Polvo and Bronze Fawn: Tradition and Innovation at the Croc
Published 10-09-2009 (originally on The SunBreak).

The crowd that showed up on Tuesday at the Crocodile was a mix of new Belltowners and old rock fellows older and more jaded than myself. The gentrifiers were there "just to see some music" while the old rock guys were there to see Polvo. There were people wearing Birkenstock sandals with no socks. One gentleman was overheard saying "I remember seeing Screaming Trees at..." I would peg half the crowd as Built to Spill fans (but maybe they gave up on going to shows after the early stuff). The collared shirts mixed with the scruffy characters and the ironic mustaches preened next to the girls in heeled shoes. For each person, the experience of the evening was undoubtedly new.

Music is constantly at a crossroads of innovation versus tradition. Polvo and Bronze Fawn represent two bands that have taken steps away from popular music traditions and, in Polvo's case, even defined their own genres. However, when contrasted against Bronze Fawn's beautiful and emotional compositions, the Polvo songs sounded old and tired. They may have forged the paths that many bands have followed, but they seem stuck at the beginning.

Bronze Fawn had the task of repopulating the room after the first act explored the fine line between chaos and the inability to play. (I tried playing the drums on Rock Band without looking at the screen once. It cleared the room, as well.) However, by the end of their set, a few people were enthusiastic about their sound.

Bronze Fawn is an instrumental band specializing in sweeping and exquisite compositions. Their contrasting dynamics and rhythmic eccentricities craft these perfect landscape painting songs. Achingly beautiful at times and an avalanche of intensity at others. You could picture these songs as a soundtrack to a movie, but you don't need to because Bronze Fawn is a four piece band. Drums, guitar, bass, and video. Each show, a projector is set up and videos are edited on the spot that correspond with the songs. I'm a particular fan of the Eskimo video and the amazing guitar melody that accompanies it.

Just at the end of their set, the bassist self-effacingly said "Just two more and then the band you're here to see." An audience member retorted, "We're here to see you!" I think Bronze Fawn gained a few fans, particularly after their amazing last song. So powerful and emotional and hectic that another audience member was given to a frat-boy-style "Woo!" after it ended. I, for one, am particularly excited about their new album when it gets released.

My new experience of the evening was Polvo. Having never heard a single Polvo song before the evening, I had only the expectations of others to go on. They are widely touted as the originators of the math rock genre, known for its occasionally abrasive use of music theory. If you can't count past four, it's sometimes difficult to follow math rock songs. It's difficult when you can, even. So, being a great fan of the later math rock bands like Don Caballero, I had high expectations.

There was quite a delay before the onset of the Polvo experience due to some technical difficulties with an amp. This gave the room ample time to fill the rest of the way up. As the old rockers and the new young professionals intermingled, my expectations grew. Polvo made their entrance at the perfect moment in the Don Caballero's "American Don" album that was playing over the P.A. Just after the abrupt end of a particularly exciting song, four mid-'90s indie rock guys stroll onto the stage and proceed to play.

Perhaps it was just my impossibly high expectations, but the first half of the set was rather standard. Okay, their guitars are distorted and they play chords that are relatively non-standard, but I was expecting magic. The vocals are of the standard "mumble and be sullen" variety, quietly sung and impossible to hear if you get too close to the stage and wander under the main speakers. So quiet, that when the vocalists guitar cut out when he tried it between songs, you could hear the sound of the pick against the strings through the microphone ten feet away.

As the night progressed, I started hearing the precursors of all the math rock tricks like tapped guitars and drum parts that required the drummer to mouth the words "one, two, three, four, five" several times, but the songs were still relatively straightforward. Their most experimental moments came between songs when the guitarists played some noodly bits that, at times, sounded like two different songs at once. It was like everything was safe and easy. Tame, even.

I think that Polvo might have been revolutionary in their time, but that time might have passed. Their strange guitar riffs and whispered vocals just don't challenge us enough. We're getting old and jaded with all this new and exciting music coming out and we want to be surprised again. These days, Polvo is only just "okay."

PS: For those of us that grew up in the music scene in Seattle, the Crocodile can be an off-putting experience these days. I'm used to the old, dirty, and just barely functioning venues. The new Crocodile (not Cafe), with it's beautifully remodeled bathrooms and carefully framed show posters makes me want to break things or make a paper-mâché crocodile and hang it from the ceiling. It just seems so...corporate. And the sound is variable if you get too close to the stage or too far from the sound booth.

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bronze fawn
bronze fawn

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Keywords: polvo, bronze fawn, crocodile, sunbreak, review

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