Polar Bear gave a free concert in the QEH foyer as part of the Ether Festival on Friday 23 April and it was … “following”. They have their new cd Peepers out and are on tour until October to celebrate it and you can join in through their website here.
I’d never caught them live before and they were brilliant; tight as performers, expansive as musicians, maxed-up jazz-men especially with their unlikely innovations involving a guitar and box of electronic tricks. Jumping, infectious, toughened up by indigenous anarchism and … “following.” Peepers captures all the peculiar liveliness of the band live very well.
If you know Polar Bear already then you don’t need me to say anything, if you don’t then I have a feeling there’s nothing I can say that will get you over the levée. Except this; trust me!
I took along someone who for reason of age alone is new to jazz -certainly live- and once the buzz of a packed-in audience faded a kind of bodily confusion set in which took a track or two to change and for my little friend to find his own way in. A particular unusually compressed sound made and repeated by one of the sax players triggered the change and then my friend quickly engaged the jazz of it; the expansive wrapping and precise rolling of Seb Rochford’s drum playing, the brittle electronic sounds of Leafcutter John and his skanking guitar, the biting double bass of Tom Herbert and the explosive tenor sax playing of Pete Wareham [and stand-in? Shabaka Hutchings too].
There was a nice moment when Seb Rochford introduced the track ‘want to believe everything’ saying “when I wrote it I was thinking about keeping faith in people and with, like all the bad things happening in the world, people are always telling us to just keep your faith … so that’s what I’m finding, you know, just to try to keep that. So that’s what this tune’s about” and as he did so the sun fell into the window behind him in such a way as to backlight his architecturally frizzed hair from behind. It didn’t seem inappropriate or anything less than just jazz.
There are lots of ways of trying to say this but Polar Bear are uniquely of the now. They’re doing their own thing on a new label, are as good as it gets and gracious with it. Don’t catch up with them later/one day, be sure to catch them now.
Here’s a clip from Later … in which they perform the title track from Peepers. As good and faithful as this is, it looks and sounds as if they’ve been confined to a small box…