Show me something round and I'll analyze the form

If you want to read about the playoffs, see the good Doctor.

However, today marks an event of much greater importance to FreeDarko's history than any playoff game: Polvo is playing their first show in a decade tonight in D.C. at the Black Cat. Polvo's connection to basketball is tenuous at best, but guitarist Dave Brylawski did write a song about UNC's loss in the 1995 Final Four and once wore a satin Charlotte Hornets jacket in a promo picture (see below). Although no one knew it at the time, FreeDarko was born from the same Chapel Hill soil that birthed Polvo, when much younger and sprier versions of Shoals and the Recluse met through a mutual friend, playing basketball on the hoop that used to hang behind Cat's Cradle. Their shared obsession with Polvo is one of the many extra-basketballular interests that informs the unique worldview that is FreeDarko.

Brown Recluse, Esq.: I think you and I might have actually met for the first time at WXYC one night. I seem to remember being impressed by your Gear Ink Dolphy t-shirt.

Bethlehem Shoals: I had a bunch of those jazz tees at one point. I'm not ashamed. Remember, that was around the time every indie rocker decided he liked his dad's Monk records, so I was at once violated and ahead of the curve. If I remember correctly, Polvo always insisted they they could give a fuck less about jazz, which made my life very confusing. Though like I said, I don't think they cared much about improv, and you know what--there's something a lot more powerful about a fully-orchestrated pop song that's full of clanging and drones and shifts than the way that Sonic Youth or MBV have that drift off into the great unknown of FREEDOM. Polvo were incredibly neurotic almost, like the way "Be My Baby" can somehow still be a plaintive pop song despite the whole world ending in the background. Of course, when that overwhelmed them, the second half of their career happened, and they sucked. Same with "River Deep, Mountain High."

Recluse: I can't argue with any of that.

Shoals: One other thing I've been thinking about this morning: how raw and concrete their best stuff is, both emotionally and musically. That's why I never got the "math rock" thing, since all that shit is based on gee-whiz musicianship. Or the Sonic Youth comparison, since in an all truth, even the best SY is one big affectation. And while Sonic Youth returned to the riff as if to mock it, or smugly reconstruct it from drone and atmosphere, Polvo is just some incredibly fucked-up and disjointed rock music. Even Corcrane Secret—I'd never call that record vague or self-indulgent. It's what drug music should sound like, if there were no such thing as drug culture (yes, I know, the band refused to ever talk about drugs and truthfully just looked to really like beer).

Yesterday when I frantically busted out Celebrate the New Dark Age in the car, my girl tried to ruin my day by telling me it sounded like the first Modest Mouse. I mean, I guess, but there the music is totally at the mercy of emotion. Which turns emotion into a handicap, neuters the power of song, and is what's wrong with so many kids today. Polvo was like "on some level we are all very dark, eerie, and weird people, but that's sublimated into this armada of gnarled songcraft for all of you to enjoy—or be terrified by." I can't tell if it's a superior form of communication or even more stand-offish. Still, there's no vulnerability, or the need for adjectives like "haunting" or "evocative". Nor any division of blood and steel, as there totally was from This Eclipse on.

And not to bring this too full circle, but it's strange that Polvo was one of the least pretentious indie bands of its era, and yet made the most ridiculously out-there music. Or that the guys in the band were almost disdainful of the scenester aspect of, well, that scene, and just looked like they wanted to party and watch tv. A friend of mine can attest to Dave's encyclopedic knowledge of Texas high school football. Shaq (supposedly) once went to one of their shows. That was the big question: How did these guys end up making this music? If you look at their post-Polvo projects. . . it's hard to figure out exactly how the band happened.

Recluse: I don't know, if you add Black Taj ("classic" guitar rock), Idyll Swords (mostly acoustic music informed by a variety of ethnic folk music), and Libraness (creepy, weirdly tuned guitar stuff) together, the result is not too far off from Polvo. But, you're right that it was the unlikely combination of these disparate sounds that made them so unique and so great.

I sold my copy of Libraness long ago, but there are about 3 songs on there that belong in canon. Some might be from the same era, but have really bad lyrics--actually, the main thing for me that makes This Eclipse the cut-off point.

Recluse: Polvo's lyrics are amazingly inconsistent. Some of them are actually pretty good, but a lot of them are embarrassingly bad. "Fast Canoe," a song I think is brilliant musically, has the worst lyrics ever. I saw them play twice right before Exploded Drawing came out and thought at the time that that song was an instant classic.

