'Choral pop train wreck'

'The Mollyphonic Spree' aims for ambitious parody of cult ensemble


Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo

Back row from left are Andy Morton, Gillian Hansen and Hilary Morton. Middle row on seats from left are George Brahler, Eric Morton, Matthew Gaus, Amanda Haase, Darcia DeVictor, Sean Brumwell, Jim Dayton, Joyce Manning, Julie Ibach and Allan Murin. From left seated on floor are Karl Michelbach and Jason Lovell. Lovell, Michelbach and Andy Morton are members of the group Danger Bob who will perform "The Mollyphonic Spree," a take-off of and homage to the 20-some-member group The Polyphone Spree, on Saturday at the Bottleneck.

Successfully replicating the sound of the 20-plus member Polyphonic Spree, a self-described "choral symphonic pop band" from Texas featuring horns, multiple keyboards and at least five forms of percussion, is a task few bands would attempt.

In fact, local artists Danger Bob -- and 17 or so friends -- may be the only member of that select group.

"We have a track record that would suggest so," said Danger Bob guitarist Andy Morton. "We were always local music kamikazes. We released a double-cassette, recorded a Christmas album, and finally, we had the audacity to write a book about our band -- and we sold all of this stuff out. It was time for another goofy suicide mission and here it is ... but now we're going to take a bunch of our friends down with us."

The hodgepodge of musicians will perform their own "choral pop train wreck" Saturday night at The Bottleneck. The project will feature a violinist, keyboards, various forms of percussion and a choir, along with many other additions to the normal Danger Bob lineup of Morton, singer Karl Michelbach, bassist Jason Lovell and drummer Kenny Gall.

The group hasn't played regularly since 2001, but attempting something like this was a no-brainer.

Past Event

Danger Bob presents: The Mollyphonic Spree

  • Saturday, December 27, 2003, 9 p.m.
  • Bottleneck, 737 New Hampshire, Lawrence
  • 18+


"It was an idea that made perfect sense from the get-go," Morton said. "We always knew that DB was missing a certain little 'something' ... like more keyboards, brass, woodwinds and a choir. This show is as subtle as a prostate exam."

Learning to mollycoddle

The seed for such an endeavor was planted when Morton and Michelbach attended the first of two Polyphonic Spree shows at Liberty Hall in mid-November. The two friends, both "kinda snotty when it comes to bands," were astounded by the group's performance.

"I thought maybe someone had spiked my drink with something because it was all so surreal and intensely enjoyable," Morton said. "I went back the next night just to experience it again, and I can honestly say that my face hurt for a day or two afterwards from smiling so much."

Danger Bob had canceled two gigs for this weekend because the group didn't think a typical show would be worth the time and effort, but Bottleneck owner Brett Mosiman let the guitarist keep the Dec. 27 date because it was Morton's birthday.

While trying to come up with ideas for the birthday show, Morton's brother Eric made a joke about them and their sister playing some songs and calling the unit the PolyMorton Spree.

As the idea snowballed, "Mollyphonic Spree" was soon chosen as the name for the uber-group as both an obvious reference to the band that the musicians would attempt to emulate, and also because of a tie-in to Danger Bob's history.

"That group has a tendency to sing about the sun over and over, it's a unifying theme," Morton said of The Polyphonic Spree. "We always had this character Molly, who was a type of 'super female,' the end all of be alls, and it just seemed like a perfect match. And it rhymes with Polyphonic. Get it?"

Along with the superhuman Molly, Danger Bob was known for its quirky songs about semi-everyday subjects, including an ode to figure skater Oksana Baiul and a satire of homophobia at Disney World. Fans also loved the band for its stage antics, which included wearing pajamas and setting off pyrotechnics. Despite such a history of wackiness, quintupling the band's size was a new idea.

"We had wanted to use a children's choir on one of our albums and we used a cello on another," Morton said, "but all at the same time? Not in this form. It seems like we considered it so we could play 'November Rain' once, but never thought that anybody would want to lower themselves to playing at our rinky-dink level."

You're all invited

Little did Morton know that people would throw themselves at the project. Three choir members were chosen before Michelbach gave his permission for the show, and the group ballooned to its present size in no time.

Local artists such as Amanda Haase (who played keyboards in Reggie and the Full Effect), Jim Dayton (from Star 80 and Local Musician) and Stephanie Weaver (who Danger Bob opened for when she was in the band Wayback Machine) became involved, as well as friends who aren't in the music business.

"We wanted people who were not only slightly musically inclined," Morton said, "but more important, that were going to be fun to hang out and work with. People that understood the value of forming a happy setting, and we got exactly that.

"We're an optimistic bunch these days. This is the musical equivalent of a Bob Ross painting -- happy little clouds and happy little songs, except that we're not going to ruin the whole experience by adding in some stupid little log cabin."

Having longtime friends such as Weaver, a violinist now living in San Francisco, who wanted to take part helped achieve the goal of a happy group dynamic.

"Andy and I were good friends in high school so we go way back," Weaver said. "I was back in town at Thanksgiving and he was cooking up this whole scheme and I told him I'd be back at Christmas and if he needed a violinist I'd like to join the group."

Morton expected translating songs usually written for three or four instruments to a 21-person band to be a challenge, but said he couldn't stick with the original plan of drastic alterations because the songs sound too good with this many people.

That many folks also increases the chances of mistakes, though errors won't necessarily be a problem for the group.

"Nobody has anything at risk here," Morton said. "It's not a real band so there aren't any real consequences if things go horribly wrong during the show ... and something inevitably will, but we'll just smile it away.

"The only pressure on us is to give the audience a show that they will want to talk about with others. And that is going to happen, whether this is successful or a complete disaster."


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