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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Follow the Day and Reach for the Sun! 
This photo is appropriately from a site that features the weirdest bands.  I'm definitely weird and eccentric so if you are too then read the rest of this post.  

                'You Don't Know Me'- from Yes, It's True (due out Aug 6 2013)

Past History and Anecdotal Context of The Polyphonic Spree:
(Note: If you find this part boring, you can skip ahead to the review of the actual show)

So there are not very many bands nowadays that I feel extremely connected to through their music.  What's more is that there are few modern bands that I've liked for more than five years.  There is one band that defies my typical band relationships.  And note that my relationship with any band is just as serious as my own marriage or any friendships.  I can break up with a band after a bad album or get back together with them after a sincere reunion show.  

The story I'm about to tell is about a relationship with a band that has been going strong for the last ten to eleven years.  I was in college and I was listening to a lot of Phish, Ben Harper, and Bella Fleck.  However, I still remember the magic moment where my love affair started.  I remember the moment like it was yesterday.  I picked up a music magazine at the Union Square Barnes and Noble while visiting New York City.  It may have been Paste but I think it was something a little more obscure, something you can't find in the Midwest.  I remember reading an article about this multi-member band from Texas who wears robes and play many instruments.  I knew I HAD to check out their debut album, 'The Beginning Stages Of'.  A voice inside of my head told me to get this album and I knew at that moment that I'd never be the same.  I wasn't.

I love this band so much that in college I owned a Spree robe.  It was white with orange at the bottom (I'll put a picture in this post).  I've seen The Spree a total of four times.  If first saw them in Columbus, Ohio in 2003 during my senior year of college.  I saw them next in 2007 in St. Louis, when I moved back home to teach.  I saw them again in 2012 at Webster Hall in NYC and in 2013 at Bowery Ballroom.  Every single time I've seen them, it's an amazingly high energy show that I'm never let down by.  Every show is different with different incarnations of the band.  People come in and out.  I've seen the band with 30 + people and with about half of that, 12-15 members. 

I LOVE The Polyphonic Spree.  Ever since I listened to their debut album, I have been smitten.  Yes, they are the band with like 30-40 members who play many different instruments (harp, trumpet, cello, flute, tuba, etc).  The members all wear robes and the concerts feel much like religious revival events (minus the Jesus talk).  No, they are not a cult.  No, they are not a Christian rock band.  The Polyphonic Spree is more than a band, more than music.  I have had significant emotional and spiritual things happen while listening to their music.  At one point I had a theory that their music could melt the soul of any black hearted person.  In other words, I believe that their music is so filled with light and love that people who absolutely hate their music are probably bad people.

Case in point.  During college, my friends and I used to take drives into the Ohio countryside.  Sometimes I was alone, and I'd either be playing The Polyphonic Spree or Sigur Ros, depending the season.  The Spree was great for emerging spring or descending summer.  I would drive around with my friends packed into my Ford Taurus and go exploring.  Well, one of these times, when I was playing the Spree, one of my friends at the time, Liz, complained that the music made her think of death.  She literally thought she was going to die.  I thought it was a strange reaction, especially since my other friends loved the music.  

Most people, including me, would associate positive and beautiful things with their music.  So I consider The Polyphonic Spree to be a litmus test to see who uses their powers for good as 'light workers' and who doesn't.  I'm being serious.  I've always felt that I was a part of something large with The Spree.  That I'm actually in this 'fragile army' spreading light and love by turning people onto their music.  Also note that my friend Sarah and Laura who went with me to the Columbus and St. Louis shows respectively didn't really know about Spree beforehand.  After the concert, they were both madly in love and told me that it was one of the best concerts they've ever attended.  What's more is that one of my friends actually put 'Follow the day and reach for the sun' on her van that was painted.  I inspired her to write this, as I turned her onto the band and also became associated with the essence of The Polyphonic Spree.  I talked about them all the time back in college.  I guess I really was spreading the gospel of 'reach for the sun'. 

Another point is that at every single show, I make friends with people who were previously strangers.  Not the same people either.  I've seen them twice now in NYC, and both times, I made friends with people who had similar interests and hobbies.  And that's NYC.  I have made concert friends before but never in NYC and usually only at Polyphonic Spree shows.  In fact, those shows are the only in which I feel comfortable going alone because I know by the end I'll have new friends.   

