Polar Bear Club at the 9:30 Club

Upstate New York's post-hardcore act Polar Bear Club perform at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: Polar Bear Club

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013 —Listening to the recorded music of Polar Bear Club and then seeing them on stage, it is easy to get the feeling that this band should be bigger than they currently are. It is understandable that they’d be the opening act for Bad Religion as they were here at the 9:30 Club. But this is the kind of band where bigger things would appear to be in store.

Proof? Shows like this where the people who arrived early did so expressly to see Polar Bear Club, referencing with approval those occasions in past years when they had enjoyed seeing and hearing this band.

SEE RELATED: Dropkick Murphys at the 9:30 Club

It is never easy to predict that a band is going to be big. But for the most part, Polar Bear Club seems to have the right assets to succeed in their chosen genre. They definitely have punk/hardcore roots, and those roots are on the edge of every song they perform.

Yet it never feels that this is the foundation of the band’s sound in general. Polar Bear Club is a straight up rock band playing for a fan base deeply rooted in the punk/hardcore scene.

It helps that they possess all visual trappings of a band from that genre. Jimmy Stadt is just about the most energetic, genuine, and encouraging front man someone will ever see in any band.  During the band’s set, he’s in constant motion, always eager to positively engage the crowd. 

Everything he says or sings, whether it’s a monologue between songs or vocals almost dripping with earnest emotion, it’s clear he feels and believes in what he’s doing during every moment he’s on stage. He appears to be having the best time anyone could have.

The rest of the band does not stand a chance of matching his energy level. But then they do not exactly make an attempt to do so. They serve, instead, in the important role as stalwart accompanying musicians, there at all times to balance Stadt’s energy both on stage physically as well as within the songs themselves. Since Stadt is just a hurricane of positive emotion, the rest of the band is actually necessary as a stabilizing force lest the performance spiral out of control or burn out.

Stadt’s gruff vocals seem almost shockingly cleaner in a live setting than they do on any of the band’s recordings. His vocals could easily fit within the context of so many up tempo punk bands. The Polar Bear Club crew turns this notion on its ear.

What they pull off instead is a mid tempo rock song effect that is consistently on an even keel.  Granted, a few songs here and there are performed at a faster pace, and their set in general is faster by definition. The notion that the band is pushing things to the edge is not something they are trying to convey.

Almost in contradiction to their vocalist’s instincts, this is a band that takes its time and makes sure they hit all their notes just right. This doesn’t mean they’re highly meticulous.

SEE RELATED: Rockers Finch perform at the Fillmore

It is just that they are never in a rush, preferring to let the emotional content of each song hit its mark. If they pushed their any further, the bulk of their songs would lose a lot of their punch.

Most punk and hardcore bands display their power by hammering the audience with a fast and forceful attack. Polar Bear Club does not. This is the primary difference between Polar Bear Club and so many bands they share a stage with.

The emotion embedded in their songs relates directly to the content of the music and lyrics rather than the context in which they are performed. That is what enables them to achieve their lofty musical agenda while remaining firmly planted on the ground as they did during their recent appearance here.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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