The Polyphonic Spree : Webster Hall, New York, NY 5/23/11

The Polyphonic Spree are back out on the road, bringing their good-time cheer and revelry to adoring audiences in much the same vein as they have been doing for the past ten years. If you haven’t seen them since their early 2000’s heyday, here’s what you missed: Nothing.  Yes, there are still 20-plus boy/girl band members onstage wearing long, white robes emblazoned with corresponding male/female hearts.  Yep, the stage is still packed with a harp, theremin, keyboards, drums, and pretty much every brass instrument under the sun.  And, indeed, the band (or should I say collective), still triumphantly announces its presence by slowly cutting a heart-shaped design into the stage-shielding red curtain that dramatically reveals the assembled cluster to the audience as the opening chords of the show ring out.  It’s one big spectacle that definitely entrances and entertains the die-hards and new converts alike, but leaves people like me, one who has been curious to see what the band has been up to in the past four years since their last big tour, initially disappointed. 

Frontman Tim DeLaughter has aged a little bit in the interim, as his once shaggy locks have received a trim and proper haircut while his temples have shaded grey.  His energy and enthusiasm has not been tempered one bit though, as he remained in constant motion throughout the 90-minute set, jumping on monitors, gesticulating wildly to his bandmates and audience members alike, and losing himself in unbridled moments of ecstasy.  The set never introduced any new material, so at this point DeLaughter has the routine down pat, leading the proceedings like a seasoned Broadway headliner who’s been entrenched on the main stage performing Phantom or Le Mis for decades. 

Where he once looked the part of wild shaman, he now looks more like an IBM Salesman at his moonlighting gig, still full of passion and vigor, but locked into a shatterproof routine.  It was this level of reliability that made the show seem a bit lackluster.  As a fan, I’d seen their show several times in previous years and came away amazed and inspired.  However, I was hoping for some evolvement.  After all, in 2007, they traded in the white robes for black paramilitary outfits that better reflected the fractured edginess of that year’s The Fragile Army.  Maybe it was the lack of a new album, but this show seemed to serve as a victory lap, reinforcing their greatness to older patrons who seem to rarely get out to shows much anymore and introducing younger attendees to the overall power of their charms.  There’s really nothing wrong with this approach.  After all, I spent much of the last decade as one of the latter fans and will probably spend the next decade as one of the former.  There was just something about the show that made me a bit of a grumpy cynic, a guise I never previously employed at a Polyphonic Spree show. 

As I was pondering my feelings, the show came to a close, and the crowd prepared for the inevitable encore.  After a few minutes, the members of the band were seen filtering through the first few rows of the crowd, out of sight until they all jumped one-by-one back onto the stage, accompanied by their instruments.  And yes, if you’ve seen the Spree, you know this drill too, as it’s been a staple of theirs since the beginning.  As I looked around the crowd, and saw the audience eating it up, I realized that perhaps I was being too hard on the crew.  After all, what’s wrong with simply enjoying a great night of music and showmanship?  Since when did my thirst for constant creativity and reinterpretation trump the ability to have a good time?  And damn, if Tim DeLaughter wasn’t reading my mind because he finished assembling his chorus/orchestra, jumped back up on the monitors and absolutely killed it with the encore, pushing things to the limit with spirited takes on “Together We’re Heavy”, “Light and Day/Reach For The Sun”, and “The Championship”.  As the various band members left the stage one by one leaving only DeLaughter and the harpist alone to close things down, I’ll admit, I was locked in with everyone else singing along:

All in good time/Raise our voices

And the world was back in alignment.  The Polyphonic Spree had sent me home the way they always do: happy and feeling as though I could change the world. 

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