This is a picture of my friend, Denise's, van.  On the side on neon orange it says, 'folow the day and reach for the sun'.
Me with my Polyphonic Spree robe (2004).  The other guy in the photo is also named Bobby.

Review of The Polyphonic Spree show at The Bowery Ballroom:

So, as I mentioned already, i was lucky enough to see The Polyphonic Spree in concert at The Bowery Ballroom last night, July 10th.  It was an epic show to say the least.  What I love about this band is that they might play the same songs but the actual show is never the same.  It's a lot like how Shakespeare is meant to be seen.  If you ever have the chance to see Shakespeare performed at the Globe in London, you can see the same play 100 times and it's never ever the same.  That's how a Polyphonic Spree show is best described.

So of course I was in anticipation for the main event but I always give opening bands a chance.  What's great is that I was at the Bowery Ballroom and for the first time.  I think I'll go back to that venue, as I like the intimacy and laid back atmosphere.  Even though you can't really hang out after the show, and they kick you out, they aren't as nasty as some other venues (ech em Terminal 5).  See, I'm a groupie, I like to hang out with fans after the show and talk to the band.  Anyway, so the opening bands were AVAVA and Harper Simon.

  I liked this band a lot.  They had this hard edge but also a very trippy, psychedelic sound infused into what they were doing. It was a good blend of techno, rock, pop, synth, indie, and psychedelic rock.  It was three guys who were dressed in white jeans and white t-shirts.  The three guys played drums, bass, and keyboard.  Their sound reminded me of Spirtualized, Animal Collective, Brother's Past, and The Doors.  They had this neat fusion of sixties underground psychedelic rock with slow seventies bedroom/progressive rock (like Bread or ELO).  Then throw in the raw power of early Foo Fighters.  The vocals sounded just like Anthony Caleb Followill from Kings of Leon.  The lead vocals had a solid tenor tone and at times you could see the veins popping out from the singer's neck.  The vocals were smooth and liquefied.  It was never screechy or whiny though, as often rock tenor can become.  I'm a tenor myself, so I know.  I liked that the vocals and other instruments with synth was a sick blend of sound. 

It was definitely a unique and new indie sound.  There was an interesting blend of 50's, 60's, and 70's rock.  Some of the songs had a pop-like dance beat and others were more dreamy and hypnotic.  The sure thing was that every single song was unexpected.  Yet, everything flowed together.  There were themes and rhythms which repeated.  Parts of songs weaved into one another at times.  I liked the fact that some songs were intense and some were more relaxed.  And I couldn't believe that there was not guitar.  The drummer picked up a shaker at one point, and the keyboardist had a trumpet, but no guitar.  The lead singer played bass confidently and was well adept at handling both singing and strumming at the same time.  He definitely held the band together. 

The transitions were seamless.  The songs weaved in and out much like The United States of America, a late sixties' psychedelic rock band.  The instrumentals, at times were like Radiohead's 'Kid A' album.  The synth experimented with different sounds.  There was a good harmony of what I call masculine and feminine musical interludes/sounds.  What's more is that the entire band didn't really interact with the audience not because they were cold and distant, but because they were so into the music.  Not once did any of the members look up or snap out of their musical trance.  They were all in sync and fully connected to the sounds coming out of their instruments/bodies.  They were one, as a band unit.  You could jump inside of their music and shoot off into a different reality or galaxy.  I recommend checking them out.  You will not be disappointed seeing them live, and I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a lot from them.  You can find them on FB.

                                  AVAVA at Bowery Ballroom on 7/10/13

Harper Simon: 

 There were six members in this band: 2 guitars, 1 bassist, 1 synth, a drummer, and a keyboardist.  At one point, during the middle of the set, a string quartet was brought out and played an arrangement by Gillian Rivers. The only critique is that at times the vocals were too soft.  It was difficult to hear the lyrics and words being sung.  It reminded me a little bit of the stylings of Elliot Smith or Andrew Bird.  The sound of the music, though had a distinct late 80's/early 90's vibe.  They kind of remind me of Hum, Polaris, The Pixies, Red House Painters, early REM, or Dinosaur Jr.  They were kind of like a harder rock version of Tripping Daisy, which is fitting since that was Tim Delaughter's band before The Polyphonic Spree.  There was this nice blend of country twang with blues and surf rock going on too.  I loved the instrumentals.  Not that the vocals were bad but I could have just listened to the instrumentals alone.  No vocals were even necessary. 

