Reviewer: Mark Edison
Photographer: Kaye Kim
After a warm up at the Greenbelt festival, Polyphonic Spree kicked off their European tour in the Academy last night; Mark Edison went along to see the gang in action.
The band come on one at a time in their traditional long white robes and it takes just minutes for them to fill the stage. It’s a stripped back show for the Polyphonic Spree, as there are only 14 of them on this tour – double the members of Arcade Fire but still less than the current incarnation of Guns N Roses.
Each band member takes to the stage and adds their instrument to the building crescendo. The noise from the audience builds alongside it, and the biggest cheers are saved for Tim de Laughter who conducts his bakers’ dozen as they dance and sway in time.
Polyphonic Spree were everyone’s highlight of the now defunct Witnness festival in 2002, but they haven’t been back this way in some time. De Laughter asks the audience how long it has been, leading to a vigorous debate between him and the crowd. Some punters argue that it’s been 15 years, while he thinks it’s 11. Google says it’s been eight, but it’s too good a night to split hairs. Either way, these fans have lain dormant for an extended period.
They are a receptive crowd, singing along and clapping in time. The Academy is usually a sweatbox, but it feels bright and airy tonight thanks to the uplifting tunes. Last Saturday afternoon, fans of The Janoskians were lined up outside the venue. The crowd tonight could be their parents; it’s a noticeably 30-something crowd. De Laughter announces from the stage that he will be signing merchandise outside and he invites the whole crowd to party with the band after the show – and follow them to Belfast the following night. A day trip with the Polyphonic Spree is a tempting offer but half the crowd have babysitters waiting at home, so there are few takers.
They are playing debut album, The Beginning Stages of … The Polyphonic Spree, in full. It’s only their second time playing the album in full, live. The album really established their name at home and abroad, and even with reduced numbers, it is easy to see why. The infectious affirmations and the enthusiasm of their delivery don’t take long to affect the crowd.
Some big hits from that album, ‘Soldier Boy’ and ‘Light and Day’, go down a storm and whip the audience into a maelstrom of raised arms and voices. The hits are played early on and when the album ends, the band all leave the stage and disappear for a full five minutes while a backing track plays.
They reappear in new robes; the men in short red and white tops with big sleeves and the women in colourful dresses together with matching ponchos, and play the second half of the show as a greatest hits set.
Set closer, ‘We Sound Amazed’, brings the audience’s excitement to new levels and De Laughter gets down on to the barrier leading the crowd in a messianic thrall. As the song comes to an end the instruments are raised high in salute, even the cello. We know that there will be an encore, as it’s demanded, loudly. The group don’t bother leaving the stage – the logistics of getting everyone off and on again would probably push the show past curfew – and play ‘The Championship’ before taking some time to just soak up the applause and cheers.
De Laughter thanks the opening act and heads straight to the merch table to mingle with attendees, whose faces look happy, spent, and appreciative. The Texan’s vision of what his band could be has been realised. Hopefully it won’t be another 11 or 15 years before they’re back.
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