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.
This Kickstarter thing is getting outta hand. Every time we turn around, another Weird List alumnus is passing the cyber-hat, looking to crowd-fund their latest folly. We’re not made of money, people!
But you know what? Fuck it. We should spend every nickel we earn from those stupid WordPress ads on our site to kick down some cash to artists like Anklepants, Christeene and Mission Man, because without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. So count us in for all your crazy Kickstarter campaigns, you broke-ass weirdos! And yes, that includes you, Polyphonic Spree. I just pledged 12 bucks and became backer #613. You’re welcome.
For those of y’all too lazy to watch the full video or read the breakdowns on the Spree’s elaborate and ambitious Kickstarter pledge drive, here’s the skinny: After laying pretty low for most of the past five years, Tim DeLaughter’s merry band of symphonic rock lunatics is gearing up to return with a vengeance in 2013. They plan to release a live album, a new studio album, a live concert/documentary DVD, and tour the globe—all with their usual contingent of 20-plus robe-wearing singers and violinists and piccolo players and whoever else they can cram onto their gigantic tour bus. Y’know, the usual Spree stuff.
Estimated cost: $100,000. Which sounds like a lot of money, I know. But if you think about it, that only comes out to like, four grand per Spreeling. Or to put it another way, about what Ashton Kutcher makes every two minutes on Two and a Half Men. So I’d say the Spree are keeping things downright frugal.
It’s also worth noting, since nearly everything that’s ever been written about Kickstarter seems to miss this point: The hundred G’s ain’t charity, folks. Everyone who pledges at least $10 gets something tangible in return, whether it’s a CD copy of the new studio album (which I’m getting for my $12 pledge), a digital “full meal deal” that includes downloads of both albums and the concert doc (for a very reasonable $35) or a “surprise handmade gift” from a member of the band (for a roll-the-dice $100—could be a doll made of pipe cleaners, could be a framed piece of art you’ll bequeath to your grandkids). So stop calling Kickstarter pledges “donations,” for fuck’s sake. The under $5 contributions could be described that way, but everyone else is paying in advance for a future service, just like you do when you buy concert tickets. Why so many people miss this crucial aspect of the Kickstarter economy (as when otherwise sensible media outlets refer to Amanda Palmer as a “Kickstarter millionaire”—like she fucking pocketed every penny from Kickstarter and paid for her albums and merchandise and touring expenses with elf farts) is beyond me.
Sorry…I’ll climb down off my soapbox now and just mention one last thing: The Polyphonic Spree also have a totally non-crowd-funded holiday album coming out. It’s called Holidaydream and you can read more about it (and pre-order a copy, if you’re so inclined) here. When do these guys sleep?
I’ll leave you with the rough-cut intro to that Spree concert doc DVD. Tim DeLaughter hearts you! Even if you don’t send him money. But probably more if you do.
At long last, symphonic pop-rockers the Polyphonic Spree are returning to the West Coast! And it makes me smile.
Fresh off a handful of Midwest and Southern dates, Tim DeLaughter and his merry band of berobed cult members recently announced the West Coast leg of their You + Me tour, the band’s first in four years. Here in L.A., they’ll be playing the historic El Rey Theatre, where I have fond memories of jumping around like a lunatic to their cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” the last time they played here. Ah, good times.
Here are the full dates:
March 29 — Phoenix, AZ — The Crescent Ballroom
March 30 — Tucson, AZ — Rialto Theatre
April 1 — San Diego, CA — House Of Blues
April 2 — Los Angeles, CA — El Rey Theatre
April 3 — San Francisco, CA — Great American Music Hall
April 5 — Portland, OR — Wonder Ballroom
April 6 — Seattle, WA — Neumos
April 7 — Vancouver, BC — Venue
April 10 — Denver, CO — Bluebird Theater
New Fumes, a new band from former Spree member Daniel Huffman, opens all dates.
We should also mention that the band just announced a winner in their fan-made video contest: Ben Rowe, whose trippy collage-animation clip for “What Would You Do?” took home top honors. We’re not sure what Rowe actually wins, apart from glory and a warm, fuzzy feeling, but maybe that’s enough.
Good news in our inbox this week: The Polyphonic Spree are back! It’s been four years since we last heard from the world’s largest, most cult-like symphonic indie rock band and frankly, we’ve missed them. Well, I have. Jake thinks they sound like a bad combination of the Flaming Lips and Hair–to which I say, how could any combination of those two things possibly be bad?
By now the Spree’s backstory is familiar to most: Started in Dallas in 2000 by lead singer Tim DeLaughter and his wife, Julie Doyle (who never gets any credit, but should–she manages the band, sings in the choir and co-writes much of their material with DeLaughter), the Polyphonic Spree rose from the ashes of DeLaughter’s previous band, Tripping Daisy, which broke up following the drug-related death of their guitarist, Wes Berggren. DeLaughter fell into a deep depression following his friend’s death, but worked his way out of that dark period in part by crafting the Spree’s euphoric, celebratory sound. He and Doyle also wanted to make something more epic and orchestral than a typical indie rock act–and to get the sound they wanted, the band’s membership eventually swelled to over 20 people. Then, as a final touch, DeLaughter decided to have everyone don white robes like some kind of hippie church choir.
These days, lots of bands do the whole cram-lotsa-people-onstage and have them run around playing cellos and glockenspiels and other instruments you don’t normally associate with a rock act. But the Spree stand out for a couple reasons. For one, they were really the first band in the modern era to do this sort of thing. Arcade Fire, Beirut, Edward Sharpe–none of them existed back in 2002 when the Polyphonic Spree released their first album, The Beginning Stages of…. Secondly, it’s hard to name another band, symphonic or otherwise, with an ouevre as specific as the Spree’s. Pretty much every track on their first two albums sounded like a cross between “Let the Sun Shine In” and the last three minutes of “Hey Jude.”
The Spree did go a bit darker for their third album, The Fragile Army–and they donned matching black, military-style uniforms for the promo photos and tour–but even that one ended with a feel-good rave-up called “The Championship.” Well, technically it was called “Section 32 (The Championship),” because all of their songs are “sections” of a complete, larger work.
(By the way, since we’re talking about the Spree in terms of their weirdness, I should also mention that one of their songs, “Section 10 (A Long Day),” is just 36 minutes of looped, processed vocal tones, like Philip Glass after one too many shroom caps. So there’s that.)
We’re still not sure what DeLaughter and company have in store for their next album, but they just released the album’s first single. Sort of. The song, “Bullseye,” is only available as part of an iPad app, which also features an interactive, animated video. You can see/hear a preview of the app and the song on the Polyphonic Spree website. Jake and I aren’t cool enough to own iPads yet, so if anyone downloads the app, please give us a report. It’ll set you back a mere $1.99.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with my all-time favorite Polyphonic Spree moment. Needless to say, this is one of those bands that really has to be seen live to be fully appreciated–the sheer, overwhelming sonic assault of all those voices and instruments bashing away at DeLaughter’s happy-happy anthems is like a tent revival for hipsters. But as great as some of those anthems are, none of them tops the Spree’s insanely awesome cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” Kurt Cobain would have approved–yes, even the bit with the harp.