On the song, 'Division Street', there was a blues and rockabilly sound.  The vocals didn't really match twangy instrumentals, but it worked.  The lead guitarist (Mike Beum sp?) was incredible.  As I looked around, people were dancing to the music.  Not polite dancing but full getting down.  There were couples swinging each other around and others clapping and bopping along.  I liked the country twang which, on top of the soft alternative rock sound made something pleasantly new.  By the song 'Just Like St. Theresa', the string quartet was added.  It was a nice element of formal and informal.  I liked the infusion of the 2 violins, 1 electric violin, and the viola.  The sixth song, '99' was very very early 90's.  This is where it sounded a lot like The Pixies or even a pop/blues version of Dead Milkmen (with a lot less punk attitude).  Then on 'Dixie', it was a little more rock n' roll.  It had a faster beat.  The vocals were not aggressive at all.  The instrumentals definitely were the powerhouse.  I liked the infused stylings of country and blues with some of that 90's nostalgia alternative rock.  They are another band worth checking out and seeing live.

Harper Simon- 'Wishes and Stars'

                Harper Simon performing 'Just Like St. Theresa' at Bowery Ballroom 7/10/13

The Polyphonic Spree:

The review here is going to be very short.  And it's obviously not because I don't like this band.  I write more extensive reviews (from my notes) for bands I've never seen before.  When I've seen a band more than once and when it's one of my favorites, I talk about general things from the show.  I don't evaluate the music and talk about the sound because I already like the band.  And with The Polyphonic Spree, we've had a love affair going strong for ten years now.  

Their set list was comprised of the following songs:

Opener (with banner and white balloons)

Light to Follow
Hold Me Now
2000 Places
Get Up & Go
Running Away
Hold Yourself Up
You Don't Me
Light & Day
Best Part
We Sound Amazed
Soldier Girl
Sonic Bloom

Closer- Lithium

I loved that the start of the show started with a big white sheet banner across the stage.  Tim DeLaughter, lead singer of the band, wrote #benwillwin.  He explained toward the end of the show that a former bandmate of his from Tripping Daisy, Benjamin Curtis, is fighting cancer and needs all of our love, prayers, and support.  At one point, Tim got out his phone and recorded the whole audience chanting 'Ben..Ben..Ben' and 'Ben will win'.  It was definitely a testament to the power of positive energy intention.  And I'm sure everyone went home after the show and said a prayer for Ben, as Tim asked us to.  I also loved the white balloons that dropped from above and got tossed around like beach balls.  I had to pop some of them, honestly, because they were taking up leg room on the floor.  I was all the way up in front.  I was so close that I kept getting spit on by the trombone player.  Not literally but his spit valve would leak onto my head.  Yea, I was that close.  It was insanely and amazingly awesome!

I truly loved every Spree song, and I was glad they played old stuff and new stuff.  Of course what stands out for me are the songs: 'Light to Follow', 'Running Away', 'Light & Day', 'Soldier Girl', '2000 Places', 'Hold Me Now', and 'Sonic Bloom'.  What's more is that they even played songs that are off their upcoming soon to be released album, 'Yes, it's True'.  It comes out August 6th.  There were songs from Tim's Tripping Daisy days.  I loved every minute of the show to be honest.  Though the band was smaller for this tour, the sound was as if every single member was present.  However, I did very much miss Megan, the amazing flutist for the Spree.  Despite the truncated band size, from beginning to end it was a party.  When it ended, it was like waking up from a good dream.  I felt lighter and happier afterwards. 

