The Virgil Theater on Sunset, where East Hollywood and West Silverlake merge more or less comfortably, is a lively place even on a Sunday night. This past Sunday night the crowd started swelling at 8 pm, moving into the red wallpaper-lined venue half of the Virgil with much greeting and hugging as regulars and friends clumped together and caught up. Dress ranged from neighborhood jeans to Silverlake nice casual. The age spread was surprisingly broad – 20 somethings to 50 somethings, all here for great bands and great music. And the place was ready with drum kits, microphones, monitors and pedals set up for several acts on a very bright stage.
Peter Anthony and Madelynn Elyse, aka Polaris Rose, were on the venue floor greeting friends and admirers. Madelynn’s high tinkling bell of a laugh could be heard over the general beer bar buzz as she hugged Polaris Rose followers, embracing them with the kind of charm normally associated with Bill Clinton. The loyalty of their fans were obvious…people love them. When the duo mounted the stage at 8:30 pm, it was easy to tell why.
While Peter picked a few preparatory notes on his guitar, he and Madelynn set the tone with friendly, uncontrived banter between them and with people in the audience. This was a family gathering with music rather than a do-the-job stage performance. Madelynn asked folks to move closer to the stage, enticing them to get nearer to the music. As people were squeezing forward, Peter drew laughs – and offers – by asking for capo. The music hadn’t yet started but the fun had. Several were produced, Peter snapped one on and hit the strings with his signature high energy strum and they were off and running with “Chartreuse” from their album, The Moon and its Secrets.
It was the perfect way to start. The audience knew the song and had been looking for it. Plus, Chartreuse” is emblematic of the melodious anthems Polaris Rose is loved for. They sang, blending their voices as only Polaris Rose can do, and then freed Maddy so her notes swooped and soared, hitting seemingly impossible high notes,
California’s on my mind
With your Hollywood walks and your cellulite
Cause in your daze I find a certain truth
A perfect world, where the sky is chartreuse
And when you sing, I know you’re singing to me
Serenading my cool nights with the traffic roar
Heads bobbed to the beat and nodded to the truth. As a native Angelino, I knew exactly what they were singing about. My California dreamin’ is never ending …. loving the always chartreuse skies that greet me each morning, backed by the roar of the I-405 and LAPD helicopter passing overhead. But when Peter and Maddy sang it from that luminous the dream seemed real and the truth was.
As the applause died down, Peter shifted to “Telescopes” where Peter’s unique indie-style melody guitar skills came to the fore, bringing a kind of rainbow-colored power in the room while Maddy belted…
The same obsession that leads me to heaven
Will surely lead me down into hell
To sail the moon
Traverse the stars
All for you
Since the song is not on the album and I had overlooked the video, this was the first time I heard it and my appreciation for Peter’s chops grew by the minute. His ability to pick, strum, caress and pound a guitar to bring out everything from beautiful phrases to a shimmering wall of noise, instantly switching from one to the other while never interfering with either Maddy’s lyrical delivery or their harmony, is impressive — especially live.
They changed moods and tempos with their signature song – and my favorite – “Dreamers”. The album version is finished and smooth, an earworm of pleasure. Live is a different story, but equally fun, if not more so. Peter attacked the guitar with a passion, conjuring up a world of melodic riffs and rounded notes that moved from dreamlike to beat-driven but always forming the perfect musical sky for Maddy to sail through with that voice.
A bolt of starlight across the sky
Can hardly see it through the city lights
I can get blinded here it’s true
That’s why I’m lucky to have you
Cause you keep me true
No the dreamers aren’t trying to wake up
And the fighters aren’t trying to take a punch
You can have it all baby
But you know it’s still not enough
So live your life for love
By this time the room was full and moving in unison. Peter and Maddy had them and it was only the third song.
Polaris Rose filled the room with seven songs altogether, impossibly well- crafted on the fly with Kyle Feher’s drumming, Peter’s enormous guitar chops and lyrical delivery, and Maddy’s room-filling voice and bass. As a live act, they top their studio album in sound quality as well as excitement, not always easy. Peter has developed a guitar style that is high energy, almost violent, and then soft and gentle – resulting in not just guitar, but in textured, layered melodies that you are not aware of until you can watch his hands move.
Maddy’s bass playing is equally deft. Her bright cream painted fingernails sometimes flew at a blur rate, and sometimes settled into the autoplay zone every bass player knows well. But she has moved beyond the ordinary bass role by pushing her instrument’s amplification loud enough that it becomes a percussion duet with the drum kit, not a separate secondary tempo line. She ramped up the volume of the bass to match the drums so that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. The effect was unique, exciting and hypnotic and even more remarkable in that Maddy has been playing the bass for only 6 months and has not only mastered the instrument, but innovated it.
The band wrapped up fittingly with “The End of All Things” with Kyle Feher launching with a pounding beat matched by Peter’s bursts of high energy attack guitar, which then dove down to caress the audience with a meandering inner dialog backed by Maddy’s power bass grooves entwined with Lyle’s drums.
As soon as that got comfortable, it crescendoed again with drums and screaming guitar. As the song escalated with Peter’s enormous anthem voice, with everything they had driving out from the stage (how can three people make as much sound as a small symphony?) the song warned us repeatedly to….
Stay inside and listen for the rain
Stay inside and listen for the rain
….and then faded; the audience was looking the secrets of the moon and they got much, much more.
Host, Music Friday
Polaris Rose: The Moon and its Secrets