The Polyphonic Spree; Astoria, London, Monday September 3
They look like a bunch of nutters, but sing like a chorus of angels. Go figure
Ladies and gentlemen, players of instruments in third-rate indie bands and frontpeople with gaping holes in their dreary personalities pay heed: this is what we call a mudderfuggin’ show. Pulling out every single stop they know, tonight’s gig is less rock concert and more Broadway musical, complete with audience interaction, a heart-rending sob story and some of the most rousing quasi-religious songs this side of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Before the multi-membered behemoth that is the mighty Spree even blast on to the Astoria’s stage, we know we’re going
to be in for a weird ride when a town crier, fully kitted out in gold and red regalia
saunters on, dinging his massive bell with a sad-looking boy limping by his side. After giving ye olde shout out to The Polyphonic Spree, the Brian Blessed-alike crier launches into the woeful tale of the young chap standing beside him, who broke his neck but was cured by the “healing powers and positive energy of The Polyphonic Spree” who can, believe it or not, “make broken bones fuse!”
The medical evidence may be cloudy, but it doesn’t half whip the crowd into a frothing frenzy, as they start clamouring in a call-and-response fashion, begging to be allowed into the Spree’s Fragile Army. Yep, you heard us right, no longer are the band merely a pseudo-cult, now they’re a flaming army. Albeit an army who’d fight with a quirky selection of Arran jumpers and – at their worst – the sharp points on the back of Belle & Sebastian badges, but an army nonetheless.
After the crier struts off, behind him a quivering length of red fabric is stretched across the stage. Gradually, a plinking and plucking rush of noise erupts and a pair of scissors start cutting through from behind the scarlet cloth, carving a somewhat raggedy heart-shape. Suddenly the sheet is cut down the middle, and the house lights go up to reveal 20-odd musicians and singers prancing for their lives. Polyphonic Spree – we’ve really missed you.
The group’s new all-black outfits are pitched somewhere between Johnny Cash and kinky gothic dental nurse, and are, though it unnerves us somewhat to say it, actually rather sexy. Slicker than we remember, they are shaking their stuff to newie ‘Running Away’, with members scattered across the stage on different levels, six singers on a central podium head-banging and tweeting like angels at the same time. Tim DeLaughter, the smuggest, happiest frontman there ever was, punches the air and grins, while blasts of ticker-tape explode from the ceiling. If you thought Arcade Fire put on the best live action music bashes around, you are, frankly, a fool.
A faultlessly choreographed ‘Hanging Around’ sees Tim leaping about, conducting not only the band but also
the audience, before bringing things down a notch and crooning the immortal line from ‘It’s The Sun’ – “Suicide is a shame” – like Dean Martin meets a more happy-go-lucky Stalin. Don’t think their famous robes are dead just yet though. A mere 30 seconds after the band finish their last song, they come running out on to the Astoria’s balcony clad in spotless white gowns, high-fiving and whooping their way downstairs. Then, while the band squeeze their way through the crowd with their instruments in tow, Tim surfs on top of it as they make their way to the stage. They bow out with a genius cover of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’, complete with camp flutes, harps and some incredibly rowdy moshing.
As encores go it’s on a par with Jesus coming back to do a version of ‘Gimme Shelter’ at the Sermon on the Mount. “That was awesome,” drawls Tim, beaming from ear to ear, “thank you so much.” The pleasure’s all ours Tim – let’s do it again, and soon.