I was just watching a video for that. Brought back memories of throwing on Exploded Drawing for the first time, and being ecstatic that they'd returned to form. . . until the vocals came in.

It's really hard to know what to make of the first two records' lyrics. Corcrane has a ton of really goofy, straightforward-seeming stuff that actually makes no sense. Like a robot tried to pen a rock anthem. Or the devil is pushing a power-pop song uphill. I have no idea if Today's Active Lifestyles is deliberately obscured--it's certainly the one with the most buried vocals--but everything about album is so cryptic, I don't think I'd be able to judge the lyrics any better if I could make them all out. As is, it's a bunch of random words that in my mind connect to the (completely impenetrable) titles. At least Loveless is all about feeling good and love and sleep. I have absolutely no idea what the topical reference point for any Polvo is—like what world do they even write about—so when you can't even understand the abstract words, it's kind of a lost cause.

One day, as a thought experiment, I tried to listen to Polvo pretending these were all songs about relationships. It was a really harrowing experience.

I don't want to freak you out, but I think most of their lyrics are about relationships.

Shoals: I just realized that I only saw Polvo twice. Right after Active Lifestyles came out. I think they were opening for Superchunk or Archers. I was 16 and had never heard them before. My whole life stopped right there. I SHOULD HAVE been at the big Celebrate show at the Cradle--which, oddly, had a David Murray concert at the ArtCenter earlier in the evening--but I was grounded because I took too much acid and had to go to the emergency room.

Then, I saw them right before This Eclipse came out, and it sucked. That was when my friend Ben started yelling my slogan "Stop the Homeless" at stages, mostly to see how it would be interpreted. Dave flipped out on him.

I probably saw them 7 or 8 times when I was in college. Even though Ash was probably most responsible for their sound, Dave was really the focal point live, making goofy guitar god faces and doing almost all of the stage banter, which often included references to UNC basketball and the Lakers.

That This Eclipse show was the second time I saw them and was definitely disappointing and widely (and controversially) panned.

The first time I saw them, I got to interview them before the show for the DTH with two other people, but I only asked one question. If I remember it right, they were pretty awesome that night. All of the times I saw them were post-Celebrate, so the band could be kind of hit or miss. When they were on, though, they were one of the best live bands in the world. But, I like This Eclipse and Exploded Drawing more than you do.

So, you didn't go to their Mergefest show in 1994? When they played "Fly Like an Eagle"? I have friends that talked about that show for years afterwards.

That Mergefest show was the one I missed. I'm trying to remember if I somehow talked my parents into letting me go to the David Murray thing, saw the crowds outside and wept, or just drove by on my way back from someone's house or something? Actually, I was grounded 4 life, so I have no idea why I was out. Also I can't imagine that, if I'd been there, I wouldn't have just defied everything and snuck in. Maybe I was returning a movie at VisArt?

I think part of the reason Polvo guts me so is that, for a variety of reasons, I have very little memory of anything that's happened to me, ever. So--like some weird patient in a movie about disabilities and revelation—they're just a stand-in for several formative years of my life. Though I'm not quite sure how I can say Polvo's music itself was "formative." What kind of person would that make? Then again.. . .

Looking over YouTube, there are some 1996 clips, including a "Holy Shroud" with a Dave guitar solo. That's pretty much how I feel about that band from This Eclipse on. However, there's a 1993 “Kalgon/Bend or Break” that is positively unreal. Like some dude with a Polvo review site says, it's amazing how perfectly they recreated all the records' chaos live. When you go to see Sonic Youth, they definitely see lots of their songs as open-ended, come-what-may noise. Nope, not Polvo. [Insert Asian music analogy here]

Recluse: Have you ever considered how perfect Ash Bowie's physical appearance is for Polvo? He looks vaguely Asian and also drugged out and creepy. When you talk about them looking like beer-drinking sports fans, that's really just Dave and to some extent Steve Popson. Ash looked like a tortured artist.

Shoals: I was wondering earlier if you didn't like Polvo a lot because of the Dave/Ash duo. Like if you combined the two of them, you'd get you or something.

I think that because of Ash's looks, and him being the mysterious singer, he was sort of their figurehead. But they also always insisted that Dave, not Ash, was responsible for the Asian influence.

