Monday, June 23, 2008

No, We Will Not Play "Can I Ride?"

On Saturday, StinkRock, JT and I went to see Polvo at Bowery Ballroom.  I had been into the band since about 1997, when the bassist in my old band Rubber Baby gave me a mix tape (yes, an actual cassette!) with the song "Fractured (Like Chandeliers)."  That song quickly launched itself into the top regions of my list of favorite songs of all time.  It's a crazed sonic attack that is both frightening and elevating.  

Because I discovered the band just as they were breaking up, I never got to see them live.  Their sound is so odd and sui generis that it was hard for me to conjure a mental picture of the band playing live.  So I had no real expectations for the show.  Given the band's supposed "math rock" sound, I think I envisioned a lot of slacker detachment and a low energy level.

But first, pre-show prep.  StinkRock, JT and I grabbed some dinner in Chinatown, where StinkRock insisted that we order the frog in ginger and scallion sauce (Number S537).  It was my first time eating frog and the meat really does taste like chicken.  The only thing that is a bummer is the high bone-to-meat ratio on those little fellas.  The food was good though and I haven't seen either of those guys in a while, so the dinner was most excellent.

At Bowery, we missed the opener, Art Tanker Convoy (not to be confused with Stratotanker or any other tanker-related bands).  We caught most of the Birds of Avalon set, though.  JT and I had seen them before at North Six with Black Taj (a Polvo offshoot band).  Birds of Avalon is like a lot of bands that you see in the second slot in a mid-sized venue.  They aren't bad and they play competently.  The sound is a kind of mix between Brooklyn indie and 1970s stadium rock with lots of twin-guitar harmony lines played on matching Les Pauls.  The concept could work as there is something thrilling about those guitar passages, but the songs themselves were just boring.

So, there we were.  It was time for Polvo.   And the truth is, I cannot find the words to describe the experience.  I can throw out all kinds of crazy superlatives, but it wouldn't do justice.  By the end of the show, StinkRock, JT and I were all just kind of standing there slack-jawed with every pleasure receptor in our brains firing as fast as possible.  They were impossibly tight and the drummer was just incredible.  (He's a new addition as the original drummer and his replacement have long-since left.)

Ash Bowie, one of the two guitarists, stands calmly on stage, his lanky body curved in such a way that it looks like time-space is curving around him.  He looks about as excited as a sleepy man picking lint from between his toenails.  But he is producing an unreal assortment of sounds from his guitar and they all rock.

Have I mentioned that the band was tight?  For guys who haven't toured in 10 years, it was almost impossible to believe how together they were.  And the sound was heavy and beautiful and scary and all kind of other things.

I'll stop because gushing is boring and because I'm not conveying what this experience was really like.  Maybe StinkRock will take a stab, but I think he feels like the effort is not worth it.

I'll close with two observations.  First, I would never have imagined that such a band could be so much better live.  They played two new songs, which were great, and they should put out a live show from this tour as a way of releasing them.

Second, the set list.  JT actually went to high school with Steve Popson and Dave Brylawski from the band, so we hung with them after the show.  (They are very friendly, normal guys and it was great to meet them.)  They claimed that they just played all the songs they could remember.  What was notable about their set, though, was that they didn't play their one big college rock "hit," "Can I Ride?"  It's not a bad song at all, but it's not as amazing as the things that later appeared on records like Exploded Drawing.  So it was cool that they bailed on that and just played what they wanted.  And they seemed to be having a great time on stage, which bodes well for a new record or more shows.

Easily one of the top ten shows I have ever seen.

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