Both Shiver and Polar Bear gave surprising, complex and at times extremely challenging performances that complemented each other rather beautifully at this SJE Arts event.
I had never been to S. John the Evangelist before and I was astounded by the venue. The church is beautiful, with high ornate ceilings and grand woodwork. That said, it was aptly converted into a music venue: it was warm, there was a bar and there was a relaxed and engaged atmosphere in the audience.
Shiver came on and slapped everyone in the face with an exceedingly unexpected noise. They were loud and energized, and the sound they created was conveyed wonderfully through an excellent sound system. Even sat slightly to the side, the sound was clear and well rounded; each instrument came through at its best.
Shiver’s music itself defies definition or genre. They describe themselves as ‘making things with sounds, for people’. That’s not to say you couldn’t pick out clear influences: Mogwai, some 50s rock and roll drumming, the twanging chords of Americana skiffle, and I’m sure I heard a hint of Vangelis and the B-side of Chariots of Fire.
They were great. They played around with their instruments, discovering new sounds that could be made, and then tied them together into something really lively and fascinating. They occasionally wandered too far off the beaten track, perhaps forgetting the audience for a while, but not often.
Polar Bear were quite a contrast, but a well made one. Their sound was a lot smoother, and much denser. At times it was somewhat impenetrable: a musical equivalent of a gnarly novel.
This would then swing to moments of more traditional beats or saxophone riffs, around which the band would temporarily convene. Those moments were the most fun for me, as nodding your head and tapping your toes became irresistible.
The set was certainly something outside of the norm, and it was intriguing trying to decipher the more meandering and free jazz sections. It was a kind of intellectual challenge, but with enough breaks to ensure it didn’t become exhausting.
Although far from the traditional concert fare, I was left with the impression of a well-composed, cohesive billing that you don’t often hear outside classical circles. Added to this were the great sound and the beautiful and dramatic setting, which all came together for a very grown up and thought provoking gig.