Review :: Polyphonic Spree show takes audience to its happy place, 11.13.03

Friday, November 14, 2003

Smiling ear to ear was inevitable after attending The Polyphonic Spree's shows this week at Liberty Hall. A celebration appeared to take place at each two-hour show Wednesday and Thursday, and the audiences were invited along for the jubilee. The Spree's 20-plus members, all clad in white gospel robes, emanated an energy that inspired the crowd to raise its hands and bounce feverishly as if at a religious revival.

Charismatic vocalist Tim DeLaughter led the pack with his flitting hands, conducting the audience through each highly catchy chorus. And unlike a standard orchestra, The Spree's musicians chose not to be wallflowers. From trumpet virtuoso Logan Keese to pianist Jesse Hester, the players broke out into dancing and singing at any given moment. And when you see a flutist boogying down, it's hard for an audience not to follow suit.

For the outsiders who might have wandered into Liberty Hall without prior knowledge of The Polyphonic Spree, the onstage antics may have been a bit otherworldly. But it wasn't the nonbelievers singing in unison to The Spree's single featured on the Volkswagen/iPod commercial, "Light & Day." Talk has obviously spread about the group that look rock's saviors, and a legion of lip-syncing devotees appeared to be believers.

Lips moved flawlessly along with DeLaughter during "Have a Day/Celebratory," an infectious song that finished out the set. With chilling horn melodies and a booming choral section, it's hard to blame anyone for wanting to take part in that orchestration.

"Have a Day/Celebratory" echoes the layout for most of The Spree's songs, which usually showcase a horn-centered crescendo leading into a sing-along by the audience. For concertgoers who would rather sit back and relax than become part of the chorus, The Polyphonic Spree show might not have been a suitable match. But the participation never tired the Liberty Hall audience. With each tune, more people moved toward the front to get in on the action -- the camaraderie.

During the encore set, DeLaughter came out in the audience to perform the "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" musical number, "Wig in a Box." As the song's lyrics were projected on an overhead screen, throngs of concertgoers gleefully joined in to sing the gender-bending ode.

The opening acts sounded nothing like the symphonic rockers Polyphonic Spree. One-man-accordion-band Cornmo provided comic relief immediately when he took the stage.

"This next song is about me being mistaken for the great Gary Busey," Cornmo deadpanned.

Most of the songs were written by Cornmo, but he did toss in Queen's classic "We Are the Champions," solidifying a Lawrence fan base for him.

The Sleepy Jackson, hailing from Australia, created a haunting ambience with its unusual harmonies and psychedelic feedback. If the sound wasn't hypnotizing enough, frontman Luke Steele looked like a modern-day Genghis Kahn possessed by a dancing James Brown.

The three acts couldn't have been more different, and the crowd's reaction confirmed it: Cornmo engaged in humorous conversation regularly with the audience; Steele hypnotized without making eye contact; and The Polyphonic Spree? Well, the celestial band provided rock with its missing element: a smile.