Caroline Polachek is on a mission to reclaim February 14th as her own. Dropping her much anticipated second album, ‘Desire, I Want To Turn Into You’, on Valentine’s Day 2023 and performing it that night at London’s Eventim Apollo is the best gift any pop stan could ask for.
Tonight’s show was meant to happen last Halloween and was pushed back so she could finish the album, but it feels infinitely more appropriate now. She plays up to the album’s overarching themes of the joy of human connection by gathering her devotees in one place to celebrate love (and ‘Desire…’ of course).
Caroline is firmly situated in the unlikely pop superstar category, alongside Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski and the like, who garner screams akin to those heard at teen boy band concerts. So as the lights go down and a clock appears on the stage screen, counting down the two minutes until she starts wailing the opening notes of ‘Welcome To My Island’ off stage, the floor crowd may as well have been screeching it for her.
She’s easily one of the best and most interesting vocalists working today – both her “haters will say it’s autotune” yodelling playfulness and her classical opera training lending a hand – but to open a show with that note, AND keep it up for the entire hour and a half stage time, against the multiple smoke machines constantly fogging up her immediate surroundings, is some feat.
Playing ‘Desire, I Want To Turn Into You’ almost entirely in order, interjected by the odd ‘Pang’ track, by the time she gets to the record’s first single ‘Bunny Is A Rider’ fourth, she’s fully hit her stride. Its bouncy and carefree, making the transition into ‘Crude Drawing of an Angel’ all the more contrasting. It’s a dark show as it is, Caroline often only lit by a single spotlight and backed by the changing landscape projected behind her and the giant volcano she shares the stage with, but on this one, she’s lit by footage of burning crosses in an Ethel Cain-ish religious nod to the track’s themes. An eerie moment that almost immediately lifts as she goes into a run of ‘Ocean of Tears’, ‘I Believe’ and ‘Fly To You’.
Assumedly trying to cram as many ‘Pang’ songs in as possible (and in the absence of her two guests Grimes and Dido here), ‘Look At Me Now’ is incorporated into ‘Fly To You’ in place of Dido’s verse, a complete transformation from the acoustic way she usually plays it. There is a guest for ‘Blood and Butter’, though: the bagpipe player Bríghde Chaimbeul, who Caroline says she discovered last summer and wanted to play on the album. She gets an extended bagpipe solo tonight as Caroline does her usual arm-flinging and twirling beside her on stage.
Leaning heavily into the Valentine’s vibes, she mimics plucking chocolates from the air, as if picking fruit from a tree, to the opening beat of billions, before throwing actual chocolates into the crowd as the track starts. While it’s not her final track, the entire theatre singing “I never felt so close to you” is a very special moment.
She dips off stage after the now-TikTok-famous ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings – the whole crowd now able to recite its accompanying dance – for a costume change. Before performing ‘Door’, she gives a tearful speech about how we’re all full of potential, and sometimes reaching it just takes meeting the right person. She’s talking about Danny L Harle, the PC Music producer who’s worked with her on both solo albums (and who’s currently in the crowd with Dua Lipa, who Caroline toured with on her major ‘Future Nostalgia’ tour last year) and with such has helped propel her into real stardom.
‘Smoke’, one of the earliest songs Caroline recorded for this album comes last. It’s a song about catharsis that actually, after spending so long in her Google Drive, feels like a literal release. As the confetti cannons go off and the stage volcano smokes, the song, only really a day old, only simmers. Give it a few months and it’ll blow up, though, much like we can expect Caroline to, finally.