Monday, April 05, 2004

Polyphonic Spree 

The Girl and I went to the Fleet Center last week to see David Bowie. He rocked. But what generated more discussion was the opening band. The Girl had heard a rumor that Macy Gray would be opening, but this was not the case. At all. Polyphonic Spree took over the stage to warm up the crowd for Bowie. I must say, they're an energetic lot, and they must have rock hard calves. They're just so bouncy!

I had seen a little bit about them on Best Week Ever a few weeks back, but even the exuberant snarkiness of the BWE commentators could't prepare me for the live experience.

Before I provide a link to their website so you can see some photos, let me set the scene for you: there were a total of 25 musicians on the stage (I counted a few times, to be sure). The lead singer, bass, 2 guitars, drums, 2 keyboards, trumpet, trombone, tamborine, flute, french horn, harp, a choir of 9 plus 1 choir coordinator, percussion, and violin. And they were all outfitted in flowing white robes, each with a silky band of color at the hem (an assortment of colors, but just one per person). Yes, robes. Okay, now you can view some pictures. That link is to a file listing of photos, because their website isn't set up for convenient linking to the image page. Here's the website. Clearly a lot of work went into it, as it opens with the creation of a stained glass design by way of an animated line drawing followed by the color fill. Then you have to move your mouse over each panel to find the easter eggs hidden in each one. Cool, but tiring. Kind of like the group.

These folks are talented, but could use a little reigning in. Almost every song felt like the high point of the spring musical. Lots of triumphant dominant chords and dramatic arm gestures. The lead singer/cult leader even had two little ramps upon which he could leap and from which to make even grander arm gestures. And the choir, led by the man I referred to as "The Revver," was in nonstop motion. They were just bouncing all over the place, and some were joining in the grand arm gesturing while others were just rockin', bobbin', swayin' and generally having a good ole time. At one point they suddenly broke into robotic movements all at once, but it wasn't really coordinated and just seemed too controlled for the group. They seemed happier once they could let loose again. The little tamborine guy looked like he'd been taken by the spirit at a particularly lively revival. I felt like I had arrived at Tommy's Holiday Camp.

Have you seen the new Six Flags commercial? A guy who's made up to look really old and really creepy pulls his magic bus into a quiet neighborhood where everyone's outside tending their gardens and dutifully washing their cars. He puts bouncy music over the loudspeakers, and next thing you know everyone has piled onto the bus and is chair dancing all the way to their nearby Six Flags, where the dancing and fun-having continues. It's the most frightening thing I've ever seen. You just know that they're all going to be lured into the Tunnel of Cult Indoctrination. It's all fun until you've been sleep deprived for six days. Anyway, at one point I had an image of a bunch of Up With People alums having been lured onto the bus, and they emerged as Polyphonic Spree. Great skills, uplifting atmosphere, but my goodness it's tiring. You just watch them and get worn out.

But there was one number in the middle where the lights went down and they trained a spot on the trumpet, violin and flute. And the three of them went into this opening segment that was groovy and mystical and echoed and filled the arena. I was enthralled. Then the lights came up and they all went back to high energy, dominant chords and more jumping about than I've seen since some of the big triumphal dance numbers in the high school shows like The Music Man, Mame, The Wiz or Guys and Dolls. That took me back and prompted some thinking (like I don't have enough of that).

I was really into the music department when I was in high school. In the social hierarchy of high school, we "band fags" and "drama fags," as we were called (there was quite a bit of overlap between the two groups) were rather close to the bottom. In my school the AV nerds were slightly lower. This was before geek was cool. But unknown to the world outside the confines of the music room and auditorium, we also had an internal hierarchy. At the very bottom were those with no skill, either musically or socially. Just above them were the "happy people." These were the kids who were just happy to be there, and seemed unaware of their unenviable place in the social strata. They were usually quite talented, either musically, dramatically or in some support fashion (costume design, sets, etc.). The theater, the stage and the pit were their world, and they reveled in it. Those of us who were at least aware that we were outcasts to most of the school looked down upon them in their blissful ignorance. Whatever would happen to them after graduation?

Now they're touring with Bowie. And they appear just as happy and enthusiastic as ever just being able to do what they love and share it with the world. And that. Is. Cool.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 11:31 AM