Live review: The Polyphonic Spree play Rocky Horror at the HMV Forum

I think it’s fair to say that The Polyphonic Spree are one of the only bands in the world that can do what they do, and create what they create. Seldom does a band ever come along so focused on fun, community, enjoyment and the sanctity of the union of performance as they are. As frontman Tim DeLaughter remarked, it’s been way too damn long since the Polyphonic Spree have toured. Five or six years, to be exact. While their absence slowly faded into regularity, I must confess that the band left my consciousness entirely. After the show they put on at the HMV forum this Halloween though, that feels like blasphemy to say.

The band played two sets, but before we get to their own work, let’s get Rocky Horror out the way. When I initially discovered the band would be playing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I must admit the idea just gelled with me. Honestly, if you had told me they were doing a themed Halloween show, I probably would have guessed Rocky Horror. It just makes sense! However, what I don’t think I could have predicted is just how well the band were able to pull it all off.

The band came on stage dressed in full Rocky attire; some as specific characters, some just in the drag spirit of things. It was a weet, small detail – and preparing that many Rocky outfits must have taken some effort (for the uninitiated, The Polyphonic Spree are big). What was surprising is that the group didn’t just play the hits – they went through the entire films soundtrack, even cutely acting out some of the scenes immediately leading into the songs. The “science fiction” tribute song that opens the stage production really made for an excellent opening song – it was the kind of goofy start to the show which warmed everyone’s hearts and caught their attention. The band remained pretty close to the original versions of the songs. As with Rocky Horror proper, most of the fun comes from the spectacle of the thing, coupled with the crowds familiarity with the source material. A good number of people in the crowd were Rocky die-hards who had every line on the tip of the their tongue before the band did.

The Polyphonic Spree were also accutely aware of what the crowd favourites were going to be. They made sure to bust out the confetti and steam for the three greats of the show. “Time Warp” was performed with the energy and committment that put a spell over the packed venue; there was not a single soul in the crowd that did not perform the pelvic thrust. Refreshingly, Eddie’s song (still one of the most tragically short-lived characters ever) really won everyone over. The lights strobed across the band and built with the chorus, the harmony paying off with well time shots from DeLaughter’s hand-held confetti cannon (really). And, of course, the moment when everyone sang “Don’t dream it, be it” makes for wonderful closure to the set. The finale they performed for the first set was honestly so satisfying they could have ended the show there, and even though it would only have been half as long in total, the gig would have felt well worth the price of admission. There was minimal back-and-forth during the Rocky Horror set, and the seamless flow and speed with which the songs were performed was really impressive.

The band took a brief break, and returned by starting with “2000 Places at Once”. In all honesty, this song could easily have been a closer. I may end up saying that a few times – so is the case with The Polyphonic Spree – but this was the kind of vibrant, fun and downright loving song that could have felt like an incredible high note to end the night on. They played an extended version of the song, returning to the chorus more times (and for longer periods) than the studio version. DeLaughter leapt around the stage, absolutely fueled by the audience’s excitement. The feeling of exhaustion made this song so brilliant – by its end, it felt as if the performers and audience had almost achieved something. We had won the band’s loyalty. There was a proud and shining relief when the song finished, and it made for a rousing “proper return for the band after so many years.

The rest of the second set featured the bands playing their (well-known, by this point) favourites. It felt like an Arcade Fire gig if every song elicited the same reaction from the crowd as “Wake Up”. On “Soldier Girl” the crowd totally drowned out all the instruments on stage (which is pretty damned impressive, considering the number of instruments on stage). “Hold Me Now”… Now that was a song that inspired fanfare, and was the song that got the crowd moving the most – there wasn’t a frame of stillness in that entire song, the crowd jostling in perfect harmony with the musicians. The confetti I think is what sold it most though – I think it was colour coded, starting off white, then becoming transparent and eventually rainbow-coloured. The biggest surprise of the evening was perhaps the brief medley of The Who songs the band performed midway through the second set – gotta admit, it always brings a smile to my face when a crowd so readily embraces and joins in on “Pinball Wizard”. The closing song was, of course “Light & Day” (and really, I think it always will be). I think everything about that song that can be said has already been said – or rather,  felt. Just listen to that track on youtube, man – it sounds exactly how you would imagine it would live. Fantastic.

When the show finished, Delaughter took a step forward to address the crowd directly. He made sure to thank everyone repeatedly – stating the whole reason they were able to even come down here was because the tickets were able to sell in the first place. He admitted to brief moments of fear when he thought the show wouldn’t happen (and I can’t blame him, transport for so many people and instruments must be hell). He also made sure to sing the praises of Kickstarter for helping the band out. Shockingly, they had CD’s of the show ready as soon as it was over. Technology, man. Insane.

On my way home from the show, I couldn’t help but consider the event in a grander scheme, if you’ll forgive my maudlin diatribe a moment. For every underwhelming set, average performance, delayed opening or just-another-stop-on-the-tour, there is a show like The Polyphonic Spree put on at the HMV Forum. Which reinvigours my love for writing about Shows. Reinvigours my love for performance. Reinvigours my love for music. Where the artists are that play and the people you meet and the experience you share with both of them melts away the hours of travel, and the cynicism, and the tiredness. And all that’s left is awe. See them when you can.

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