As the four members of Polvo took to the Cat's Cradle stage for the first time in a decade Saturday night, the clock at stage left—glowing a piercing blue against the dark venue—read 11:37 p.m. At that late hour, after opening sets from Noncanon and Des Ark, the venue's floor was flooded by a mass of fans, a saturated canvas of people stretching from stage edge to back bar without break. They were eager for the return of one of the most distinctive, influential bands to emerge in the 1990s indie rock scene, and that's what they got. Sort of.
Indeed, it's been a while for Polvo: The canvas was dotted by members of the local scene's current crop of musicians, many of them influenced by records Polvo made 15 years ago. Such a legacy shone onstage even before Polvo could get there. One could hear it in Noncanon's tug-of-war between hypnotic repetitions and unexpected deviations in structure, and in Des Ark's alternate tunings, dissonant notes and squirming guitar melodies.
Some superfans had driven hours or paid hundreds to get through the Cradle's doors. A woman doled $100 each for two tickets and drove her husband, who had a broken leg, to Carrboro from Tennessee because he loved the band so. One guy drove from Orlando, Fla., and wouldn't stop talking about how Polvo was the greatest, how he would have driven anywhere to see them, how certain he was that a reunion would never happen. He was glad it did.
But, for the band, this wasn't a reunion gig: "We don't think of it as a 'reunion' necessarily. We're sort of looking ahead," Dave Brylawski, one half of Polvo's famously intertwining guitars, said before the show.
"It's the next chapter," continued bassist Steve Popson.
As the set progressed, their assertions made sense: New songs were added to the mix, including the set opener, listed on guitarist Ash Bowie's setlist as "Mega." While some old favorites, like 1994's "Fractured (Like Chandeliers)," were immediately recognizable, others had changed significantly. And at least one warped by accident after the head of Brylawski's amplifier failed. As he scrambled for a replacement, the remaining members—originals Bowie and Popson with new drummer Brian Quast—simply repeated the riff until the problem was solved.
The band maintained its core dynamic of repeated variations on a riff that suddenly veered in new directions with rhythm shifts or a new two-guitar slither. But this was Polvo as Polvo is, not as Polvo was. The band seemed confident, less reliant on abruptness than on finesse these days.
"I don't think many bands get a second chance to revisit old material and sort of retrofit stuff," said Brylawski. "There's an ease to it, that the sense of urgency when you're younger is gone, but that's sort of a calming thing."
Maybe the urgency was just different, though, because it was certainly there, on the stage, a band with veteran poise meeting a hungry crowd. An equipment malfunction that could have ruined the show seemed like a reason to keep going. And when Polvo finally exploded into "Tragic Carpet Ride" to close the show, the audience exploded with them, as if everyone had been given a second chance simply because these old songs had found new air in an old, familiar environment.