What I like even more about Spree shows is that the audience is comprised of many different people.  There was a girl with a partially shaved head, platinum spiky hair, piercings, and tattoos.  She was getting into the music and much as me.  And right next to her was a guy who looked to be in his sixties, very much a caricature of a younger Mr. Magoo or something.  There were frat looking guys and grandmas.  There were hippie chicks and hipster dudes.  The thing about The Polyphonic Spree is that you cannot typify their fan base.  And I think they want it that way.  There is no label to their music and none for their fans.  Every single show is like this too.  The fans cannot be thrown into a box like other concerts I've been to.  I always observe the fan base and look around to see what other types of people like the same type of music I do.  With Polyphonic Spree, it is impossible to do this.  Their fans are as eclectic as their music.  And I love them for that. 

    Discography (condensed)- 
Beginning Stages Of (2002)
Together We're Heavy (2004)
Thumbsucker soundtrack (2005)
Wait (2006)
Fragile Army (2007)
Yes, It's True (Aug 6, 2013)

The Polyphonic Spree 'Light and Day' music video

The Polyphonic Spree- 'It's the Sun'

The Polyphonic Spree- 'Running Away'

Polyphonic Spree opening of show 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom

Polyphonic Spree performing their song 'Light and Day' 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom

Polyphonic Spree performing cover of Nirvana's 'Lithium' 7/10/13 at Bowery Ballroom

Here are some photos of The Polyphonic Spree set:




So yea, you can kind of see my fanaticism for The Polyphonic Spree in this post.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this band.  There is only one other band that counts in my top two current bands and that's the Scissor Sisters.  Funny thing is that one of my new friends from last night, Amy (out of the many things we had in common) said she loves both of these bands too.  Amy actually reminded me of my friend Laura (who was with me at another Spree show) and even gave me a present (something that she made which reminded me of my friend Jessa, who also loves Spree).   In fact all the friends I make at Spree shows are people who I feel like I've known forever.  The only other times I've had this experience of meeting long lost friends is at Bonnaroo and at an Of Montreal show.  It's uncanny the type of connections and friendships I make at Spree shows.

 To me it's part of the band's charm and magic.  Especially since I also feel like I'm part of this big family.  The Polyphonic Spree is a big family.  Sure it was always my dream to actually be in the band and sing or play an instrument (which I can actually do) while donning a cool psychedelic robe.  I can live vicariously through my audience experiences, since The Spree really try hard to make the audience part of the show, part of the band, part of the whole experience.  Last night, Tim DeLaughter invited the whole top floor to come downstairs.  Then we all sat down while he came out into the audience and sang to us.  Yes, it's a family.  And I'm glad to be part of the Polyphonic Spree phenomenon and kindred fanbase.

Their new album Yes, It's True is due out on August 6th.  Reserve/buy your copy NOW!
 The Polyphonic Spree (New Fumes Full Album Mashup)
I'll leave you with some Polyphonic Spree wisdom:

Follow the day!  And reach for the sun!

Have a day!  Celebrate!  Soon you'll find the answer!

Polyphonically yours,


 "Still a man.
It seems the time has gone away but all at once you knew your mission well.
You're civilized it seems soon to paralyze.
The thought became the mission of your life.
The best place is to find your home.
The coolest is to find your way.
The best place is to find your home in time til' when the fool becomes a king." 
  -'When The Fool Becomes a King' (from the 2004 album Together We're Heavy)

"Well you know where you're going
And knowing is a comfortable fight
And your wish is pretending to slightly move over the light
And you sigh at the rainbow
That's coming from the other side
And you slide with the message
This trouble seems to give me some life
You're hanging around the day
You're fooling yourself with blame
You're taking it all to a future sight
Hanging around the day." 
-Hanging Around the Day (from the 2002 album The Begninning Stages Of)


M said...

I too picked up that debut album and absolutely loved it. I love the *feel* of their music - it's a tangible thing. It's music you feel. I found out later that there was a connection with Tripping Daisy - whose song everyone always seemed to be singing in the 90s, I was kind of surprised... Anyway I kind of fell out of love with them (not any reason...just didn't keep up with their music) but reading your post has made me nostalgic for a bit of Spree. I will have to revisit and re-love.

Liberty Abbondanza said...

RAFI! What an amazing blog my friend. I felt as if I walked down memory lane for the evening. Amy and I are thrilled to have met another Spree family member as yourself. True bliss in attending this show for me, I can say Amy most likely too, we look forward to sharing more love with you this year. Cheers, Liberty .