Gig Review: The Polyphonic Spree

Who: The Polyphonic Spree

Where: Festival Hub, Melbourne Festival

When: 21st October 2013

With last night being the second of a three night stand The Polyphonic Spree played at the Festival Hub’s pop-up venue, I was a little bemused by the low numbers of people milling about,  even after the support act had begun. Yes it was a Monday night, but if a band has been booked for three consecutive nights, you’d have thought the crowd would’ve turned up in force to take advantage of the intimate surroundings.

Alas this was not the case, which led to Perth’s Abbe Mae playing to a room that was less than a quarter full. Her sound, which incorporated countless sample heavy drum beats and electronica sounding effects, falls into the more moody dark-wave end of the musical spectrum. It wasn’t a performance that really pricked my ears to attention, as each song sounded like a repetition of the previous one. While Mae’s stage presence – bar constantly playing with her hair – was non-existent throughout.

Her wailing vocal introduced “Trouble”, which contained a pounding drum sampled sound, however any sort of momentum the three piece may have built up, was all but lost, as it took an age for the other members to swap instruments, for the next track. It can’t be denied that Mae is well able to hold a note, and the post-rock like dual guitar feud at the finale was a highlight, but it was too little too late.

The Polyphonic Spree arrived on the narrow stage, behind a white cloth, which band leader Tim DeLaughter then sprayed the words “Yo Booty’s Mine”, before cutting it open down the middle. “Opener” was a rather emphatically apt start to the night, while follow up “Hold Me Now” brought an early wow element to the proceedings. With there now being 15 people on stage, who were clad in various multi-coloured robes, and surrounded by smoke, kaleidoscope lights, and countless instruments, it was difficult to take-in the full spectacle of what The Polyphonic Spree bring to a live setting. For the duration of their set, DeLaughter constantly prowled about the stage, like a grinning and seemingly possessed-like preacher come conductor.

New track “Popular By Design” opened with an resounding fusion of bass and brass, while the pulsating drums dominated throughout.”Light & Day” still possesses the same hook laden and catchy vibe it always had, during which DeLaughter allows the rather excitable crowd, to get up close and personal, as he strolls amongst them. With there being so many instruments in play, I feared some might find themselves buried in the mix; thankfully this was never the case, as each of the ten musicians’ easily held their own.

The fun factor upped another notch or two, during their rendition of The Monkee’s “Porpoise Song”, which had the crowd in a sing-along state, while DeLaughter marshaled his crew with effortless ease. The heaviest track of the night was “Get Up & Go”, which sent the cello player into overdrive, while the violinist pogoed to his heart’s content, without missing a note. A cover of INXS’ “Don’t Change” received a resounding cheer of approval from the locals too.

The one major issue I had with Delaughter, was that he went off on more than one, long winded and unnecessary spiel. Countless requests – which entered the realm of pestering – for the crowd to pass up “any of that ol’ bud” on stage, mumbled stories of his youthful days lead to nowhere in particular, and aborted versions of Tripping Daisy’s “I Got A Girl” and Motown legends The Four Seasons’ “December 1963 (Oh What A Night)”, felt more like random acts of filler.

After the cello player took the lead for their take on “Time Warp”, DeLaughter returned to the stage. The band finished up with “Soldier Girl”, and an epic “We Sound Amazed”, which included the cello player head banging as if her life depended on it, while the backing vocalists held the one note for quite some time, as DeLaughter crawled around the stage on all fours.

To finish up, DeLaughter went off on one final story about when he was 16, and how he tried to sell a suit to Larry Hagman (or JR Ewing to you and me). It got quite awkward as the 14 members decided to down tools, hoping their leader would wind up sooner rather than later. Before eventually leaving the stage a random cover of Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” was given a lash, but was also cut short.

This review was written for Tonedeaf (An Australian music site)

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