On an alleyway behind the Mecca that is 6th Street lies The Ale House, one of many inconspicuous smallish bars transformed into a pleasing gig venue. For a venue as well hidden, it was a surprise to see anyone inside, let alone at 1am, yet the best things come to those who wait, especially at SXSW and especially on St Patrick’s Day.
Following nine performances at last year’s event you would have thought that Polly Mackey and The Pleasure Principle would have had this sound checking lark down to a tee. Alas, with the venue so small, the task was carried out via bellowing across the floor which led to an inevitable delay. Thankfully tonight’s (or technically morning‘s) audience seemed the attentive type, dutifully sticking around. When the band finally began, few were going anywhere.
Behind that swathe of black hair, hidden by a captivatingly pretty face lies the sort of vulnerable but devious voice that sets Polly Mackey from the rest. Not that her backing band are any less impressive; forming a melding pot of formidable drums, combustible guitar rhythms that are left smothered by her vocals during 'I Don’t Mind'. 'The Wall' provided a modicum of feisty subtlety, a brooding sense of devilishness that proved that looks can be deceiving. But then appearances do matter and while their performance could easily be typified by the moniker, so could their dress code with her band providing gratifying backing clad in an adopted monotone series of grey whilst her class stood out in a retro black and white Siouxsie t-shirt.
There were moments of delicacy in their set, such as the piano intro for 'The Way It Works' before a meddling, muddy bassline and drums brought purpose to a track that featured enough dramatics to warrant its own television series. Therein lies the indelible quality of an epic sound coupled with brutally, catchy tracks.
Due to a soggy acoustic guitar, their cover of Radiohead’s 'Fake Plastic Trees' evolved to electric which gifted the track a hazy, metallic edge until the inevitable cataclysmic breakdown. Robotic and brutal, 'Movements' showcased the band’s relentless demeanour. 'Leave Me Out' was a convenely more upbeat experience with melodies designed to entrance rather than embalm as Mackey continued to plead ‘Is that what you wanted?’. One track remained and 'Silent Fall' seemed thoughtfully personal with Mackey’s voice rising and falling with the emotional strain the track contained, bringing a sense of restraint to the din behind her and leaving the set with a touching glean.