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Dream of the ’90s is alive in Polaris

Band known for ‘Pete and Pete’ theme now playing live shows

Polaris performs Tuesday night at the Bartlett.
Polaris performs Tuesday night at the Bartlett.

If you were a kid in the ’90s – or if you were the parent of a cable-consuming kid in the ’90s – you’re probably intimately familiar with Polaris’ song “Hey Sandy.” You may not recognize that title or the name of the band, and you probably can’t sing the words, either, since the mush-mouthed lyrics are still the subject of much debate.

You would know it, though, as the theme song to the TV series “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” which ran on Nickelodeon for three seasons (and later in endless reruns) beginning in 1993. The show’s music was credited to Polaris, a shaggy trio who performed that famously mumbly theme song in the show’s opening credit sequence.

But Polaris remained as mysterious as their lyrics: Other than a 1999 compilation of music from the series, they never released an album, nor did they ever play live during the heyday of “Pete and Pete.” Polaris is made up of three members from the Connecticut-based pop-rock band Miracle Legion, and they were hired by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, the creators of “Pete and Pete,” to be the show’s “in-house band.”

“We were never actually a band,” said Polaris’ main songwriter and frontman Mark Mulcahy. “Our tagline is we’re the band that only exists inside your TV.”

Twenty-two years after “Hey Sandy” first wormed its way into every culture-savvy middle-schooler’s head, Polaris is finally playing live shows, something Mulcahy said never really crossed their minds while the show was on the air.

“We didn’t think much of it, and to be realistic, I don’t know if the show was as popular then as it is now, in terms of its value to people,” he said. “If we did this then, we might have been playing to a bunch of 12-year-olds.”

But those 12-year-olds are now nostalgia-craving adults, and the prospect of seeing a fictional band from an old TV show fulfills those fond childhood memories.

“The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” based on a collection of short films, centered on two brothers, both named Pete Wrigley, and the eccentric denizens of their small town of Wellsville. “Pete and Pete” had a more off-kilter sensibility than typical Nickelodeon programming (its stable of guest stars included figures like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Patty Hearst and Kate Pierson of the B-52’s), and it’s now frequently cited as one of the more original, esoteric children’s shows of its era.

“It’s the rare TV show that holds up after a long period,” Mulcahy said. “(McRobb and Viscardi) made a thing that they thought was good, and it had their fingerprints all over it.”

Polaris played its first live show at a “Pete and Pete” cast and crew reunion in 2012, and Mulcahy says he wasn’t anticipating the feverish crowd response when the band took the stage.

“The first night we played, we were pretty shocked … because we’d start a song and people would scream,” he said. “It was really a pleasant realization about the fans of the TV show: They’d hear the music on the show, just a bit of something, and they were interested enough to figure out what it is. It’s nice to know that people will do a little extra homework to find out about something they like.”

The cultish adulation surrounding “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” has extended to the fake band that scored its music, and attending one of their shows essentially grants you membership to an exclusive ’90s pop culture club.

“People are singing the songs and clapping along,” Mulcahy said. “It’s just a great vibe. It’s like we’re all in on this little thing.”

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