Polkadot Cadaver at The Rogue Bar

Polkadot Cadaver 
The Rogue 
Wednesday, May 17, 2011

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I -- a devout metal head -- had never heard of Polkadot Cadaver before this show. I went to see them because I had about a dozen friends who were going, and for weeks, they've been going on and on about how excited they were to see this four-piece progressive metal band from Maryland.

That excitement was contagious at the Rogue Bar, where more than a hundred people crowded around the stage and bar as Polkadot Cadaver took the stage. Among those in the crowd were the singer and drummer for Phoenix metal band Ikonoklast (who'll be opening for Fear Factory at the Clubhouse Music Venue on June 1), and DJ Squalor, founder of industrial dance art collective Sadisco* (putting on Fight Club at The Firehouse on June 18).

There were no opening acts, and Polkador Cadaver got on stage around 10 p.m. People were screaming during sound check, and when the band tore into its first song, the audience became a sea of bobbing heads and devil horns. The majority of people in the venue sang along to every word of almost every song in the set, even the band's new ones.

Turns out, Polkadot Cadaver has quite a devout following in the metal underground. Based on what I heard at the Rogue last night, it is well deserved. Three of the four members of Polkadot Cadaver used to be in an influential experimental metal band called Dog Fashion Disco -- I band I had heard of, considering fellow metal artists like Serj Tankian (System of a Down) and Mushroomhead have given them props (Tankian made a guest appearance on DFD's "Anarchists of Good Taste"). 

Early in the set, vocalist Todd Smith announced that he was sick and basically had no voice, but his singing -- which ranges from falsetto to guttural growling to soulful crooning -- sounded solid. He was also backed by the vocals of lanky bassist Dave Cullen, and a hundred enthusiastic metal heads.

Polkadot Cadaver's music is immensely enjoyable to listen to, but hard to pin down. It's clearly hard and heavy enough to be pure metal, but there are also elements of funk and jazz, and plenty of tricky timing changes. The band's second song in the set, "Sea Grave" (from their new album, Sex Offender), wraps thrash metal guitar-driven verses; a soft, psychedelic chorus; and a bouncing, spiraling bridge into a neat little package of prowess.

​The band's energy was great. Guitarist Jasan Stepp stomped, danced, kicked, and moshed around his corner of the stage, while Smith incited the audience into lyrical shout-alongs. One of the most raucous was the band's third song, "A Wolf in Jesus Skin," from their 2007 debut, Purgatory Dance Party. While the band churned out a storm of heavy chords, high-pitched vocals, and a carnival-like melody, the audience created a booming chorus for lines like "You remind me of a wolf in Jesus skin/I think it's safe to say the drugs are kicking in."

Acoustically, everything sounded good, even right in front of the amplifiers, where I was standing. The mix was spot-on and every instrument was clean and clear. The low end of the band had the perfect throb and ebb, while the guitar sounded alternately fat and burly and crisp and spacey. There really weren't many people in the Rogue who weren't moving to the music. "Scottsdale's fucking awesome!" Smith shouted to the sea of sweaty fans in the club. "You guys are all fired up."

Polkadot Cadaver's diversity and dexterity further shined through on their cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," which featured some nice, jazzy guitar work and Smith emulating the late King of Pop's "whoos!" and "he-he-he's" with a cold can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in his hand.  

Another crowd-rouser was the bottom-heavy "Bloodsucker," to which the crowd contributed a massive wave of rhythmic hand clapping. But judging from the crowd reaction, the song everybody was waiting to hear was "Chloroform Girl," a slow, almost '60s folk-type tune with a simple, bopping beat (but still featuring Stepp's heavy electric guitar work). When Polkadot Cadaver played it, everybody seemed to know the words. 

After playing for about an hour (ending their set with the song "What's the Worst Thing That Could Happen?" and inciting a small mosh pit and a crowd surfer), Smith thanked the Scottsdale audience for the umpteenth time. "We weren't expecting this," he said. "You guys are fucking amazing."

Thanks, Polkadot Cadaver. You guys were fucking amazing, too.

Critic's Notebook

Last Night: Polkadot Cadaver at The Rogue Bar

The Crowd: A diverse range of metal heads and music fans -- lots of long-haired guys with beards and goatees wearing shirts for bands like Iron Maiden, Suffocation, and Devil Driver, but also plenty of females in casual, punk, and goth attire (and even one in a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt).

Overheard in the Crowd: "A seven inch for seven bucks? That's only a dollar an inch!"

Personal Bias: I love progressive, experimental metal.

Random Notebook Dump: "Nobody's outside smoking right now."