Concert Review: Caroline Polachek

Posted on: May 4, 2023
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Indie-pop singer-songwriter Caroline Polachek made a stop in Austin for her The Spiraling tour on Tuesday, April 25, at ACL Live at the Moody Theatre.

The first song on her new album “Desire, I Want to Turn Into You” is called “Welcome to My Island.” She takes the island motif and runs with it for her set. Behind her is an island, and the aura behind/around it changes with each song.

For the most part, her setlist is the new album, in order. Of course, this is her 4th studio album (second under her own name) and she has had successful songs before, so she did throw those into the mix.

After opening the show with “Welcome to My Island,” Caroline and the band went into 2019’s “Hit Me Where It Hurts.” She then continued through the album tracks with “Pretty in Possible” and lead single “Bunny Is A Rider,” which was actually released over a year and a half before the record came out. I had to look it up to make sure because I felt like this song had been out for so long that there was no way it was on this record. It was released in July 2021, while the album was released in February 2023.

Her next song was “Sunset,” the album’s third single and a song that made me want to take salsa lessons. It has a great Latin flavour that’s different from anything else on the record and anything I’ve heard from her before. It’s a lot of fun.

After that, she took to the mic to explain the genre of the next track. “I didn’t invent this genre,” she said, “but I certainly named it.” She calls it “scorny,” a portmanteau of “scary” and “horny.” And that actually very accurately describes the vibes of “Crude Drawing of an Angel,” a song she described as being about watching your partner sleep and wake, without their knowledge of being observed, and drawing them in their ignorance.

Next was 2019’s “Ocean of Tears,” which went straight into “I Believe,” both of which I really enjoyed, and loved the transition between them. While most songs had a clear start and end, these blended together nicely.

For “Fly to You,” the next song on the setlist, she gave a shoutout both to Dido and Grimes (who are featured in the album cut) and her drummer Russell for the excellent work he was about to do. And this song really did showcase his talents, which had already been well on display.

At this point in the set, it was time for another throwback. Caroline mentioned playing at Mohawk in 2021, followed by the title track from 2019’s “Pang.”

During or after this song, I made a note of how pure and clear her voice is. It’s truly incredible. It’s so effortless. I know it’s really not and I’m sure she’s worked extremely hard to perfect her skills, but it’s like she’s not even trying. She just hits ridiculous notes with such clarity and crispness, and while she’s flitting and dancing around on stage, it doesn’t remotely come across in her voice. It’s just like listening to the album. While I’ve never dreamed of accusing her of using autotune or other tools in production, you just rarely ever hear a live performer capable of doing what she does.

Her 12th song was “Parachute,” another single from “Pang.” The song in this place on the “Desire” album actually comes up in the encore, so stay tuned. Next up was “Butterfly Net.”

The next part of the setlist was confusing to me. After playing the album entirely in order, albeit mixing in older songs, she then decides to swap the last two. She played “Billions,” the final track on the album, followed by “Caroline Shut Up” (another “Pang” cut she dedicated to other “self-sabotagers”), and then “Smoke,” the record’s penultimate song.

Although I really expected this to be part of the encore, Caroline ended the set with her highest-charting single, “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings.” 

Now’s where that album track we skipped earlier comes in. She started the two-song encore with “Hopedrunk Everasking.” 

Finally, Caroline and the band finished the 19-song set with “Door,” the first solo single that she released under her own name.

Overall, this was really an excellent show. Caroline, Russell, Mya, and Matt put on a hell of a performance. I was enamored with the stagecraft and lighting and blown away by Caroline’s conditioning and vocal quality. I will most certainly be checking her out again on her next stop in town.