It's also weird that, for me, this band is totally bound up in high school introspection. I used to think that if I wanted to destroy the world through sheer aesthetics, Polvo would be the perfect weapon. Whereas since you were in college, I'd imagine you were more attuned to the fact that they were just really fucking rad. Maybe I'm also thinking about the fact that Ted T. took me and Jacob C. to that first show. I can barely remember. Anyway, afterward, Jacob and I were both completely reeling, and Ted said something like "yeah, they're pretty cool."

You know, this post has almost nothing to the NBA, but it cuts to the very heart of FreeDarko-ness. And now hopefully Dr. LIC will understand why POLVO IS NOT A MATH ROCK BAND.

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At 5/09/2008 12:55 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

My short-lived band shared rehearsal space with Polvo in Carrboro in '91. Then we we supposed to open for them at a gig at Under the Street in Durham but they stood us up. Ash told me once that he only played cheap second-hand guitars because of their tinny distinctness.

At 5/09/2008 1:05 PM, Blogger brian whitney said...

i wish my real life friends gave a fuck about both polvo and the nba and not one or the other. alas, it's milwaukee, and as long as the team continues to be mismanaged the nba will be ignored. unless the favre-lessness of this coming fall combined with a new gm/coach can spark some interest.

At 5/09/2008 1:08 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Needless to say, if anyone was planning on creating an audio document of one of these two shows, myself and the Recluse would be very interested in hearing it.

MC Welk, kindly email your entire life's bio to the company account.

At 5/09/2008 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is a perfect reminder of how much I love this site.

At 5/09/2008 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sheer gut-crunching awesomeness of having FreeDarko talking about Polvo is going to have me shitting blood for a week. I can't abide Shoals's dismissal of This Eclipse, though; "Title Track" is hands down one of their best songs.

At 5/09/2008 1:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I don't own "This Eclipse," and probably haven't heard "Title Track" in a decade. But I seem to remember thinking that it was okay, if too little, too late. Also, even though Polvo's vocals were always a tricky question, an all-out instrumental seemed to miss the point. Unless it was something absolutely terrifying and confounding like "My Kimono".

Maybe has something to do with my insistence that they weren't math-rock.

At 5/09/2008 1:28 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

I haven't listened to This Eclipse in years, but I liked it at the time. It's definitely not as good as Celebrate or TAL, but "Bombs That Fall From Your Eyes"? "Titan Up"? Those are my jams.

I always felt like "Title Track" sounded like Spatula, although I realize that's like saying a Velvet Underground song sounds like Mirrors.

At 5/09/2008 1:46 PM, Blogger Amphibian said...

I have no idea what's going on, but I'll go along with it.

I think it's a good sign that the above applies to huge swathes of my life.

WV poetry = qpdcd - Quoth Parker: "Damn, Chris. Defense?"

At 5/09/2008 2:27 PM, Blogger shep. said...

And Polvo is playing the Cradle tomorrow night, half a mile down the street from my apartment! Man, it excites me so much -- in my pants, even -- to see a post of this ilk here at FD. If I'm not wasted off my face on margaritas tomorrow evening, dudes, I may go hang out in the parking lot in your honor, because tickets sold out weeks ago.

At 5/09/2008 2:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Anyone know if the D.C. show sold out? I'm trying to decide how much to freak out about planning a Chicago trip to see them there.

Then again, if everyone in Chi-town sees them as forefathers of math-rock. . .

At 5/09/2008 2:36 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Please.....even if we're just talking bands on Merge, Breadwinner is 10X mathier than Polvo.

I wish I knew a mathier way to make this point, but I don't.

At 5/09/2008 2:43 PM, Blogger Mother Father Chinese Dentist said...

i'll probably be hitting up the chi-town show, and as far as i know people don't see them as math rock in this area but more in league with the other touch and go fans (even though only exploded drawings and shapes came out on t&g.)

At 5/09/2008 2:59 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

I just remembered that I was going to say something about Beefheart and how the Magic Band didn't really improvise, even though they drew much of their influence from highly improvised blues and jazz. That seems somehow relevant.

At 5/09/2008 3:07 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 5/09/2008 3:29 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

That's why I said "forefathers" and not "THE forefathers."

I've always thought that "Dali's Car" on Troutmask sounded exactly like TAL-era Polvo.

At 5/09/2008 5:20 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

They're playing Chicago twice, once at Subterranean (not the greatest venue) and once at an intriguing-looking street fest:

Damen between North and Schiller, 7/26-7/27, donation requested

Seems worth the trip, assuming you like coming to this city anyway.

