Review: The Cosmic Choir Kicks In: Polyphonic Spree Previews New Album in Nashville* - U2 Feedback

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Old 05-10-2007, 08:07 AM   #1
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Review: The Cosmic Choir Kicks In: Polyphonic Spree Previews New Album in Nashville*

By Andy Smith, Contributing Editor

While a live show is often a magical experience, many bands never match the sheer musical precision and lasting presence of their recorded works. But with the Texas cult-like miracle that is the Polyphonic Spree, the CDs simply pale in comparison to the real thing. In fact, comparing the digital replica to this Dionysian reality is dangerous. Fans of musical theater would never expect that original cast recording to compare to the stage show, and the same logic applies here.

This past Monday, the Spree launched a mini-tour to build up some buzz before the release of “Fragile Army,” coming this June. Nashville’s City Hall was the venue for this early Monday night show—although Nashville’s Centennial Park on a Sunday afternoon might have been more cosmically conducive to the small but enthusiastic flock of fans with their mock Spree uniforms, with their bubbles and bindis.

The Polyphonic Spree is so much more than the “choral symphonic rock” moniker suggests. Of course, we love the multiple drummers, the drama queen keyboards, the flute and fiddle, the trumpet and trombone, the harp and French horn. But the combined creative impact transcends merely massive instrumentation to invoke the immanence of joy—and a surreal and serene kind of candy corn it is at that. Imagine the Partridge Family at Burning Man; imagine your band camp experience on acid; imagine your church choir director chugging cough syrup. Rather like the bastard grandchild of the traveling pop gospel group Up with People hosting a Human Be-In at the megaplex, the Spree sprays pixie dust on the dour decadence of our age.

In front of a giant white banner inscribed with the simple message “Hope,” the military brigade of beauty and healing took the stage with staggering, cinematic strength.
Nothing this sonic happening conjures is small. The wondrous and wizardly lead singer and band conductor Tim DeLaughter requires that everything is operatic and over-the-top, raising his arms on the wave of the first synth and keyboard strains like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips teaching a hundred school children to sing “Where The Streets Have No Name.”

(Photo courtesy of Hal Samples/

Speculating about the sudden lack of color in this freshly-dressed family reunion, we need not worry that the Polyphonics have lost their polychromatic feel. Even dressed in black, the shiny happy people that brought us lines like “Hey now it’s the sun/and it makes me shine” have not lost their musical alternative to anti-depressants. Ingesting the Spree cures most mood disorders, although those allergic to such sincere and grandiose gestures may wish to stay away. To some the Polyphonic Spree will inevitably come off as a Pollyanna spritz for sick society beyond repair.

Clearly, DeLaughter can balance any hints of a Christ complex with the sheer sincerity and selflessness of the whole show. Really, an old-school rock three-piece doesn’t need to worry about how to fit everyone inside one tour bus or even how to pay them when the gate receipts are small. The massive Spree cannot come together on its vibes alone. To call the Polyphonic Spree a labor of love may be overstating the obvious, but when we consider the ridiculous logistics of the endeavor, it really feels quite astonishing and heart-felt.

This theater arts ensemble clearly rehearsed for the grand opening of the fragile revolution. Most bands expect glitches the first night out almost as a rite-of-passage, and few acts have as much to coordinate as these folks do. But from the first note to the last refrain—which DeLaughter wailed from atop a step ladder, looking out at the crowd like a Jesus who had just fed the five thousand—this intricate happening happened in all its hopeful splendor without slipping on any bananas or butchering any hymns.

(Photo courtesy of Hal Samples/

Let’s admit it. Some of us from Generations X, Y, and Z have spent most of our lives being told we should have been roaming the Haight-Ashbury district in 1967 or dancing naked at Woodstock instead of being conceived there. Now we don’t need to wonder what those Summers of Love were really all about. We just need our Polyphonic Spree.

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Old 05-27-2007, 12:42 PM   #2
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Very true---I'm not much of a fan of their recorded work, but their live shows are a great experience.
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