Review: The Polyphonic Spree at The Forum
Published on November 8th, 2012 | Anthony Barrett
1,879 days (that’s 2,705,760 minutes) since they last hit the London stage, and the least Tim Delaughter could have done was wear high heels and suspenders!
Gripe aside – and that is the only one, believe me – this double-length set Halloween/Rocky Horror extravaganza had all the makings of something more than just a (trick or) treat before a note had even been struck.
Seeing the band tweet pictures of their arrival into the UK – the scenes at the airport, customs, picking up the bus, rehearsing and getting costumes ready – only added to the anticipation, a great move on their part.
So to the show, a rainy night in Kentish Town. The Forum building was deserted outside when I arrived, only the bricks and mortar veiling the force of nature inside just taking the stage.
Kicking off with their Rocky Horror set which was played in order pretty much in full, the opening “Science Fiction” saw Tim channelling, strangely but brilliantly, a cross between Vegas Elvis and Dracula in his cape. Clad in a cowl with fat Rocky Horror lips across his chest, there was nothing to do but run down the front and join in.
With confetti and glitter exploding out of two huge cannons either side of the stage, the Forum cleaners would have been on some chunky overtime after the show, but the blizzard of song-syncopated colour and smoke in the air did genuinely thrill.
It was also nice to see other members of this slightly slimmed down line-up fronting the Frank-N-Furter-free tracks, the choir and cellist Buffi handling the hilarious “Touch-A-Touch A Touch Me” fantastically, and if you weren’t there then you can only picture in black and white 2D the carnage caused during “The Time Warp”.
Interestingly, the very retro Doo-wop and rock and roll elements of “Hootie Patootie” all sat very naturally within the Spree’s trademark ‘epicness’ (sod you, red squiggly line, it’s a word now).
A final closing “I’m Going Home” turned the mild cheese from the original into an almost unbearably poignant three minutes; it was this track especially which maybe gave most insight into quite why The Spree had tackled such a crazy project. Some people in the audience were singing literally every word to every song from start to finish, so in retrospect maybe not so crazy after all. Any which way, it was a great choice.
Not many bands – actually, make that probably NO other band – could have pulled this off this well…
…and we were only halfway there.
During a brief break to get ones breath back and compare robes with other audience members (something you won’t see happen at a Coldplay gig), a red ribbon is pulled across the entire width of the stage hiding everything behind it. The lights dim and a pair of shears appear, poking from the centre, eventually cutting out a huge heart shape. This is a band who clearly have a handle on what their audience want from them.
There can’t be many more thrilling opening bars to a song than the brilliant Lennon-esque piano descension of “2000 Places”, and there can’t be many more euphoric explosions of sound than what follows seconds later. Within less than a minute of coming back onstage, the band are in full flight with one of their very best tracks; the venue detonates and two thousand bodies bounce in unison, it’s almost literally overwhelming.
Tim is now in a red robe, the rest of the band in white with hearts on the front; and they’ve clearly not had enough fun yet, making other people’s songs their own as they spark up the familiar opening chords from The Who’s “See Me, Feel Me”, Tim’s vulnerable rendition of Daltrey’s original vocal spot on in every way. The thundering lead up to the spiritual “Listening To You” – a song, if ever there was one, that was made for The Spree to cover – finally morphs brilliantly into the massive fun knees-up of “Pinball Wizard”.
Back to their own stuff and there was barely time to recover when the opening puffs of “Soldier Girl” broke out, DeLaughter prowling the stage armed with a confetti gun like some sort of circus barker.
Where I was stationed, the audience were singing so hard, the band were almost getting lost. It’s one of their finest moments.
Continuing with the exhaustive orchestral work-outs of the hyper-anthemic “Hold Me Now” and a hands-in-the-air rendition of album 1’s “Hanging Around the Day”, they started going even deeper with a medley of a couple of their more intricate tracks showing they can also do progressive better than anyone around now too.
“When a Fool Becomes a King” is just one of the most incredible things committed to record, period, while the choir’s chants in the “hail to the sky” section breaks me in two every time. It’s almost embarrassingly emotional at this point, and the old eye begins to water!
Spree standards “It’s the Sun” and “Light and Day” finish this superb show on a high note most other bands could only dream of. The way the Spree sing about powerful natural forces – constant mentions of ‘Sun’, ‘Light’ and ‘Love’ for example – somehow seem to make the sound even bigger. Harp, strings, bells, brass, voices and the brilliance of the percussion team going full at it, it’s truly thrilling in the extreme.
There’s not a sign of dissent or disappointment when the lights come up. This is confirmed when at least three quarters of tonight’s crowd head immediately not for the wet streets of north London but the band’s merch stall at the back of the venue; it’s quite a sight, and completely chaotic. It’s genuinely heartwarming to see the punters get behind a band this hard, God knows they’ve worked for it.
To make things even more hyped, the show had been recorded real time and was now on sale there and then, another simple but imaginative move from the band and a great gift of the night’s proceedings to boot.
To sum up, the spirit this band convey is as “religious” as anything I’ve been in the epicentre of, but I feel genuinely dismayed when reviewers associate that word in its literal sense anywhere in a piece attached to the band, as if a large bunch of like-minded souls can’t congregate and play their beautiful heads off without something sinister lurking. Let’s set the record straight, that is if it even needs setting: there’s nothing remotely ‘sinister’ about the Polyphonic Spree or anything they do (apart from maybe the speed they managed to run off so many CD’s of tonight’s show in such a short space of time, but that’s another matter!).
The joy in their music and performance is not manipulative on any level, it’s almost purely reflexive, and, at least on the eight occasions I’ve seen them, completely harmonious with the crowd out front. People were openly crying with happiness as they sung along, while the songs themselves are a masterclass in melody and arrangement, the band’s ambition almost laughable for most mere musical mortals to even comprehend; but it’s perfectly realised, even with the slightly smaller band. It’s an incredible force, and one that in a perfect world would be playing stadiums to spread their kind of love.
In what almost amounts to a closing speech and thanks to the crowd before the scrum to the merch stall, Tim gives prolonged details of their forthcoming operations and his no-brainer plea of ongoing support from the crowd is greeted with one huge cheer after another; everyone’s on side, and he’s promised they’re coming back in 2013, which looks like it will be one of the pivotal years in this amazing band’s history, I’ll be shouting about their return from the highest point I can muster and rallying the troops, as this is a spectacle that NOBODY should miss.
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!
Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One is out now on Kirkland Records – click here to buy it from their website.
The group will play the following US dates for the tenth anniversary of their annual Holiday Extravaganza series of shows:
12/06 – Los Angeles – Fonda Theater
12/08 – San Francisco – Slim’s
12/11 – Chicago – Logan Square Auditorium
12/14 – Philadelphia – Trocadero Theatre
12/15 – New York – Webster Hall
12/22 – Dallas – Lakewood Theater
You can help fund The Polyphonic Spree’s 2013 activity – including a live album, a concert documentary and a brand new full-length studio album – by pledging on their Kickstarter page.
For more information, please visit www.thepolyphonicspree.com