Click the photo for a slideshow of the concert. All photos by Michael Alan Goldberg.
The Polyphonic Spree
July 15, 2007
The Polyphonic Spree
July 15, 2007
Better Than: Organized religion.
Sure, I'd heard all the jokes about Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kool-Aid, Up With People, and hokey old timey relijun, but before last night I'd never seen the nearly two-dozen strong Texas symphonic-rock outfit the Polyphonic Spree play live. I was wondering if they'd come off a bit contrived and/or silly, but I've gotta say, I'm now a convert to whatever musical doctrine they're preaching after that whale of a performance. Big sound, big love, confetti, and smoke all over the nearly sold-out room; it was a joyful, kaleidoscopic musical experience akin to seeing the Flaming Lips (and to a lesser extent, Mercury Rev).
The show began with John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" blasting over the PA while the lyrics were projected onto a large red swath of fabric that had been stretched across the front of the stage. As smoke poured from over the top and into the crowd, a pair of scissors soon poked through the middle, first cutting out the shape of a heart. Then, the scissors snipped the entire banner in half, revealing the entire band -- 23 members, if my counting was accurate -- clad in black, military-style outfits replete with red crosses: It was kinda like the bizarro-world, evil-goth version of the Spree. Frontman Tim DeLaughter, who looks and sounds a bit like Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500/Luna) crossed with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), was holding the scissors and grinning broadly at the cheering crowd as the group launched into "Running Away," from its just-released third album, The Fragile Army.
The first confetti explosion came early, and it seemed almost like the show had just begun (in reality it was already 10 songs in) when DeLaughter announced, "This is our last one." The group eased into Army closer "The Championship," and as DeLaughter got the whole audience singing along, the Spree departed the stage one by one until only the harp player remained.
The band returned to the stage in their traditional white robes, and began an encore that was nearly as long as the main set. "Together We're Heavy," from the Spree's 2004 breakthrough album of the same title, got things started, and that was followed by the best damn cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" that you're ever likely to hear -- the place went accordingly apeshit, prompting DeLaughter to leap into the crowd. The singer also noted that the group was celebrating its 7th anniversary as a band last night, leading to an impromptu audience rendition of "Happy Birthday, Polyphonic Spree" that clearly moved him; later, a roadie brought out a birthday cake which DeLaughter dipped into the crowd to have its seven candles blown out. And then, more confetti from the ceiling and a confetti gun, too. Oh, and the Showbox's disco ball was in full effect, as well.
What was left? A lengthy closing rendition of "Hold Me Now," during which the entire band, save for DeLaughter, froze in playing stance for nearly 10 minutes as the singer waved his arms in front of members' faces, shimmied around the stage playing their instruments, then got the crowd humming in unison to "bring them back to life" (okay, that part was kinda hokey). Then, when it was all over, two hours after it'd started, DeLaughter put out his own version of the collection plate, imploring everyone to go to the merch table and buy something because "we live and die by what we sell back there each night." At first, that also seemed hokey, and a bit tacky given the cost of the ticket ($25 at the door, which DeLaughter acknowledged), but his pitch seemed genuine, especially, as he said of the Spree's large size (and, ostensibly, the division of earnings), "some bands have one bus for each of its five members -- we're basically five bands all traveling together in one bus." And hey, if the $2 button I bought helps bring them back to town sometime soon, then I'm happy.
Personal Bias: I'm pretty much an athiest.
Random Detail: On the way out, I overheard some guy say to his date, "I swear I'm gonna sell everything and go run off and join the Polyphonic Spree." I guess that cult stuff really does work.
By the way: Opener Jesca Hoop was well worth getting there early for. At first, it seemed like she might succumb to all the noise from the folks over at the bar, but the chestnut-haired singer-guitarist dedicated herself to winning over the healthy crowd that gathered in front of the stage for her set. Mission accomplished. Accompanied by a keyboardist and, occasionally, a guy who manned a small MPC sampler, the Northern California native -- who's been championed by Tom Waits, and has a debut album coming out on Columbia Records soon -- was equal parts freak-folker and torch singer; she had a riveting voice and confident stage presence, and her songs were best when accompanied by trip-hoppish beats. And she wears funny hats. Definitely check her out the next time she comes through town.