At 5/09/2008 6:23 PM, Blogger Dan said...

I never really like wicker park fest, but sweating out in the sun with some beer does seem to fit/sound good.

If this blog existed when I was in high school, I probably would have never had that 6 year gap when I didn't follow the sport. Although I think some of that has to do with how crushed I was when the bulls fell from grace.

At 5/10/2008 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breadwinner for the winner for faster, although I liked Bobby Donne much slower in life when he joined Labradford. What I've heard of Treiops Triffid is part of the VHF Records catalog I could never even pretend to like when I thought it might make people more likely to tape things for me on drone-on.

At 5/10/2008 6:51 PM, Blogger Dan said...

cant believe the knicks just name d'antoni coach...this is bad.

At 5/11/2008 10:49 AM, Blogger Martin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/11/2008 2:41 PM, Blogger Jon said...

I can't believe someone just name-dropped the Drone-on list...

First the TNV interview, now this spot-on post on Polvo, FreeDarko may be the best music blog out there. The basketball stuff is interesting too....

Us New Yorkers have to wait until June to see Polvo. And, yeah, D'Antoni to the Knicks is sorta puzzling. Should be fun to see Eddie Curry run the break over and over for 48 minutes.

At 5/12/2008 12:20 PM, Blogger Barry said...

"The first time I saw them, I got to interview them before the show for the DTH with two other people, but I only asked one question. _If I remember it right, they were pretty awesome that night._"

They were terrible that night, and I take full responsibility. Who springs a 30-minute interview on somebody right before they go onstage? At least we didn't have to endure the Butterglory set.

At 5/12/2008 6:49 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Barry S. in the house! Hmmm......my memory is failing me, but I know that one of the first three shows I saw Polvo play was really good, and the other two were not good. Maybe I saw them once before we interviewed them?

At 5/12/2008 10:00 PM, Blogger Barry said...

Perhaps -- I'm thinking that was my fifth Polvo show ('93 anecdotal post-TAL NCSSM gym show, winter '93 Cradle show splitting Spatula and Superchunk, summer '94 Mergefest show, later '94 Coffeehouse show where they opened for GBV -- whomItoleratedforfourhideoussongsandIsweartogodhaveneverlistenedtosincetothisday -- and then the show we (_I_ -- Blogger won't let me use strike tags) wrecked with that interminable pre-show interview), and it was definitely the most disappointing. I feel like there was only one more show in town -- which I recall as a great set though I don't remember the evening's lineup -- before the two breakup weekend shows, which were memorable only because Polvo was going bye-bye (I finally got Polvo (read: just Dave) to play (read: humor me with) "The Drill").

Took a four-hour train ride to catch the Black Cat show -- I skipped the Cradle show for a Mother's Day visit somewhat east of the Triangle -- and it was great, although I was a little down about it. They were way tighter than the breakup shows, but they stuck to their strengths. Quast has chops that were never evident in Eddie Watkins, but Eddie's modest sound was more distinctive. Overall I'd say I was relieved by the show, and I have tickets to see them four more times this year.

At 5/13/2008 6:24 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

There was one show at the Cradle that was during "the Blizzard of '96" and a make-up show shortly after that in Raleigh (with Ashley Stove opening up). I can't remember if either one was good, though. I just remember they played "Fast Canoe" both times. I seem to recall their VANISH festival show doing it for me. And there was at least one excellent Cradle show in the 1994-96 time period.

At 5/13/2008 9:14 PM, Blogger Barry said...

Blizzard of '96... Saturday night show? I think I went to that -- I remember I was staying in Fran's apartment across from the planetarium that Christmas break while holding down the Kinko's... I remember a long walk back from Carrboro as the snow was starting, but can't remember the show at all. Next day, campus returned -- Richard tells the story of driving ~7 hours with Black Sabbath 4 on repeat because he can't take his hands off the wheel, which I think is embellished, since "Snowblind" starting Side B makes the story too perfect.

Did Polvo play the VANISH benefit? I've put that whole thing out of my mind -- I'm still pissed I had to pay to get in, even though we had those nice laminated passes.

At 4/13/2009 2:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



At 4/16/2009 1:26 AM, Blogger the broadway said...

this post is absolutely awesome, Ive read but two paragraphs and will wait to further relish in its 'being there'ness at a later, less inebriated time


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