The Polyphonic Spree
October 16, 2004
It's fitting that people compare the similarly robed 25 member band The Polyphonic Spree to a cult. On Saturday afternoon at The Voodoo Fest in City Park, it looked like they converted many audience members to their way. Pleasure Club played dangerous, dark rock n' roll before The Spree, and it wasn't exactly the type of music to herald the day. I was wondering how the festival would go before The Polyphonic Spree. Afterwards, I knew it was and would be beautiful. The band was comprised of a ten-member choir, a pair of keyboardists, as well as a percussionist, bassist, guitarist, harpist, flautist, trumpeter, trombonist, violist, a French horn player, a theremin player, and an electronic effects wizard.
In the beginning, the group walked through the crowd in their multi-colored robes, climbed into the photo pit and then helped each other onto the stage. It was a nice dramatic entrance that showed their bond. Or their need to have a drummer up there. Then came the music. The band used counter-melodies. How could they not? All twenty-five of them weren't gonna play the same thing at once. But, it's important to note that they didn't create pleasure with an art-rock disjunctive structure a la modern day bands Broken Social Scene and Do Say Make Think. They created eargasms and a feeling of union. They celebrated the soul by subtly layering sounds on top of one another until it seemed like something would have to give. The sky? It would be better to call their songs movements. One second they were dragging out a crescendo and the next leader/conductor/vocalist Tim DeLaughter was singing solo.
To say The Polyphonic Spree's music was sunny would be an understatement. It was glorious. Still, it took a while for the crowd to express their approval of the band's disposition. Hell, the festival is called Voodoo. Most of the people there were present to see darker, more dissonant and message-important bands like Pixies, Sonic Youth, Green Day, and Beastie Boys. Polyphonic Spree didn't want the crowd to vote for anyone in particular. They just wanted the crowd to smile. It's hard to make people smile, though. To persuade people to be less self-conscious and insecure. To lead them to light. There I was, with a big ol' grin on my face, though, and during the last song, there were throngs of people with their arms raised without having been prompted to do so. But, how did and the rest of the band take the crowd on a train from the land of apathy into the land of illumination?
The band jumped around the stage and danced in joy. The choir even moved their bodies left and right in synchronized Godspell-like movements. DeLaughter was the leader for a reason. He had the courage to run onto the steel ramp/pedastool at the edge of the stage and spread his arms out. He approached the crowd with a childlike naivete. At one point, he even smiled with his eyes closed like a child having a happy dream.
The best songs were "Two Thousand Places," "Soldier Girl," and the band's rock, "It's the Sun." They made the most of this piece. Just when I thought it was over, they built it back up. This happened a few times. I didn't mind.
To quote Ren and Stimpy: "Happy, happy, joy, joy."
P.S. I got some behind the scenes insight into the band at the press conference after their set. When asked if the death of his Tripping Daisy bandmate had anything to do with The Spree's sound, DeLaughter cringed and went into deep thought for a minute. I don't want to say he was tearing up, but it sure looked like a tough question for him. He went on to say that life is tough and that he never intended The Spree's sound to be happy. He said it just happened that way.
He also said the band's difficult entrance over the high security barricades was the only bad thing about their performance that day. He was happy with the band's performance and the crowd.
Also, a journalist said he went from a half-empty perspective to a half-full perspective after the show. He then asked if he could join the group. He was serious. But, then again, who wouldn't want to join? I can play cowbell. How 'bout that?
No offense to any true cowbell players out there. Y'all are keepin' it real.