The Polyphonic Spree, Brighton Music Hall 8/25
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED ON Allston Pudding
Musicians often speak of their bandmates as family. Whether on the road or in the studio, it’s not unusual for these folks to spend more time together than some monogamous couples. It’s not at all uncommon to see bandmates finish each others sentences during interviews, finishing each others thoughts like pizza crusts left on the edge of a plate. That much time together makes group mentality easy, to possess the same beliefs, even outside the scope of music.
Say “cult” and wacky things come to mind. From the brainwashed modernity of LDS, to Helter Skelter and The Manson family, to The People’s Temple and all that Flavor Aid—the word in itself is taboo. But not all cults are equal. Like Glenda and the Wicked Witch, in the grand scheme of manias, there seem to be good cults and bad cults at play our wild world.
Not all cults reach infamy the same way, but it seems they all abide by a few simple rules. We saw these rules put into effect this week at Brighton Music Hall by the boundless group of individuals making up The Polyphonic Spree. Like a crash course in cult life, the band played a mind boggling set showcasing the talent of their collective, and more importantly, the factors necessary to turn your denomination from good to downright unforgettable.
The Ten Culty Must-Haves of the Polyphonic Spree
A leader: Every cult needs a CEO. Enter Tim DeLaughter: the bright-eyed man behind this choir-rock outfit. DeLaughter found his start with now-extinct Tripping Daisy, a neo psychedelic Dallas pop rock ensemble that found airplay with their sophomore, I am an Elastic Firecracker. Though DeLaughter named the band’s third album, Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb, to be the their best work at the time of its occurrence, its success was short-lived. Just months after its release, Tripping Daisy’s Wes Berggren overdosed on a lethal combination of drugs. The band released a final album before disbanding in 1999, leaving DeLaughter to form the Polyphonic Spree with Tripping’s Mark Pirro and Bryan Wakeland. All this bringing us to today’s supergroup, a 15-piece band playing the wonderfully uplifting songs of their discography. Last week, the ever-talented Nina Corcoran sat down with DeLaughter before their Boston stop. Check out Corcoran’s interview for a glimpse into the Dallas native’s vibrant mind.
Isolation: Like a shepherd to a flock, DeLaughter ensured followers would only hear cult propaganda. In our case, isolation happened through the band’s choice to opt out of an opener. Their set existed alone, leaving the frontman’s positive take on the grandest scheme of things to last in an echoing roundabout.
A platform: This wasn’t any old performance. Monday’s show was broadcasted worldwide by the folks at Yahoo! Screen, a branch of Yahoo! geared towards all sorts of live entertainment. That being said, the band’s audience reached far past the doors of Brighton Music Hall and onto the screens of countless viewers worldwide. Televangelists, rejoice! Or something like that.
Strength in numbers: First impressions are important, and Polyphonic Spree maintains that with a seemingly never-ending cast of characters. The band describes itself as a stable 12-piece but played Monday’s show with a dizzying three more. By some miracle the band was able to shake things up on stage despite such a crowd, moving and shaking across the platform like a revved-up team of cheerleaders. Add to their diminishing space an ongoing list of instruments—trumpets, french horns, viola, cello! Piano, guitars, bass, a drum set, and one synth pad. This band is not just a group of talented artists; it’s a contraption of countless moving parts.
A message: Like L. Rob Hubbard and the Galactic Confederacy, all cults need a standardized set of beliefs. DeLaughter’s lyrics may change from one song to the next, but his message is always the same. From 2002’s, The Beginning Stages of… to their most recent Yes, It’s True, Polyphonic’s sheer joy of existence is literal and contagious. From an up-tempo “Soldier Girl” to a final, softer “Battlefield,” the Spree’s sound was as colorful as their light display, enriching the crowd with the life-affirming music of their anthology. The gospel of the group is genius but approachable: to love life; love yourself, and whatever it is that surrounds you.
Higher power: Aside from guitarist Cory Helms’ almost Jesus-like appearance, the band called less on otherworldly beings and more on the Gods of pop music. With Wayne Coyne-esque vocals, a steady gaze and beaming smile, DeLaughter steered the Polyphonic ship to swim alongside big fish with a cover of The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song.” Another reference to pop’s ultra-famous included DeLaughter’s happiness in comparing “Heart Talk” to a mid-70’s Cher.
A uniform: The best cults have a getup. Around 2002, DeLaughter proposed robes as a way to singularize the presence of over 20 people on stage who may, in normal dress, be slightly overwhelming. Over the years the robes have ranged from white, to red, to technicolor, and even include the foreboding black military styles of 2007‘s The Fragile Army. This time around, we the band presented itself in printed rose colored material evocative of the 1960s, surely reflecting an era they call on.
A presence: DeLaughter started the show in a mysterious yet supportive manner, spray-painting “Together we’re strong” from behind a bolt of fabric masking their setup on stage. Possible take on the Boston Strong mantra? Maybe, though any chance at confirmation was lost as DeLaughter cut through the fabric with scissors and the stage exploded in a rainbow of light. From raging start to finish, the Spree’s set was as energetic as a school bus packed with sugar-drunk 10-year-olds. Only at the end of their set did things cool down, when DeLaughter made his way to the middle of BMH’s floor and asked the crowd to sit. We obliged and he followed, singing “Battlefield” to listeners like a sympathetic friend.
The unexplainable: Maybe we sniffed those leftover paint fumes, or stood near enough to vaping showgoers long enough to feel some strange press of placebo. At some point in the show things got a little weird. The band opted to jam during a heartening “When The Fool Becomes A King,” a swell of instruments so long and powerful we almost believed the floor would open and deliver the Hale–Bopp Spacecraft to finally take us believers away.
Conversion: The Spree has never officially confirmed their culty status, but we’d certainly be up for joining. And if they offered the masses a chance at enrollment, our hands would be first in the air.