While the venue has never allowed smoking, a hot sticky New Orleansesque atmosphere clung to the place as the air conditioning was on the blink. Polar Bear kicked off the gig with a fine and funky number led by bass and drums — but this easy groove was to prove the exception rather than the rule throughout the night as we went deeper and freer.
At the heart of their explorative sound is Leafcutter John whose samples and distorted electronica take the quintet’s sound in odd but compelling directions. At one point he played a mandolin with a distortion on it to create what sounded like a slumber party for adolescent soup dragons after some wag had spiked the minestrone with amphetamines.
For me, the key to their attraction is the wonderful interplay between Seb Rochford’s faultless drumming, which nevertheless appears to be ready to trip up over itself, (but never does) and the taut, full and amped bass of Tom Herbert.
With all this talent and cleverness on display, the event was defined and defused by the surreal comedy of Seb’s outpourings between songs as he mis-attributed a song to a brthday girl (the name was Chanel not Chantel) and the audience bantered back. Get this man a radio show.
If you missed them at the Vortex, they’ll be travelling south of the river at the end of the month when Polar Bear will playing at Corsica Studios in Elephant & Castle on 28 June.