Is there any band on the planet better-suited to putting on a Christmas concert than The Polyphonic Spree? Do I even have to answer that? This is a band that, even in non-Christmas mode, radiates so much joy to the world that they practically levitate off the stage. Slap a few Santa hats on them, and the joy is so intense you could probably weaponize it and have the entire nation of North Korea doing the “Gangnam Style” dance in the streets. So it’s about time that they finally released a Christmas album, Holidaydream, and took their semi-legendary annual Holiday Extravaganza concert on the road.
The first stop of the Holiday Extravaganza (Holivaganza?) tour was right here in Los Angeles this past Thursday night. Held at the usually dark and clubby Henry Fonda Theatre, it was a kid-friendly affair with unconventional opening acts (a magician, a children’s book author), people in Santa suits and giant snowman and reindeer costumes running around the crowd, printed programs with song lyrics, and a decidedly non-rock concert vibe. One friend of mine brought her seven-year-old daughter, who was happily tear-assing around the venue with another little girl with blinky lights on her shoes. At one point I spotted Spree frontman Tim DeLaughter in the audience, chillaxing and enjoying himself as much as everyone else. It was like being at a church social that just happened to have a full bar with six beers on tap.
The Spree played an early, holiday-themed set for the families and kids; then, after a couple of other musical acts (YouTube-famous folkie Gustafer Yellowgold and the punk-rock-meets-Blue-Man-Group racket of Street Drum Corps), they returned for an extended “rock set” that included old Spree standards like “Soldier Girl” and “Light & Day/Reach for the Sun.” Both sets featured balloon drops, confetti cannons, and loads of rowdy singing along—along maybe not as much singing along as DeLaughter was hoping for when he invited a bunch of the kids up on stage and launched into “Feliz Navidad.” Turns out most little kids whose parents have dragged them to a Polyphonic Spree concert don’t know the words to “Feliz Navidad.” Note to Tim: Try “Jingle Bells” next time. That’s every seven-year-old’s “Sweet Caroline.”
To the Spree’s credit, they didn’t stick to the obvious, feelgood Yuletide classics. Yes, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” and “Joy to the World” were practically meant to be played by an 18-piece rock orchestra, and they were suitably grandiose and exuberant. But an eerie, slightly atonal version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was also one of the highlights of the holiday set, as was the “Town Meeting Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I also loved that they turned “Silent Night” into a harp solo so beautiful, it actually made you forget that “Silent Night” is one of the dreariest, most dirge-like Christmas carols of all time.
The latest incarnation of the Spree has been stripped down to a comparatively lean 18 members—or so my program tells me. Actually, I only counted 17 people onstage, but maybe the second guitarist was out sick or something. Even minus a French horn or two, they still managed to pump out quite the wall of sound.
The highlight of any Spree set, for me, is their electrifying cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” and the version on this tour, accompanied by a pink balloon drop, does not disappoint.
The only part of the show that was even better than “Lithium”? The milk and cookies they handed everyone in the lobby on their way out. Can all bands start doing this now, please?
The Polyphonic Spree Holiday Extravaganza is only playing four more cities: Chicago (Dec. 11th), Philadelphia (Dec. 14th), New York (Dec. 15th) and Dallas (Dec. 22nd). If you’re lucky enough to live in one of those places, go. What else are you gonna see this time of year? Mannheim Steamroller?
[Update: Video of the Spree's performance has been added to the end of this post. Scroll for the gold, people!]
Look, we know Jay Leno is the Grinch who stole The Tonight Show. But suck it up, Conan fans, and watch late-night television’s most lantern-jawed host just this once, because he’s got a special treat for you, in the form of a red-and-white robe bedecked orchestral pop ensemble churning out what will no doubt be the most euphoric rendition of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” since the John and Yoko original.
Yes, the Polyphonic Spree are out promoting their new holiday album, Holidaydream, available now wherever fine Yuletide soundtracks are sold. They’re also doing a very limited December tour, which we’ll be covering later this week. The press release for the tour promises a holiday-themed variety show extravaganza that may or may not feature such delights as zoo animals and “tap-dancing grannies.” (No, really, the press release actually says “tap-dancing grannies.”) So stay tuned for our report and grainy Instagram photos, campers! This should be a fun one.
In the meantime, here are some Spree December tour dates:
Dec. 6 – Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 8 – Slim’s, San Francisco, CA
Dec. 11 – Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, IL
Dec. 14 – Trocadero Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
Dec. 15 – Webster Hall, New York, NY
Dec. 22 – Lakewood Theater, Dallas, TX
And here’s a sample of Holidaydream: a lovely animated video for “Let It Snow,” one of 13 videos the band is rolling out Advent Calendar-style on their website. And yes, for once, we’re calling something “lovely” in a totally sincere and non-ironic way. Well done, Spree.
Update: The Spree’s Tonight Show performance is now available via Hulu and embedded below. It’s not quite as over-the-top as we were hoping for—they’ve stripped down to a comparatively lean 18 members—but it still puts us in the Christmas spirit way better than knocking over old ladies to get to the discount racks at JCPenney.
As we gear up for another round of dysfunctional holiday get-togethers with our respective fam-damnlies, Jake and I would like to take a moment to reflect back with gratitude on all that 2011 brought us here at TWBITW. This was the year in which we had our highest traffic day ever; in which our average monthly traffic nearly doubled; in which we discovered Here Come the Mummies and witch house; in which we got mentioned by The Onion (OK, it was really just the Denver/Boulder AV Club, but close enough); and in which we got to see Peelander-Z in the costumed, squid-kicking flesh. Oh, and somehow I managed to find time to get married. (Jake is still saving himself for the right girl and/or vaginally equipped life form.) It was a pretty great year.
Most importantly, we got a shit-ton of band suggestions, comments, emails, Facebook likes and ego-stroking gestures of goodwill from you, our readers. So thanks for all that. You are the rum in our eggnog.
We’re going to enjoy a little down time for the remainder of 2011, but we’ll be back in 2012, bright-tailed, bushy-eyed and ready to unleash more weirdness upon the world. And we’ll be making some changes to expand the scope (and hopefully the readership) of this site. So stay tuned, ’cause it’s about to go down like Foxy Brown. Or something like that.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you with our favorite Christmas-themed weird band: The Superions. They surfaced last year with an album called Destination…Christmas! that basically sounds like an even campier version of the B-52′s…which makes sense, given that the head Superion is the B-52′s’ shouter-in-chief, Fred Schneider. Apparently they also do a few non-holiday-related songs, too, but we prefer to think of them as Schneider’s secret gay plot to forever associate Christmas with hunky shirtless dudes dancing with fruitcakes. Enjoy your holidays!
P.S. They also have a Fruitcake app, which you can purchase for 99 cents here. We haven’t tried it yet, but we’re guessing it does not contain actual fruitcake recipes.