Monday, June 29, 2009

first-person: Polvo, Bellafea, and Ume @ The Soapbox-Wilmington, NC 6/27/09

Here's our previous post on Polvo, that contains the mp3 for the new song, "Beggar's Bowl." The following was written by Andrew, but he didn't take the photos. Blame somebody else for that.

The day of the show, I awoke to no air conditioning in my apartment and I sat around all day reading a book waiting for some guy to come fix it. When he finally arrived, he told me, “Can't fix it 'til Monday.” So, I sat around some more and was hot and miserable as I listened to Pandora and waited to walk the 5 blocks to the club with its conditioned air, cold beer, and promised post-rock performances.

As a small city dweller, I'm always excited when a “big name band” (relative term) comes to play a show in Wilmington. For me, Polvo, having toured with the likes of Sonic Youth, Pavement, and Sebadoh, is in my crowd of “big name bands.” So, I was excited to see that they were coming to play a show at The Soapbox, and that Chapel Hill's (formerly Wilmington's) Bellafea was on the bill too.

When I got to the club, I was surprised to not see more people outside and in. I'd been thinking that Polvo would bring in a good crowd. I stood around for a while enjoying the air conditioning, had a beer, talked things with some people I ran into, and then the first band started playing.

Ume is a three piece band from Austin, Texas who are garnering attention from magazines like Spin and playing festivals like SXSW. Watching them, I could see why people are starting to take notice. The singer/guitar player is a lunatic on stage, as she thrashes around, a blur of blond hair with a vintage Fender careening about her shoulders, while the rhythm section charges along with some really original sounds. It was nice to see the floor start to fill up as Ume started their set, and by the end of it, the trio really had the crowd going.

I grabbed another beer after Ume's set and chatted with a few friends, remembered the days when Bellafea used to play shows every couple of weeks in Wilmington, and remembered that I'd need to fashion some ad hoc earplugs when Bellafea took the stage. Now signed to Southern Records, going on European tours, and playing festivals like SXSW, Bellafea is really doing well for themselves and they're doing a particularly good job playing live if the night I saw them is any indication. They were really tight throughout the whole powerful set, cranking out songs that kept the crowd moving, and they seemed really comfortable and happy as they played. All of Bellafea's members are excellent musicians, which makes them a really fun band to watch. As a drummer, I was particularly amazed by Nathan Buchanan's work behind the kit. He was really killing it on Saturday night.

When Bellafea finished up, I thought about how cool it had been to see people singing along with Bellafea's singer, Heather Buchanan, during their set. There's really nothing better than finally seeing the band live whose songs you've been singing along to in the car for months. Polvo started setting up and I had a talk about Michael Jackson's death with a buddy. Thriller sold 109 million copies. 109 million. MJ is a big name. But the couple of old Polvo t-shirts and handmade signs I saw in the crowd seemed cooler to me than selling 109 million records.

Since re-forming late last year after breaking up in 1998, Polvo has been at work recording a new record (due out in September) and playing a number of big festivals. Former Cherry Valence drummer Brian Quast is the only new member of the band, joining original players Ash Bowie (guitar/vocals), Steve Popson (bass), and Dave Brylawski (guitar). The band took the stage around 12 in front of a very enthusiastic and good sized crowd and commenced to play as though they'd never stopped practicing together. The hard angular beats and precise starts and stops that embody Polvo's unique sound were as tight as on the records and lots louder, as they ripped through a solid hour's worth of material spanning their entire catalog. Bowie and Brylawski are as good of a guitar team as one will find, intertwining technical and crazy fast riffs to create sounds that few bands have managed to top, while Popson and Quast seem to be having a blast as they hold together the quick changing rhythms.

Listening to Polvo, one cannot help but notice that their sound (along with bands like Slint and Fugazi) has had a big influence on lots of up and coming noise and math rock style bands.

When the show ended and it was time to head back to my sweltering apartment, I wished that Polvo had kept on playing a little while longer. But it really was a great night of music with a completely solid bill through and through. It's not everyday that I get to see an iconic band and two other bands who are boiling hot and on the rise a few blocks from home.


Other Deckfight first-person reviews: WE Fest in Wilmington, Los Campesinos!, and The Barnraisers.

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