Like so many of my favorite concerts, I found out I was seeing the Polyphonic Spree at the very last minute. I had listened to their first album The Beginning Stages of and decided it was going to be well worth my time, seeing as how I had never heard anything quite like it before. I stopped home to change into fresh clothes and get in the "mood" for the evening. The "mood" had kicked in by the time I got to the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea, and Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space flowed in through one ear, passing through the filter of my mind and out the other. I had arrived at the venue rather early (as I always do) and was there to scope out exactly what a roaming Polyphonic Spree fan looked like in their natural habitat.
I spoke to a handful of people who were all very warm and welcoming. I made the same, unfunny joke about there being so many people in the band that I expected the entire audience to walk up on stage and wind up being a member. People humored me and pretended to laugh. The crowd was diverse to say the least. To my left was a middle aged woman facetiming the stage to her sick husband who couldn't make it to the show, to my right was a man in his mid 60s swinging infernal patterned scarves in a figure eight and in front of me was a quiet sixteen year old girl, who came totally alone but appeared to be having just as much fun as anyone else.
The opening act was Corn Mo, a brilliant local comedy singer-songwriter from Bushwick who told stories of his great aunt's journal, hugging David Bowie and metal Bar Mitzvahs with vignettes delivered with the phrasing of an over-excited 6 year old and a singing voice somewhere at the crossroads of Meatloaf and a goddamn angel. By the time Polyphonic Spree had taken the stage, I was ready for them. They came out, about twenty of them, donned in white choral robes. If I recall correctly there was a harpist, a cellist, a bassist, three percussionists, two guitarists, two keyboard/synth players, five gorgeous choir girls in the back who DeLaughter dubbed his "angels" because that was exactly how they appeared, and Tim DeLaughter at the helm. (There were more, but in my defense, DeLaughter himself admitted to oftentimes not being able to recall all of the members of his own band). They looked almost like a cult, with DeLaughter filling the position of the charismatic leader, and by the end of the show, every person in the audience (including myself) had become a member.
They began the show by performing the entirety of their first album, The Beginning Stages Of in celebration of their 15th anniversary, including their big hit "Light and Day" which you would no doubt recognize from one of the many commercials it has been featured in. It became obvious why so many ad agencies seeked it out; it evoked nothing but pure, unbridled joy. By the end of their performance of the album, I was grinning and dancing like an idiot, chanting along to verses I had only heard once before, earlier that day. After a ten minute break for them to change into their neon striped "party gowns" the second set began, which included songs from later in their career and covers including "The Porpoise Song" by the Monkees and their well known rendition of Nirvana's "Lithium." It was clear that their appearance in NYC was a pretty big deal because they hadn't played a show here in over three years (most likely because of the high cost of touring for such a large group.) By the time it was over, I felt the same sense of community one may feel after a Grateful Dead show...that we were all together, and a part of something bigger than any one of us could ever be.