by Melanie Wong
Last week, a large white sheet veiled the front of the Bowery Ballroom stage as 15 members of the neo-psychedelic symphonic-pop troupe Polyphonic Spree filtered in behind lead singer Tim DeLaughter. The Dallas-based ensemble—dressed in trippy red gowns—began to play as clouds of hovering fog created a dreamy haze, with one band member inscribing "#ben will win!" on the panel in large neon writing before epically bursting through the message. Adding to the theatrics, an avalanche of oversized white balloons showered down from over the balcony into the audience as the opening song reached its climax.
The evening was phantasmagorical, to say the least, as the Spree delivered an ebullient mix of old favorites and snippets from their forthcoming album, Yes, It's True, set to release in August. The Spree's long-awaited return to the spotlight last year after a five-year hiatus, due to DeLaughter's commitments to his side-project Preteen Zenith, has been highly anticipated and well received.
Hallmarks of the evening included a sweet rendition of "Light & Day," a cameo by opening act Harper Simon during "Soldier Girl," an encore of "My Sonic Boom" (a tribute to Tripping Daisy), and a wildly thunderous performance of their popular cover of Nirvana's "Lithium" that closed out the night. The room was sporadically flooded with colorful disco lighting as DeLaughter shout-sang his inspirational self-empowerment lyrics from a speaker-soapbox that leaned over the crowd.
The Spree rotated seamlessly between motivational power ballads, new-age alternative rock, upbeat feel-good pop, quasi-rave music, and sentimental covers. In addition to DeLaughter, the Spree's members included a killer brass section composed of trumpet, trombone, and an occasional flugelhorn; a rocking string section of violin, cello, and harp; electric bass and guitar; keyboards; a classical percussion set-up plus a drum set; and four hippie go-go-girl backup singers. A team of horn players also doubled as onstage electronics mixers throughout the night.
The Spree was passionate and tireless all the way through and frequently engaged the audience with tactics like Vine-ing the crowd, handing microphones to enthusiastic fans, and recording themselves up-close on borrowed phones from front-row guests. For their grand finale, DeLaughter commanded the entire audience to squat down and sing a verse of "Lithium" with him in hushed a capella style before jumping up for the raving finish.
The Spree left the audience energized and ready to party into the wee hours of the morning—and luckily there was an after party! If you missed the Polyphonic Spree this time around, be sure to keep an eye out for them in 2014.