Live: Polvo Come Back Strong at the Bell House


The Bell House
September 24

About halfway through Polvo’s triumphant appearance at the Bell House last night, someone in the crowd yelled out, “It feels so good to be 20!” Yup–the nostalgia was thick and palpable as the band took the stage, still projecting that awkward high school kid vibe, even though they’ve all got to be pushing 40. Much of the crowd was only marginally younger–people who loved and were inspired by Polvo’s music in the mid to late ’90s, eager to relive their college-rock years.

The quartet were one of the best and perhaps most underrated bands to come out of that decade’s school of churning, math-y (they hated that term, but it applies), abrasive, discordant indie rock. And now, over a decade after their demise, Polvo’s reunion still somehow feels vital and valid, accompanied by a pretty amazing new record–In Prism, out now on their old label, Merge.

At the Bell House, the band began with the new album’s opening track, “Right the Relation,” a fuzzed-out, herky-jerky rocker that set the tone. From there, it was a journey back and forth through time. The squealing, picked notes of “Fast Canoe” morphed into the start-stop mayhem of “Every Holy Shroud,” helped along by Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski’s freeform noodling in between songs. At one point, in a nod to the prog rock that clearly influences their music, Brylawski jammed out a few Rush licks in response to an audience member’s shout.

Any notes that were missed, and there were some, were made up for by the newer arrangements and subtly different parts that comprised these older songs. The quartet seemed to function like a live-band sampler, deconstructing and reconfiguring parts, repeating and toying with notes, riffs, and rhythms. And that was when they weren’t going completely off the rails, improvising their way through the skeleton of an instrumental like a free jazz combo.

The band also had the confidence to end the night with a tune from the new album, the energetic “Beggars Bowl.” It was a fitting choice–unlike other bands of their ilk, it doesn’t seem like Polvo are in the reunion racket for any other reason but to give this music thing another go. It’s hard to imagine them reaching the vaunted ranks (popular or financial) of, say, the Pixies, due in large part to the comparative challenge their music often presents. But that’s part of what makes their reemergence so satisfying. So welcome back, Polvo. It’s good to hear you again.