Polyphony at the Plaza

Filed under: Live Music — doktorjohn August 25, 2004 @ 4:01 pm

Polyphonic Spree at Irving Plaza, NYC August 25, 2004
By Doktor John

What does it sound like when two dozen singers/musicians crowd onto the stage at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza and let loose with literally everything they’ve got—heart, soul, sight and sound?

This Dallas-based, pop-choral, multi-instrumental brainchild of former members of Tripping Daisy joyously performed orchestral, emotionally over-the-top, terminally-catchy anthems with insanely positive lyrics between intervals of spacey electronica.

The lead singer and a choir of nine vocalists flung their heads (and their hair) accompanied by a harp, flute, violin, trumpet, trombone and French horn as well as two drum sets, guitars, keyboards and the weirdest of all instruments, the Theremin.

The lyrics may not make a lot of sense, but delivered with shamelessly theatrical sincerity by lead vocalist Tim DeLaughter, they engendered an inescapable feeling of universal love and optimism. The audience was transported into a state of euphoria and swayed like waves in a sea of humanity to the repetition of lines like, “ Hey it’s the Sun and it makes me shine.” The lyrics sound like those sappy, inspirational sayings on posters for sale in the mall, but here they seemed to be intentionally trying to make even less sense.

Although the group appears attired in gospel-choir robes of various pastel colors, and the overall atmosphere is not unlike the frenzy inside a Pentecostal church, there is no suggestion of traditional or institutional religion.

There were solo performances by the flutist, violinist and lead female vocalist, and a dueling drum duet, but front man DeLaughter draws most of the attention with his complex, puzzling persona, portraying a slightly demented, singing motivational speaker who is trying hard to set an example that one can drown out depression, existential Angst (and perhaps bad drug experiences) by chanting proclamations of happiness and love to the accompaniment of clamorous music.

Polyphonic Spree, a synthesis of opera chorus, New Age marching band, gospel choir, 60s love-happening, brass-band and municipal orchestra serves as an antidote for all the dark themes of metal, punk and industrial music, and it represents the polar opposite of everything cynical, violent and explicit that has dominated rock’n’roll for the past thirty or so years.

The new CD, “Together We’re Heavy,” provided most of the material in their hour-long performance which concluded with a friendly romp by band members through the appreciative audience. Encores featured the inspirational hit video “Light and Day” and the heart-warmingly-nutty “Soldier Girl.” Many spectator-participants were left in tears.