For those who aren’t Facebook friends with me, I went to a gig last night. A proper, grown-up gig with no anthropomorphic primates and no children. For those who are Facebook friends with me, I’m sorry. I was a bit over-excited. I realise it’s not the first time anyone has ever been to a gig. But it was the first time I’d been to a gig in 2 years. And that’s worth getting excited about.
Besides, the Polyphonic Spree are more than just a gigging band. It’s almost a spiritual experience. As a Christian, I’m quite comfortable in corporate-worship scenarios but I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t actually one of those. Still, their music both lifts and gladdens the soul.
And yes, it’s all a bit cult-like. It’s something to do with the messianic poses Tim delaughter throws on a regular basis. Or maybe it’s how unnaturally happy they all look, all the time. Or maybe it’s the matching robes. The robes definitely help.
But it’s such a nice cult, with nothing to worship but melody and sunshine. And there’s lots of both. Latter-day ‘spree albums have been a bit downbeat, so I was worried it wouldn’t be as joyous as when I saw them in Reading, a decade or so ago. True, the newer songs met with a slightly more muted reaction than old classics like “2000 places”, but they soon warmed up. Like a worship song, the refrains are so simple and repetitive that you end up singing along, even if you didn’t know the song when it started.
The showmanship of the polys is, safe to say, unlike any other. Every gig starts with a white banner across the stage, on which Tim spray-paints a message before cutting it down to reveal the band. Last night, the message was “We are Friends” with a smily face. The crowd was quick to agree – he had us at “nds”. Before the gig, he’d been out meeting and greeting fans and then the band did their own roadying. This is not a group that likes distance between them and the audience. Even stage invaders (in robes, natch) were greeted with a hug rather than a nod to security.
Sound less cult-like yet? Nope, thought not. The set rolled on, with the biggest cheers and pogos for “Light and Day” and “Soldier Girl”. We’re getting a bit old for moshpits, but damn it my feet could not stay still for those songs. Hands in the air, leaping around, I felt almost like a teenager again. Or a cult member.
And then the strangest thing happened. I’ve been to many, many gigs and I’m fairly certain nothing like this has ever happened before. The band starting playing a riff that sounded like “Lithium”. Now, I don’t have the best associations with that song, a trauma that can be traced back to a university-era Battle of the Bands. One band decided to try and win by covering “Lithium” and changing the lyrics to “I’m so happy that today I found my friends in Wells Hall”. Meanwhile, the lyrics that I was improvising over 10-minute guitar odysseys were more like the Millwall chant of “no-one likes us and we don’t care”. You see, we weren’t interested in scoring cheap points through some kind of charm offensive. We would let the music speak for itself. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have the music sorted out either. The other band won.
So, that song has always been tainted with the feeling of losing, and the sound of borderline jeering. But what happened last night may not have just redeemed the song, but forever changed my memories associated with it.
I haven’t got to the strange bit yet, in case you’re wondering. You can imagine how this was going – an already-hyped crowd given the chance to let loose to a bit of Nirvana? Madness ensued. But that’s not weird. During an instrumental break, Tim delaughter launched himself into the crowd. That’s not weird either.
And then he got us all to sit down.
Yes, that’s the strange bit. He appealed for calm and them motioned for the whole moshpit to sit down on the floor around him. And they did. Like obedient preschoolers at Group Time, a crowd of sweaty, hyped-up gig-goers got down on the floor and waited for Tim to speak.
As I may have said on Facebook, this is DEFINITELY a cult. As Tim spoke, hush reigned over his disciples, all gazing adoringly at him, clamouring to touch him and hanging on his every word. If he’d waved bits of paper in our faces asking us to sign our worldy possessions over to him, would we have done it? Yeah, maybe. He’s a charismatic guy. If you don’t believe any of this happened, check it out here. You can see the back of my head on the far right during the interlude, along with my blackberry waving about.
But instead of signing our lives away, we staggered back out into the Shoreditch night, hearts lifted and heads full of music….back to stroppy toddlers. Sigh.
Thanks Polyphonic Spree…it was amazing.