- The Polyphonic Spree- Live from Austin, TX
New West Records
After listening to their music, it should come as no surprise that The Polyphonic Spree grew from hope in early 2000. Founder and "music director" of the collective, Tim Delaughter, was still dealing with the tragic death of his good friend and guitarist from his previous band, Tripping Daisy. At the same time, Delaughter was welcoming the birth of his daughter. The combination of these two life-changing events, death and birth, gave Delaughter the push to form the 13-to-27-member group to create (self-described) "choral symphonic rock." Delaughter had been thinking about growing his music for some time now, even with Tripping Daisy. He would be in the studio thinking, "in this part of the song rather than having a guitar playing I'd love to have a flute playing this line, something really subtle and sweet, and at this crescendo it would be great to have a harp going on." The Polyphonic Spree became the realization of that desire, mixing a large choir, a brass section, a "standard" rock line up, and a harp to create overwhelmingly positive music.
Live from Austin, TX is the most recent concert from the Austin City Limits DVD release series. The performance was recorded in August 2004 and features songs from the Polyphonic Spree’s first two albums, The Beginning Stages of… and Together We’re Heavy. As you watch the 23 members of the Polyphonic Spree fill the stage in front of that famous background, you know you are in for an interesting experience. What first catches your attention are the Crayola-like robes that all of the band members are wearing (Delaughter claimed that so many musicians in street clothes would be distracting). Of course, one cannot help but suspect collective mind-think when one sees grown adults wearing robes in public. Then the music starts with an energetic choir, soaring melodies that seem to have no release, and simple lyrics that are overwhelmingly positive ("Hey, it’s the sun, and it makes me shine/Hey, now, it’s the sun, and it makes me smile/All around"). If the goal is to make the viewers smile and bob their head, then the beginning of the DVD is a success.
One problem, though, is the lack of valleys in the performance. There are plenty of soaring peaks, but there is no darkness to provide contrast to the constant light. At times, the music may remind one of a Flaming Lips concert with their focus on spectacle and fun, but it differs in that the Flaming Lips have uncertainty and sadness lurking below the surface. At other times, the music could remind you of Sufjan Stevens' orchestration and harmony, yet with Stevens there is a deep lyricism and focus on storytelling that gives much-needed depth to the music. Nevertheless, The Polyphonic Spree's first live DVD is successful in capturing the musical highs of Delaughter and his group-mates, although it’s a somewhat one-noted affair, and it’s just a matter of how much of those overflowing positive vibes one wants to ingest.