The Polyphonic Spree, The Leadmill, Sheffield, UK- 10/31
So much has been said as of late about the Polyphonic Spree. The twenty-odd member brainchild choral ensemble of Texas based singer-songwriter Tom Delaughter has become pop music's answer to the sacred, the secular, the theatrical and the downright absurd. Listening to both full length LP's (_The Beginning Stages Of…_ and Together We’re Heavy) gives off themes of the celestial and majestic as classical orchestral instruments weave gracefully through hymn like chanting that signifies more the non-sensical than profound. The sheer positivism of their music; be it religious, spiritual, philosophical or just one big, complex joke is no doubt consciously over the top, but absolutely contagious as well. Still, there is only so much their albums can do for you. To fully experience the revival in its truest forms, you simply have to see this band live. On Halloween.
I know the traditional theme of Halloween is more gothic and cryptic than what is to be expected in The Polyphonic Spree. Nonetheless, the sold out crowd that welcomed the Texan rock choir to the Leadmill in Sheffield could not have picked a better place to spend their spooky holiday. Consisting of three or four drummers (I could not see all the way across the stage), keyboards, flutes, trombones, trumpets, French horns, guitars, basses and an 8pc. Ensemble choir, Tom Delaughter's musical vision was consistently brilliant throughout their ninety minute set, drenching the packed house in an almost revivalist atmosphere that was just as humorous as it was engaging.
After missing the opening act, grabbing a few drinks and settling in about fifteen feet from the stage, a loud, orchestral arrangement was played through the PA and the band slowly formed their positions on stage. Firstly, the sight of the band is as equally interesting as their sound. Each member wears a different pastel shaded robe, creating a Benetton ad on stage that symbolically conjures up cult-like imagery. This sets the stage for the revival, led by minister/lead singer DeLaughter, to help guide the audience towards salvation. And guide he did. Immediately after DeLaughter picked up his guitar and raised his arms to conduct, the venue exploded in a wall of sound that Spector himself would covet. The sound and the band's constant energy were enormously immense, never dwindling throughout the entire set.
When members were not playing instruments, they were dancing and jumping around while when they were playing their instruments, they were still dancing and rambunctiously jumping about. The music is a neo-religious, humour-laden kind of musical Prozac. Each song is melodically similar, chock full of peak-and-valley encrusted crescendos that made every tune a treat, from the opening It's The Sun' to religiously ambiguous Have a Day'.
The show was simply a circus for the senses, complete with impressive individual musicianship, a dash of theatre of the absurd and a pinch of cultism to produce the spectacle that complimented the sound. Every song was consciously absurd, as lyrics like; Hey, it's the sun and it makes me shine' and have a day, find a way, soon you will find the answer' dance on the lines of being profound and inherently sacred, but yet never cross them; leaving you to pick up the pieces of what the band is truly trying to say. Whether it was thematically sacred or secular, the ambiguity of the message was constantly part of the gag, truly epitomizing what The Polyphonic Spree is truly about. To some, the show was an exercise in spiritualistic healing while to others; it was simply just a good laugh. Nonetheless, on Halloween night in Sheffield, they were whatever the audience wanted them to be.
No matter what personal expectations entered into the Leadmill, everyone, including myself, got his or her respective money's worth. Yet, I have no clue whether I participated in a faith healing or one big, carefully constructed inside joke. Nonetheless, it was invigorating. In every sense of the word, The Polyphonic Spree is grand. And because they do what they do with a conscious and purposeful humourous ambiguity, the end result is just that much better. Why trick or treat when you can do both.