The Polyphonic Spree - Melkweg, Amsterdam 26/10/2004

"

How can you not enjoy looking at this lot? It's twenty odd Texans in cassocks!

"


 


The Max is nowhere near full, there's plenty of room to wander around, although the main floor is pretty well populated. A few people are leaning over the balconies, gently tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to the Northern Soul tunes belting out of the PA. Suddenly the music stops, the lights switch off and then the fog appears. In fact it quickly fills the room, to the point that I can't see further than a few feet in front of me. It's like wandering onto a John Carpenter film set. Some intro music blares out the speakers, gentle guitars and plinky plonky piano parts but with the occasional bass hum that's powerful enough to make my whole body vibrate. After a few minutes of this bass massage a few beams of white light penetrate the fog and a bunch of shadowy figures walk onto the stage. 1, 3, 5, 7, more to come, 9, 11, 13, still going, 16, 19, 20, bloody hell. Some more lights illuminate the stage to reveal 20 odd Texans dressed in coloured cassocks. Red, yellow, pink, blue, green, purple and more. The Polyphonic Spree have arrived and they look like the cast of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.


 


After they all take their places, which takes some time, the lights go dark again, 'cept for one. The room hushes into silence as some big hairy Jesus look-a-like in a light blue cassock starts to play the harp. It sounds fantastic and a wonderful feeling of calm takes over me. Just as I'm starting to feel relaxed a bunch of cassocks stand up, arm themselves with various instruments and in one startling moment the whole stage comes alive. The lights go up, the choir screams, drums pound and horns wail. Wow. The song is called A Long Day Continues / We Sounds Amazed and amazed I certainly be. This is some opening.


 


The Melkweg stage has never seemed so small and I doubt it's ever been so busy. The back of the stage is crammed with a drummer, percussionist (and all their instruments) and a bunch of cassocks stacked on top of each other. That'll be the choir then. The front of the stage is busier yet. From left to right we have people playing piano, flute, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar (x2), French horn, Theremin, Bass and Piano. And that's just what I can see!  The idea of the Polyphonic Spree has always appealed to me and I've been looking forward to checking them out. By the time the first song (or section as the Spree like to call them) nears its end I'm already glad I came because, well, how can you not enjoy looking at this lot? It's twenty odd Texans in cassocks!


 


It's The Sun is the next section and it's got more bells, whistles and flutes than the last one. In front of me there's a guy fisting his French Horn with such delight that I can't help but smile along with him. On the far side of the stage the brown cassocked trombone player looks rather threatening but the jolly little flute player in the white cassock is jumping up and down with delight. In fact, wherever you look around the stage you can see the type of happy smiling faces you'd normally associate with a bunch of Hari Krishna's but I don't feel like crossing the street to get out of the road of this lot. As the crowd all follow singer Tim de Laughter's lead and raise their right arms to the air calling for the sun, the words 'rally' and 'Nuremburg' spring into my mind before I scold myself for bringing such terrible thoughts into a place of worship such as this. Worship I say, because as we all stand there, arm aloft, repeating the mantra, "Hey now it's the sun and it makes me smile" over and over, along with a few 'ba dada ba da's," it's worshipping that we're doing. Worshipping the sheer power and excitement that only live music can bring. "That was awesome," cries Mr de Laughter, "This is a rock show. THIS is a rock show! Are you all enjoying the show?"  We yell and scream and raise our hands as if to say Amen.


 


The first jolly bars of Section 12 (Hold Me Now) are played and the room just goes ballistic. Tim, Mr Theremin and the horn section are bouncing up and down, the choir are punching the air with delight and the audience are doing both at the same time. Mr de Laughter steps up onto the monitor and raises his hands for the umpteenth time and sings, "You're still miles away," and we respond with some "ba da ba da badada's". The percussionist, meanwhile, has strapped a drum to his chest and clambered up onto the speaker stack on the far side of the stage, the piano player above me is having a fit and the French Horn player has his eyes closed and there's a big guy with a  moustache banging a tambourine round the side of his head.


 


Our fourth section of the evening belongs to Section 14 (Two Thousand Places ) and it allows for more audience participation. "You gotta be good," (raise one fist) "You gotta be strong" (raise two fists), "You gotta be two thousand places at once" (make a peace sign). The audience picks it up fairly quickly and since those words are repeated over and over for about 15 minutes, we begin to look like a Bon Jovi crowd. If the Spree wanted lighters, we'd be holding them up right now.


 


Quite simply this is the most ridiculous, most hilarious and most entertaining show I've seen in bloody ages. I just can't describe the madness that is happening in front of me but what I can tell you is that every song sounds fantastic! Their records just don't do them justice, but how could they? The studio is too limiting for a band with this much energy, this much joy for playing. You've just got to come and experience them for yourself. They take every rock cliche in the book and turn them into something so outrageous and over the top that they seem totally fresh and exhilarating. Silly clothes, drum solos, guitar solos, horn sections, Theremins; they've got the lot and it's all absolutely brilliant.  For instance, I'm standing here in front of the stage as they close the main set with When the Fool becomes a King (which began with a drum battle for Christ's sake!) and I'm looking up at a guy in a red cassock who's pulling a Jesus Christ Pose. I've got my arms raised to the heavens and I'm singing "Hail to the sky/Time to watch the show/Trees wanna grow, grow, grow, grow" as loud as I can and do you know what? I feel FANTASTIC!


 



 


I know, I know, it all sounds too much. It sounds too over the top, too hippyish, but I'm telling you it isn't. It's loud, it's exhilarating and it's infectious. The audience look like they've all been inhaling laughing gas for the past hour. Red cheeks, sweaty brows and beaming smiles all round. They applaud the Spree off stage before stopping to have a giggle at what just happened. Roadies come out to rebuild the stage, which is just a mess of instruments and fallen mic stands at the moment and we start to call out for more. More. More. More! The Spree appear once again but from the back of the room this time and they process, arm in arm, through the crowd. People cheer, people pat them on the back and some people even try to kiss them. It's like watching Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem, except without the donkey and the palm leaves.


 


Together We're Heavy gives us an excuse to shout "Love" over and over again likes it's 1969 or something, then the little pixie flute player has a turn before Soldier Girl starts and the audience go ballistic once again. "Oh you know this song do you?" asks Tim with a cheeky glint in his eye and the percussionist decides that we're having the most fun down here so he comes down to join us, bouncing around in the pit banging his drum like a lunatic. We laugh, we smile and we sing along. Light and Day keeps us all bouncing around and ends with every one of the Spree pointing ominously at a Mirrorball, which is a rather unsettling image it has to be said. The night closes with us all worshipping the Sun Machine and sending the Spree homeward to rapturous applause. Tim de Laughter steps up onto his monitor once more and says. "We are the Polyphonic Spree. And Together We're Heavy." I have no idea what that means but it feels right.


 


This has been a wonderful night; the craziest, most entertaining show I've seen round here since the Super Furry Animals and the Flaming Lips were in town. They might be the biggest gimmick in rock and roll at the minute but my God do they make it work. They are the Polyphonic Spree and together they are fabulous.


 


 


Words and photographs : Damian Leslie