Chairlift is kind of a smooth jazz band? And 3 other surprises from their ACL set

I have never hated a show that began with a twirl and a tenor sax, let me tell you. Chairlift, the Brooklyn pop duo best known for Apple jingle of yore “Bruises,” is far more musically ambitious than that pleasant little sugar plum of a song. Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberly have never met a genre or a musical reference they couldn’t cozy up to, and it shows on this year’s “Moth.”

Austin, TX - Chairlift's Caroline Polachek performs at ACL Music Festival on August 30, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek performs at ACL Music Festival on August 30, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

They got in quite a few sonic beds Friday at Austin City Limits Music Festival. Here are four pleasant surprises from Chairlift’s sun-drenched Cirrus Logic stage engagement:

  1. Chairlift is actually a smooth jazz band. No, Kenny G doesn’t have to start researching continuing education programs. But Polachek and Wimberly, aided by a solid sax presence in their band, spun silky funk out of “Polymorphing.” Rubber-band bass lines and some snap-crackle-pop from the snare and hi-hat brought the same two-drink-minimum-at-the-club vibe to “I Belong In Your Arms,” which is a much more straightforward synthpop dream on the record.
  2. Caroline Polachek is the lost Haim sister who found spiritual enlightenment. Aesthetically, at least, with her curtain of brunette waves and bohemian bloomers. Her voice is the definition of a lilt, which is always a Reno-style gamble for a live performance, but Polachek stayed above the tide (with some backing track help, sure). But hark! Is that a Stevie Nicks twirl? Is she serving me Kate Bush ethereal realness with fingers twisting with incantation? Is this Brooklyn songstress in the black fringed vest growling just as much as those arena guitars that ushered in a softly predatory “Romeo”? Are rhetorical questions over-used writing devices used to make a point that could be much better made with a declarative statement?
  3. “Bruises” holds up, at least as much as it needs to. I ritually jam Chairlift’s “Moth to the Flame” on my way to work and pretend I’m Naomi Campbell, so I had low expectations for the twee bop of the band’s most ubiquitous song. But then, as band started up that dopey Oompa Loompa of a MIDI beat, hands went up in the sky across the crowd, and two women next to me flung their arms around each other in a tight embrace. Far be it from me to argue with other peoples’ treasures.
  4. This band came to make you move. That’s surprising if you haven’t been keeping up with Chairlift, at least. “Ch-Ching,” the band’s ode to New York City, came with cute cash register choreography, and “Romeo” was a hair-whipper’s delight. True to Polachek’s request, the audience got a sway going on “Crying In Public”? And yes, we were all Naomi for “Moth to the Flame.”
Austin, TX - Chairlift's Patrick Wimberly performs at ACL Music Festival on August 30, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly performs at ACL Music Festival on August 30, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Aside from some unfortunate Strumbellas sound bleed, the mystical experimentation of Chairlift made for some eye-popping delight.


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