate Patrick Wembley were visibly stoked with the reception and filled each break with smiles. It did help that this was a groove-heavy set with plenty of moments for a good, hard boogie. Show U Off was a clear highlight, culminating in Polachek’s glass-shattering note and Something favourite Sidewalk Safari raced ahead with dizzying instrumental work and hypnotising vocals.
Chairlift have plenty of slow, elongated moments in their catalogue and while these can sometimes deflate the energy when bookended by moveable hits, Polacheck’s commanding presence kept the mood of the room afloat. In Ottawa To Osaka she matched her silky vocals with slow-moving hand work that made it feel as if time had actually frozen momentarily. Elsewhere, Unfinished Business was a masterpiece as we all waited with bated breath for Polacheck to hit that climatic note during the chorus. Intimacy was key in songs like Crying In Public, where they got everyone to sway as she stood front and centre singing, “tell me what kind of monster have I been today.” That’s just one example of how vivid and personal their songwriting has become.
While they had well and truly hit their stride by the time they got to I Belong In Your Arms, things shifted into another gear as Polachek sung the second verse in Japanese and then revelled in that perfect chorus. From there, it was moment after moment of pop gold. Bruises felt as fresh and quirky as it did in 2008 and main set closer Moth To A Flame was all kinds of fun partly due to Polachek’s commitment to the, “he’s that kind of man Mama,” part.
It’s easy to get caught up on Polachek because she’s such a captivating frontwoman but it was a team effort. Wembley flicked effortlessly between drums and guitar, conducting the mood just as convincingly, and two other musicians oscillated between saxophone, bongoes and keyboard. The closing moment Ch-Ching was when it all came together perfectly. The saxophone howled, the drums pulsated and Polachek’s long ponytail swung with precision. The crowd sung back the combination “279923” like they knew exactly what it was opening and Polachek expertly combined likability with theatrics.
As Wembley and Polacheck left the stage they shook each other in excitement and from a punters perspective it’s heartwarming to see that we as a crowd had given them something just like they’d given us something.