I momentarily joined a cult lat night, I think. Or at least ventured where an idealistic mindset and better life awaited. These are, of course, the things promised by a Polyphonic Spree performance. Whether thematically in its lyrics, or by word of mouth about its shows, there’s a certain brotherly and gregarious nature built into the Spree’s reputation. It wasn’t just the fact that there were over twenty people on stage that delivered a feeling of belonging and unity to the audience; it didn’t matter that the crowd’s outfits didn’t match those of the band’s and it didn’t matter if you didn’t know the words. Somehow, Tim DeLaughter and crew (all 20 of them) brought a well balanced cult-like experience to Webster Hall, and it delivered on those promises.
The band came onto the stage behind a red tarp, which DeLaughter cut a heart-shaped hole in before launching into a non-stop medley of most of the songs the audience wanted to hear. There was no pause for thank you’s, no absence of sound. Horn flourishes, harp, vocalizations from the choir— the band used everything at its disposal to keep the flow of the concert going. Hell, I’d even count the sound of air escaping from confetti cannons as part of the Spree’s mission to not let there be a dull moment.
The group, featuring full horn, string, percussion and choir sections, powered through favorites from the first two records. Surprisingly, for so many things on stage, Webster Hall’s sound mix was near perfect, and the different sections were shepherded through movements by leader DeLaughter. Some songs were played note by note like their album versions. No one would want to miss the marching piano intro of “Hold Me Now,” while some tunes built into monstrous orchestral masterpieces, like the eleven minute “We Sound Amazed.”
Surprises were aplenty, with a cover of “See Me Feel Me/Listening to You/Pinball Wizard,” which would normally elicit a “come on” from most audience members, but not surprisingly enough the songs warranted an orchestral-pop arrangement. DeLaughter briefly addressed the audience before the end of the set and the 21 members were bottlenecked in getting off the stage before the encore. They reentered from the back of the venue onto the stage for an encore of favorites including “Light And Day” and a crowd-participation ridden version of “The Championship.”
The Polyphonic Spree might be an entry-level experience to joining some strange musical cult, but why not? For two hours the audience, many of which were parents who had brought their children, were treated to something in between motivational speaking and boisterous orchestral pop-music. Like a Flaming Lips set without the psychedelia or a motivational speech that doesn’t suck, the Polyphonic Spree put on a performance like no other, or at least no other with 21 people on stage.