The Polyphonic Spree: 23 May 2012 - New York

Jason Leahey

The Polyphonic Spree take ideas and methods that in an increasingly bitter world seem ever more childish and reclaim them as viable components of a complete adult life.

The Polyphonic Spree
City: New York
Venue: Webster Hall
Date: 2012-05-23

Short of a production of Godspell, the Polyphonic Spree is as close to a Smile-on-Your-Brother rock ‘n roll revival as you’re going to get these days. Sunny grins and an insistent eye toward the goodness that the band believes infuses the soul of everyone is the reason they exist. They proselytize, and they are stubborn in their faith. Perhaps this is an evolutionary trait, a defense in a cut-throat world. Because the New York audience at their March 24th show at Webster Hall must surely have tested them.

You would think that New York City is almost paradise for a music lover. Musicians of every shade and conception play every night all over town. But too many times over the years I have found myself envying the crowds in Baltimore or Topeka or Flagstaff, places where a band coming through town is an Event with a capital ‘E.’ Because crowds here can be appalling, and the folks watching the Spree definitely count. They stood still with arms crossed over their chests, fiddled with their phones, stared blankly at the stage with the bland, upturned mouths of those watching a sitcom with a canned laugh track. Sure, they politely applauded at the end of each song, but they were as passive as passive can be, bodies waiting to be entertained and seemingly unable to recognize that the entertainment presented to them not only deserves far more than politeness but also only truly works when the crowd buys in to the give-and-take that is the hallmark of any truly great rock show, and is especially so with a band like the Spree.

Because the Spree contains 21 members, including a brass section, a DJ, a flutist, a harpist, and a leader, Tim DeLaughter, whose nightly mission is to coax his audience into collectively joining the group as its twenty-second member. After an opening set by Spree keyboardist Sweet Lee Morrow, road crew stretched across the front of the stage a red ribbon at least four feet tall, and 20 minutes later the tiny pointed tips of a pair of scissors poked through, the whole implement emerging as DeLaughter cut a giant heart into the ribbon and stepped through, arms spread wide, in a white choir robe.

And then those 21 band members blew up. On record, the band can be exceptionally mellow, the kind of group easy to cohabitate with and not necessarily a group to stop and actively absorb. Live, though, they gain a blow-your-hair-back force. At Webster Hall they were a dense swell of sound, a kind of pop symphony blasting out sing-song’y melodies carrying the sentiments the band is known for: “Love the life you choose / Keep yourself feeling brand new / And love your strife with life,” “Time will show the way / and love will shine today / so love can grow,” and the like. Every person on stage played his or her heart out and they all obviously liked performing together. They opened with the sure bet, the most catchy tunes from their break-out album Together We’re Heavy and then dipped back and forth between additional songs from that album and others from The Fragile Army, with a brief foray into "Pinball Wizard" as well.

The Who cover came about halfway through the set, and the sing-along it prompted must have flooded DeLaughter with relief. He had up until that point been noticeably demoralized by a crowd displaying all of the excitement of Velveeta cheese. His band’s positivity, however, was relentless. The crowd’s indifference seemed to drive them to smile bigger smiles, to leap about and build a back-and-forth rapport, to pump out more energy, to build a collective joyfulness that persevered in spite of the odds. The flutist headbanged at various points. No, it wasn’t cheesy at all. By the time the whole group left the stage and reemerged in the back of the hall to march their love parade through the crowd, the crowd was won over and DeLaughter looked redeemed.

And that ultimately is the Spree’s greatest accomplishment. They take ideas and methods that in an increasingly bitter world seem ever more childish and reclaim them as viable components of a complete adult life. Tickets for the show were 20 bucks. That’s 95 cents per band member. The Spree doesn’t even have a new record out. Going out on the road with the margin of error between breaking even and losing money so slim is itself an act of faith. It is a mission.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.