The Polyphonic Spree in The Academy, Dublin, on August 31st 2015
Tim DeLaughter has fond memories of the Witnness festival back in the early Noughties, when The Polyphonic Spree parted the rainclouds for the duration of their set and the sun blazed through. “We brought the fucker out” the irrepressible frontman recalls, and if any band was going to generate enough good vibes to trigger some goodtime cosmological phenomena then it was The Polyphonic Spree.
From their debut album ‘The Beginning Stages Of…’ in 2002, DeLaughter and his considerable crew of musicians have dealt in hands-to-heaven, life-affirming pop music in its most sincere form. Their image was part choir, part cult – a group of smiling, bouncing, clapping folk dressed in long white robes, almost impossibly happy to be up there onstage. Tonight is only the second time they’ve played ‘The Beginning Stages Of…’ live in its entirety, fourteen robed figures banishing the Monday blues in The Academy’s main room.
Exuberant power pop is the appetiser before the main course with Dublin’s No Monster Club. Their Tripping Daisy cover comes with Tim DeLaughter’s endorsement, while La La Land falls somewhere between The Frank & Walters and The Buggles. It all goes down well with the still modestly filled venue – the balcony is closed off for this one, a telling sign – and the quartet take the opportunity to have a dance for the final few bars of I’ve Retired before the stage becomes a much more crowded place.
The first of The Polyphonic Spree filter out, cello and keys; a few notes played, a few more bodies appearing to begin the first of the album’s Sections. DeLaughter sways in the middle of it all, conducting with a swinging arm, harnessing hooks, horns, and strings with his whole body. It’s The Sun brings him to his knees as the four backing singers harmonise, while his livewire drummer and keys player seem tethered into place only by the machinery in front of them.
The four singers flick their hair from side to side in unison during Hanging Around the Day Parts 1 & 2, the kinetic energy originating with DeLaughter and radiating out until everyone onstage is bouncing. It all leads into a wonderful Soldier Girl that drops to a rumbling end, with searchlight effects rotating around the room before Light & Day/Reach for the Sun sends them bowing out on a drone.
That drone gradually becomes melody, undulating and orchestral, and the band reappears on the smoky stage now disrobed with the exception of DeLaughter. Maybe it’s the casting off of cumbersome attire, or maybe it’s the sudden flash or colour from the patterned dresses and orange smocks, but things instantly seem looser on the post-album selection. Disco balls and psychedelic lights flicker on the players during Popular By Design, and a triumphant Hold Me Now is as anthemic as ever.
DeLaughter descends to the barrier for Section 18 (Everything Starts At The Seam), returning to the stage for the band to freeze around him – only the cellist’s hand moves back and forth – as their notes continues to resonate. He stays her hand, a piano solo brings things back to life, and the choral harmonies of Championship eventually draw things to a close. DeLaughter certainly makes a case for the whole crowd to come to the following night’s Belfast gig (“Take each other’s numbers!”). It’s been a while since they visited us last, but fear not, The Polyphonic Spree’s considerable capacity to spread joy is undiminished.