So Catster and her ticket connections came up trumps again last night (yay Catster!), and we headed off to see Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican. Polar Bear is Seb Rochford’s band, Seb you’ll remember came and graced the Recycle Collective with his lovely presence back in August.
So following a drinks and nibbles corporate reception beforehand (including the surprise appearance of lots of lovely people – the Gay Gordons, Julie and Mark and assorted friends), we headed in to see Polar Bear. I’d never seen them live before, and was completely blown away. I’ve always loved Seb’s drumming since we first played together years ago, and am very familiar with Mark Lockheart’s great sax playing. But the whole band – rounded out by Pete Wareham on sax, Tom Herbert on bass and Leafcutter John on noises – were a revelation. Fresh, exciting, edgy, funny, chaotic, original music, with great tunes, fantastic spikey feels, and god-know-what weird noises from John, sampling bowed cymbals, balloons, the rest of the band and anything else. A really really great gig. Seb’s between song banter was on top form, and the audience were well and truly seduced.
And then EST – the poster boys of icy scandinavian cool. Like characters from a Nokia advert, or Bond villains. Not a note out of place. The sound, lights, staging, smoke – everything, perfect. Too perfect. After the danger and excitement of Polar Bear, it all felt like it was too good to be true. It wasn’t in any way a bad gig, far from it. A couple of the tunes were so impossibly beautiful they took your breath away. It just didn’t connect in the same way. I wonder if there’d been no opening act, if I’d have been deeper into it. I wasn’t NOT into it. At all. It was great. It just felt like an orchestral performance masquerading as improv. I’m really glad I saw them, and I may well even get the new album – on CD, that kind of perfection is welcome – but for me, the night belonged to Polar Bear.
Bumped into yet more very lovely people after the gig – my coat came in most useful again, as the sublime Zoe Rahman came up and said ‘you’re steve aren’t you? We’re myspace friends’, along with her squeeze, Patrick Illingworth. CDs were swapped, laughs were had, plans were hatched, and all was good. Also saw Julian Maynard-Smith – a fabulous jazz writer, who interviewed me for Unknown Public (I still haven’t seen the final article, but the transcript that he sent me was the most interesting interview I’ve ever done) – very nice to catch up.
And then late night, I headed down to The Vortex to hear Seb and John play AGAIN, this time playing a bunch of chaotic crazy improvs with Mandy Drummond on violin and piano, and a bloke who looked like he was in Franz Ferdinand on recorders and voice. Some of it was magic, some of it was nonsense, all of it was risky and fun. A lot of it was hilarious. It wasn’t even close to being safe. Yay for noisy squeaky improv!
And tonight, if I’m well enough, I’m off to see Estelle Kokot at the Octave, and then Huw Warren with Lleuwen Steffan at the Vortex. The London Jazz Festival is one seriously busy couple of weeks!by