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Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Polyphonic Spree - Astoria, London 03/09/07

If you have never seen the Polyphonic Spree live, you're doing yourself a disservice. I know and can understand that their albums might not be for everyone; fair enough. But as a live band I have seen very few acts that top their intensity and none that leave me on such a natural high.

The gig started with what has become a bit of a London tradition, with this town crier guy (and son) coming out and reading a bit of panto-like audience participation "Hear Ye" material. It's all good fun. And then a red sheet of material was raised in front of the stage to obscure the band coming on.

Then lead singer Tim DeLaughter began chopping his way through, cutting out the shape of a heart (yeah, I know, it all sounds cheesy as hell, but it's great fun).

He then chopped up to clear the sheet and they were off! There are 23 band members in the Spree, so their sound is understandably pretty big. Brass section, two drummers, chorus, flute, guitars, two keyboards, harp and so on.

That, I think, is their great failing as recording artists (as much as I love the albums), as it is impossible to capture the power they have as a live act. By the second or third song you're swept up in it, and it all just feels so goddamn good.

And that good feeling is as much down to the infectious enthusiasm of the band. They're all smiling, dancing, jumping about, giving it their all. The backing singers all swing back and forth and leap about in unison, DeLaughter constantly leaps on top of his monitor, punching the air, whoopin' and hollerin'. Again, describing it just doesn't convey what a joy the entire band is to behold.

Anyway, they played a number of tracks from the first two albums, as well as new material. They play with the material a little but the anthemic nature of their material still gets the crowd going. Then, one by one, the band members left the stage, finally leaving only DeLaughter (holding up his heart cut-out) and the harpist, who each respectively left.

And then the other great Spree tradition: the crowd walk-through. Sure enough the band appeared walking in a line up on the balcony, where they walked from the side up to the rear exits, then downstairs and through the middle of the crowd, the trombonist holding his instrument up like a tour operator's umbrella. But DeLaughter came back on a different path, following our friend Aaron as he came back from the bar and so walked right by us.

He's the sweaty head of hair the guy in the olive shirt is staring at.

And so they all got back to the stage for an amazing encore, decked out in their old white robes, no less (the origins of why many people think they're some kind of cult).

I just can't understand why they get that idea...

Anyway, once back, they launched into a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" which sent the place crazy. A long suite of their own material followed, one song flowing into the next, before finishing up with "When The Fool Becomes a King". Grinning like a madman, DeLaughter kept thanking the audience and then did what always sends a gig up a notch for me: an unscheduled encore. With three minutes to curfew, they cranked out a rendition of Tripping Daisy song "Sonic Bloom".

Great show. Great band. And if I had one photo that sums it all up, it'd be this:

Smiles, everyone, smiles!


  1. I saw them on Jonathan Ross on friday and thought they were the worse thing i ever heard. I quickly hit the mute button but even their silent stage antics really aggravated me. I kept saying to myself 'that's awful' and 'fucking shit!'. They really seemed to rub me up the wrong way. Was it their matching uniforms complete with red 'X'(or '+') logo which reminded me of Chaplin's dictator? Or was it the lead singer who reminded me of the groovy 'Jim Morrison' type singer from the original Producers film?
    There must be more to them if you're that enthusiastic about them so maybe i should look past my initial horror and give 'em a chance. Though saying that, i have'nt seen anyone live for ages so i might not!

  2. I must admit they were a bit shit on Ross. But that sort of performance just doesn't convey the kind of energy they put into a live show.

    But then, I suspect our musical tastes may diverge somewhat here and there...