The Polyphonic Spree
Is there anything left to say about the Polyphonic Spree? We’ve established that they wear robes. They perform with such overwhelming enthusiasm that it’s easy to see where the “cult” tag stems from. And yes, they are comprised of a ten-strong choir, a harpist, and a guy with a Moog. Plus a trumpet player, flautist, and French horn-ist. Oh yeah, and a freaky theremin (think Dr Who or Ed Wood).
27 Jan 2005: The Enmore Sydney, Australia
But none of this really captures the essence of their performance. In theory it should all fall flat: the music often reeks of MGM-style musical sentimentality, the lyrics frequently cross the line into cheesy territory, and the band performs against a banner proclaiming “HOPE”. But fuck me, the combined effect is a powerful hit in the gut, one that sucks you under and drags you, somewhat against your will, into a shiny, shiny place. It’s a place where the people are smiling and you just can’t stop yourself from reaching out to the sun.
Now, I generally don’t like shiny, smiling people. I’m from a more black-clad, slit-your-wrists-when-you’re-done school of rock. Hearing The Beginning Stages Of changed that.
Seeing the Spree live was something else altogether, ratcheting my enthusiasm up another notch. Frontman Tim DeLaughter could have your eye out with the sheer amount of confidence he exudes, but I guess fronting a 20-odd-piece group lends one a certain sense of bravura.
For their part, the choir rock out like no other - in rock at least. While providing gloriously soaring harmonies they flail their heads and limbs around like they mean it. And maybe that’s the key to this band, they don’t just perform it, they really do seem to believe in it. In the face of all that overwhelming positivity, it’s hard to maintain the studied “detached cool” favored by rock audiences.
As might have been suspected, the show doesn’t shy away from theatrics. At one point the entire stage freezes as DeLaughter is left alone to play with the echo effect. “It’s The Sun”, perhaps the song that best sums up the Spree philosophy, is delivered at a cracking pace, helping set the high-energy atmosphere that is maintained throughout the show.
I’m frankly surprised that no one collapsed onstage. The drummer should receive some kind of award for bravery. At one point he leapt over several barriers and paraded through the crowd while still managing to clash his gigantic cymbals in perfect time. Other impressive staging included having the band’s enter from the back of the theatre for the encore, ensuring that absolutely no one in the audience remained seated.
On that note, if by some small chance the guy yelling and throwing things at people in an effort to force them to sit down is reading this, then SCREW YOU. You were at a ROCK CONCERT, not the opera, not listening to Bert Kaempfert records around your Nana’s gramophone. How rude is it to the band, which is up there performing their lower intestines out, to NOT stand up?
Ahem, not that I would ever use a review to air a personal gripe, but this dude was so thoroughly an asshole that he actually convinced me to get on my feet and stay standing the whole damn time. Not that I needed much encouragement.
The highlight of the encore was the most swinging cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s” ever likely to be seen this side of ‘60s London. The band roared and crashed its way to a beautifully shambolic conclusion, and after a few thank yous they were gone. All of which left me thinking that this stuff is what religion should be, but isn’t. If going to church was this life affirming and joyful, I’d be there in the front pew screaming hallelujah every week, assuming of course, the guy behind me kept quiet.
// Notes from the Road
"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.READ the article