Polo + Actor + Ola Szmidt

Posted: 23 October 2015 in Live

The Basement, York, 17th October 2015

Christopher Nosnibor (Text)

Sam Himsworth (Images)

So I turn up a song or two into Ola Szmidt’s set and am immediately impressed. Accompanied by a bearded bassist, her delicate songs bring a new dimension to the well-established loop-layering style. With acoustic guitar, harmonies and subtle rhythms these are ambitious songs delivered with poise, the understated performance placing the spotlight on the material over the duo on stage.

Actor are the reason I’m here. Having launched themselves with a compelling performance at the Brudenell as part of Live at Leeds in May, the trio have been making waves with debut single ‘Feline’.

The Cure meets Kate Bush poptones of ‘Uppercut’ opens the set, and after kicking out one of their strongest songs second (sadly its title escapes me), I wonder if they’ve shot their load prematurely. But no: new single ‘Baby Cries’ is another slice of evocative, drifting post-punk dream pop defined by crystalline guitars and a rolling rhythm. Louisa is pristine, but her dialogue with the audience? She seems, unusually, stilted, and doesn’t quite build the connection in the way she’s very much able to. ‘Swim’ has been revamped, slowed down, and feels a shade lifeless, although largely it suffers from Chris’ guitar being too low in the mix – and perched at the extreme right of the stage and toward the back, it seems his contribution is somehow diminished, or as if he’s trying to step further back into the shadows to allow all of the focus to be placed on Louisa. It’s fairly clear that this is how they’re being marketed, and fair play: however, as compelling a front woman Louisa is, I can’t help but feel it does the other band members, who rarely even feature in the band photos, something of a disservice.

 

Actor

Actor

Polo are very much about the synths: dark, reverby synth pop is their thing, and they do it well. It’s a slick, sleek, dark but shiny, obsidian sound. It’s an extremely marketable package, not least due to Kat Mchugh who’s utterly faultless. They’re a band out of time, but their anachronism is very now. The wooden click of drum sticks before the last song seemed incongruous with their sleek synthesized sound. Think perhaps a bit Maps, a bit Cults, but stripped back think and stark. Think Warpaint. Think Portishead without the nostalgia-evoking surface noise or noir sensibility. You could – and might hope to – see them on Jools Holland. For all that, or perhaps because of it, I struggled to relate. Perhaps again it was end of tour fatigue, the venue, or just the night.

Polo

Polo

For all that, all three acts have unquestionably got the songs and the presence to go far, and while tonight may not have been the best showcase, they all very much deserve to.

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