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Polyphonic Spree live!

| May 21, 2012

Sic The Polyphonic Spree on those rambunctious NATO protestors and the need for a mile-long line of police officers outfitted in riot gear would disappear. One look at Tim DeLaughter and his band of merry pranksters would either send the chanting mass exercising their First Amendment rights running off in fear or persuade them to join the feel-good circus.

Blame it on the collective’s cult-like uniforms (on this go-around, the mini orchestra sports white floor-length robes emblazoned with cut-out hearts like a second-grader’s Valentine’s Day project) or their ebullient performance style. Whether encountering the rotating lineup in the street or within the intimate quarters of a concert venue, DeLaughter’s crew casts a spell difficult to shake.

After three albums, one long hiatus, and an abridged lineup, the magic doesn’t spring forth with the white-hot intensity of past outings in the early ’00s, but still wields a mighty power. For once, breathing room wasn’t in short supply with only 14 noise-makers on stage at Park West. The mishmash of instruments remained intact (punk-rock cellist, church bell-hammering percussionists, brass line three-men deep), yet the incredible shrinking all-girl chorus proved the most significant change in both sight and sound. The unified singing and hair whipping used to dwarf DeLaughter’s son-of-a-preacher-man stance. Now, the ladies stand in back, and try to rise above the din.

Not that the Spree wasn’t always DeLaughter’s show. He’s ever the mad scientist at the helm, transforming a jaded club into a revivalman’s tent. He fidgets. He twirls. He weaves through the band like a wayward stream of smoke. He juts out his arms like a demented conductor. And yet, he somehow manages to squeeze in a few bars of kaleidoscopic lyrics and wills them a deeper meaning. Every action is thought out — from opening the set behind a scarlet sheet to revealing the group a few inches at a time by cutting out an ever-expanding heart-shaped hole, to closing with “The Championship” and methodically commanding each member’s exit with a tap on the shoulder. The exercise gave a backwards lesson on sound layering, and a tutorial on how to execute an unforgettable finish.

The Spree parties with the conviction of a roving Hare Krishna sect, and the commercialism of mass-marketed holidays. It brought a little New Year’s Eve flair to this 90-minute jaunt by deploying confetti cannons on three separate occasions. A cover of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” fit squarely within the band’s psychedelic bent, while a new tune, “What Would You Do?,” shunned fragmented thought in exchange for burning questions to a pogoing beat.

— Janine Schaults

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