Oh maan, how Polar Bear have grown over the years, mists Martin Longley.
Polar Bear’s drumming ringleader Seb Rochford requests that his bandmates banish tension and aggression in their music and performance, so this is why a present day gig of theirs might be concerned with the slow building of sleekly linear progressions, calming, flowing, gently driving and cumulatively atmospheric.
Even so, such qualities can’t escape holding their own peculiar dramatic tensions, even if they’re in the aid of positive emanations and democratic creativity. Right near this Kings Heath gig’s end, Rochford cooked up a different kind of tautness within his team, by spontaneously asking saxophonist Mark Lockheart to pronounce his thoughts on the nature of love, an unusual audience entertainment tactic whilst the sticksman tinkered around on the floor, supposedly fixing the steadying spike on his bass drum.
Lockheart soon passed the microphone to electronicist Leafcutter John, and then he to bassman Tom Herbert, both of whom wriggled through their diversionary routes.
The thoughtful, introverted Polar Bear might not be the ideal combo to pronounce on such matters of the heart. They were probably more comfortable with the inscrutable graduations of the current repertoire, much of which seemed to possess the qualities of an extended, continuous composition, dreaming through various movements, settling for a time, then roaming off, perhaps to return again with an almost-forgotten theme.
This works particularly well in the relationship between the twin tenors of Lockheart and Pete Wareham, who almost act like a single entity, despite the differences in their tones and amounts of detailing decoration. Another boon is the fashion in which the Leafcutter grabs hold of live sonic shreds and whirls them into a repeatable, wickerwork base. Particularly in the way he helps Rochford construct pulsating percussion repeats, leaving the nest-haired one free to elaborate even further, with radiating rhythmic halos.
Vanished are the often short, sharp and staccato themes of Polar Bear’s early career. Now they’ve become mood-shapers, beings whom we can meditate alongside, cloaked in jazz mystery, coddled by electronic tinkering. They are a band at peace with themselves…
Pic: Thomas Huisman