Poliça and Marijuana Deathsquads capped off a tour of North America with two homecoming shows at Mill City Nights. Both bands are on the road in support of new releases: Poliça’s Shulamith and Marijuana Deathsquads’ Oh My Sexy Lord. The collaboratively intertwined bands have been getting national attention and the November 30th show, the final stop on the tour, was completely sold out.
Mill City Nights filled to capacity quickly, and as Marijuana Deathsquads took the stage, people could be seen draped over the railing all the way around the mezzanine. Three drummers set up shop behind a long banquet table stacked with gadgets, a tangle of wires spewing out off the table onto the floor. Projector beams shot through stacks of smoke and across the faces and bodies on stage. Ryan Olson and his court of dark experimentalists huddled over their tools, alternating between moments of intense focus, hunched over the table with their faces lit dimly by the oasis of glowing buttons, and then lurching away from the table for private head nodding sessions and freak out dance parties between their parts.
A few songs in I came back around and found myself remembering that there were other people in the room. A lot of them in fact, and I realized that I was seeing a lot of hands in pockets, if you know what I mean. Don’t get me wrong, there’s usually a fair share of too-cool-to-dance folks at Deathsquads shows. Despite the underlying dance-ability of the music, the unified bombardment of cris-crossing signals coming in through your sensory channels can be a lot to digest. There were a few pockets of Deathsquads fans getting into it, but a lot of people were just checking their phones. People in the back talked amongst themselves and found things to lean. It occurred to me that a lot of the people in the room were just not that into what was happening onstage. They came to see Poliça, probably hearing their more approachable synth-pop on The Current during their morning commute, not realizing how interconnected the two bands are – with a list of collaborative projects intimately sewing all of the members together. They likely have no idea that half of Poliça was actually on stage right then, and were probably wondering what this spectacle was that they had found themselves captive to.
That’s fine. Regardless of the balky crowd response to Marijuana Deathsquads, I thought it was an awesome set. I have seen Marijuana Deathsquads several times, sometimes with one drummer, sometimes with two or three, with a rotating VIP list of collaborators that come and go. This iteration of the group was tightly woven and seriously well-coordinated. The touring and residencies across the country from New York to Los Angeles have tightened up their process, and they come together to form a single entity onstage. It seems like they each individually have a clearer vision of the schematic they are contributing to. Then they break off from the group momentarily to listen, think, observe, analyze, and then return to the nest of the mixing table to progress the sermon.
Drummers Drew Christopherson, Ben Ivascu, and Freddy Votel spewed out relentless interwoven threads behind the jagged progressing waves of synthetic manipulations. POS, Spyder Baybie, MAKR, and Slapping Purses were hard at work feeding into the mix. Issac Gale’s frenetically manipulated vocals squelched in on top of the collective mosh of input signals. Channy Leaneagh joined her Poliça drummers onstage at the end of the set, adding her ethereal vocal layer to the mix.
Everyone retired to the green room after a feverish set and the members of Poliça regrouped, returning to the stage as a different band, with Channy in a jet black pinup wig that came flying off in a dramatic crescendo about halfway through the set. As Channy belted out a solid mix of the hits from Give You the Ghost and Shulamith, she alternated from quiet and understated to intensely dramatic and back again. Toward the end of the set Poliça was joined quietly by the band’s production ringleader and co-songwriter Ryan Olson, who reserved himself to the edge of the stage, crouching behind a mixer, tweaking and manipulating Channy’s vocals on the fly.
After returning to the green room for a second time to catch a breath, Channy and Chris Bierden returned to the stage for a bare bones bass and vocals take on their Give You the Ghost hit “Wandering Star.” The drummers returned to the stage for a third time and played the crowd out on a high note. Ryan Olson could be seen standing just outside the greenroom at the side of the stage gesturing in dramatic conductor’s motions, basking in the success of a full and happy room, filled to the brim with home town ears eager to hear his orchestrations.
While this was the last stop for Marijuana Deathsquads, Poliça returns to the road to further support Shulamith. After a few more domestic dates they are off on a European tour, rounding out with five dates in the UK. Hopefully they’ll greet us with another homecoming show when they finish in February.
Article by Adam Slaybaugh
Photos by Adam Slaybaugh