Kovacs and the Polar Bear have quickly become one of the most reliable draws in Asheville. From regular performances at The LAB to the band’s afternoon set at Bele Chere, it’s clear KATPB has earned a devoted local following that turns out enthusiastically for the quartet’s increasingly frequent shows. Nonetheless, headlining the Grey Eagle is a big step for a local act, and last night the band proved its time has come.
The room was hot and stifling as frontman Nick Kovacs greeted the crowd with a rambling soul searcher indicative of the singer’s emotive style. And as the band joined him onstage, the crowd, which already filled half the room, began to stir restlessly. Within the first few notes of the its opening number, the floor was filled with tapping toes and shaking bodies, illustrating that these music lovers were not curious passersby; this audience was filled with fans, fans who had anxiously awaited this night.
The set was familiar to those who’ve caught a KATPB show before, which, judging by the singalongs, was the majority of those in attendance; but there was a palpable enthusiasm in the air that gave the performance a freshness that fueled the crowd’s excitement. For its part, the band barreled through uplifting indie pop, aggressive folk rock and anthemic Americana, swapping instruments and vocal duties as each of the four members showcased their obvious talents. Some of the more impressive displays included drummer Andrew Woodward’s simultaneous double duty on bass/floor tom and multi-instrumentalist Chris Lee’s similar display on bass/keyboard. The set also included a host of a cappella breakdowns that showcased the band’s rich, four-part vocal harmonies, a cornerstone of KATPB’s sound.
Those types of instrumental feats are eye catching — and they fill out the quartet’s sound beyond its numbers — but the band’s real appeal is a knack for evoking emotional connections with its audience. Time after time, soft confessional verses break into explosive choruses, carrying listeners on an emotional roller coaster of sorts. Heartbreak gives way to fury, self reflection fades to hopelessness and nostalgia leads to soaring optimism. It’s a style that begs comparison to the heart-on-your-sleeve approach of indie folk acts like Bright Eyes, but it’s a strategy that is clearly working for for KATPB.
It’s been apparent for months that Kovacs and the Polar Bear are rapidly becoming one of Asheville’s most popular band’s, and its headlining spot at The Grey Eagle proved that reputation is well deserved. The band’s just-completed sophomore album is due in the coming months, and there’s no doubt that with its release, Kovacs’ star will only continue to rise.
After closing with a lighthearted cover of “La Bamba” that saw even the heaviest feet taking to the dance floor, Nick Kovacs thanked the crowd and jokingly acknowledged the symbolic change that the performance ushered in.
“Thanks for making us feel like a real band tonight.”