At the dawn of the new millennium, strange prophecies foretold of a digital armageddon and aeroplanes falling from the sky; and a band of jolly fruitcakes in white cassocks recorded a special little LP called ‘The Beginning Stages Of…’.
Although they never achieved world domination, the besmocked troubadours’ brand of ecclesiastically-edged alt-rock (where The Flaming Lips meets the Hare Krishnas, to quote our own preview) garnered a following of cultish devotees. What the millennial prophecies failed to predict was that, fifteen years later, The Polyphonic Spree would resurrect themselves to perform their mini masterwork in full, for crowds of forty-something fans holding aloft 5ft selfie sticks like periscopes to heaven…
Having never seen The Spree before, we do have concerns going into the gig. Surely it’s going to go either one way or the other. If the sound isn’t quite right or the punters aren’t feeling it, there’s a danger it could trip over the line between the divine and the dreadful. We needn’t have worried.
Sure, during the opening track ‘Have A Day/Celebratory’ there’s a moment when it looks like we’re going to be all British about this. “Singing along with your arms in the air might be what they do in Texas, sir, but we think you’ll find we’re in Sussex now,” seems to be the vibe. But The Spree aren’t having that; they’re going to enjoy themselves no matter what the audience do. There are 14 of them up there, after all; it’s almost like we’ve been invited to their party, rather than the other way around. And as the LP grows in intensity towards ‘Hanging Around’ and the climactic single ‘Soldier Girl’, most doubters are finally converted.
It’s a short LP — barely over half an hour if you don’t count the droney bit at the end — so after a costume change they’re back for the second act. There’s an odd Bucks Fizz moment when the four female backing singers come on with shorter cassocks (the guys have acquired shorter shirts, so it’s probably not sexist), while the lead guitarist has been made over as Jimmy Page in 1976.
Things are less atmospheric but more bombastic now, with a flamboyant rock opera feel, amplified by a festive disco ball that makes us feel like we’re trapped inside a tin of Quality Street.
Apparently they play for two hours, but it doesn’t feel that long. That’s what you get when the performers are having as much (if not more) fun than their disciples. “I liked it!” yells one fan in an end-of-gig understatement. “I want to party with that guy,” responds pink-haired frontman Tim DeLaughter, before heading to the merch stand to prove that miracles really do happen, if you shout loud enough.
Polyphonic Spree, Concorde 2, Friday 4th September 2015