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All words: Robert Winship — All photos: Rachel Eisley

I may never stop smoking cigarettes, though I’m confident that my exit drag outside the Sixth & I Street Synagogue is the end of a pack for a little while. Maybe it marks the start of a resolve to quit again. Either way it comes from what church camp taught me was a mountaintop experience. When you’re away from the pedestrian struggles of everyday life, in a place with your friends, the high you get from being a part of a moving experience is only a fleeting feeling and you must come down at some point. In other words, being high won’t last forever, so be prepared to deal with it after the fact.


The Polyphonic Spree are a mountaintop experience, a concentrated form of jovial exuberance so potent, it outshines any worship service or self-help seminar, threefold. The only real questions I had coming down to the synagogue dealt with whether or not we were going to see that Polyphonic Spree of lore. Are they always this bright? The short answer is yes, absolutely yes, and in due time we all came to that conclusion. By the evening’s close, I was swept up in what The Polyphonic Spree played and proclaimed, “I want to be yours in time and somehow find a way to this new religion.”


The first set was New Fumes, a one man digital music show from Tim DeLaughter’s Good Records Recordings basking in trippy neon video projections and sounding something like a psychedelic No Age. Daniel Huffman, the musician behind the title, wore a mask/headdress and alternated between his guitar and table of electronic synths and effects to wrap the room in a haze of low-frequency tones and textures. It was pleasing, though short on any hooks to ground it. He closed with a song accompanied by a video of elephants having sex, which was a difficult image to shake in that context.

The next act, Sweet Lee Morrow, is not the first musician to find a solo career after the Polyphonic Spree. Annie Clark, went on to record Marry Me shortly after her guitar and vocal work with The Spree on The Fragile Army. Sweet Lee Morrow is the solo project of Jesse Hester who played guitar with the Spree until 2004, has not gotten the critical attention of St. Vincent, but he’s honing his craft. It was a little bit on the mellow side, and seemed to be more filler, sandwiched between the drippy New Fumes, and exhausting Polyphonic Spree, but he wandered the stage comfortably. On guitar, he gently spun songs of life and fatherhood, while on the piano, he uncapped more balladry. HIs most charming quality was his pleasant discussion with the audience throughout. It’s not so much that he was self-effacing, just sweet and unserious enough to open the songs up as something genuine.


In retrospect, I was blind to doubt the majesty of Tim DeLaughter’s vision and execution. To sum up the show in one sentence: The Polyphonic Spree, though taking to the stage behind a large crimson sash, unleashed and maintained the unfathomable jubilee of worship that has been their reputation since the beginning. It wasn’t a religious service, but Delaughter has described his religious upbringing before and beneath the Star of David, led by 20 or so robed patrons and their minister, it was absolutely a catharsis of my negative spirit. The point at which an anthem becomes an anthem is alway centered around a triumphal refrain. When the choir sang “You’ve gotta be good, you gotta be strong you’ve gotta be two-thousand places at once” everyone was on their feet, many with hands outstretched, ensnared in the cause. Each anthem “It’s the Sun”, “Light and Day”, is a movement in the grand symphony of optimism and natural beauty. But I cannot stress this enough, it never ever, ever lets up. There’s no winking, no doubt, and no one person to hog the glory.

The on-stage orchestration of the collective, the actual musical element is awash with flourishes and quirks. During the recording process, songs are written as simple hooks, then fleshed out with the basic elements of guitar, bass, drums, and keys, then the choir is added, then the woodwind, etc. The live presence of some many instruments is not hampering to the group. Nearly every sonic element is utilized and as they broke into a cover of “Pinball Wizard”, a track which stands as the greatest evidence of the Who’s drug use in the late 60s, but tied the Tim & Co to something of a real-world experience. They brought “Pinball Wizard” into “Soldier Girl”, one of their few ‘hits’ and a rare song dealing with a person and not..well, the Sun. The show could not be overstated in its power and pleasure. I later realized that my initial doubt stemmed from the fact that the band wasn’t promoting a new album or product; they were just there, wholeheartedly selling a spirit of gratitude, joy and a deep, flourishing sonic expression, a few sunshine levels above the Andrew W.K.s of this world. So, maybe I don’t need another cigarette, but where do we go from here, Tim?

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