Monday, August 4, 2008

The Polyphonic Spree @ The Tivoli July 31st

Supporting the tour that finished up in Brisbane tonight was local six-piece, The John Steel Singers. Aside from recognising the name, I didn't know much else about them, but I was soon to be impressed with their catchy rhythms. Instrumentally, the band was quite polished and interesting throughout the set. The vocals were a bit hit and miss to start with and the sound technically wasn't as balanced as it could have been, however, I quickly put that down to the fact that their mix was probably set up for the main act tonight and not suitable for such a "relatively small" band. The line-up included two keyboards, two guitars, bass & drums with the keyboardists taking on trumpet, trombone, kazoo and guitar duties where necessary. I recognised their song Strawberry Wine from Triple J's play list, which has always reminded me a bit of Spoon's Sister Jack. I also love a band that plays songs involving their guitarists on the ground controlling the droning of their guitars with their effects pedals. I picked up their The Beagle And The Dove EP, which includes most, if not all, of the songs they featured in their set.

During the break, we took up a better position near the sound desk. I remember looking over and thinking that this must be one of the rare occasions that most of the 48 channels of the The Tivoli's mixing desk were being utilised for a single band! While I was distracted with watching the sound guy prepare, the venue opened up the upstairs balcony, which was good to see given how sparse the crowd looked at the start of the night.

I'd been told before hand to keep an eye out for the special opening scene. The band were setup behind a two metre high red cloth that spanned the width of the stage. To the sound of plucking harp strings, a pair of scissors started making their way from behind, through the centre of the cloth in the shape of a large heart. The scissors then cut closer and closer to the top until the last snip cut the cloth in two, signaling the twenty-two piece group to blast in to the opening bars of Running Away as the vision of bright white lights pointed towards the audience brought the show to life. This display of theatrics set the scene for what was an amazing musical experience.

All of the band members, including vocalists, strings, horns, guitars, keyboards, drums, percussion, flute, and front man, Tim Delaughter, were dressed in the black uniform featured on their latest album, The Fragile Army. The main set list included mainly songs from that album plus a couple from their first, including Hanging Around The Day, Get Up And Go, It's The Sun. They also threw in a brilliant cover of Paul McCartney's Live And Let Die, complete with the shrieking piccolo part in the instrumental section. They finished the main set with the closing track, The Championship, which literally faded out as band members gradually left the stage while Tim got the crowd singing along to the outro of the song. Once all the band except Tim and the harpist had left the stage, Tim said good night and left us singing along with the harp player, who kept us going for another half a minute or so before leaving the stage himself.

Through the applause of the crowd cheering for more, the band now dressed in their more familiar robes reappeared at the side entrance of The Tivoli, and weaved their way through the crowd back towards the stage. Accompanied by the sounds of Together We're Heavy, each member picked up their part in the song as they got to the stage and found their position. Then they proceeded to play an encore that was almost as long as the main set! The encore was made up of songs mostly from the first two albums, including Hold Me Now, Light And Day and Soldier Girl, and also featured a cover of Nirvana's Lithium. During When The Fool Becomes A King, the theatrics continued, with the band completely freezing in position at one point in the song. The keyboards kept a few notes going, but the rest of the band remained frozen in position while Tim walked around the stage, occasionally tapping the odd instrument and just generally leaving the audience wondering what he was going to do next. He finally brought the band back to life (after what must have been five minutes) and started to draw the night to a close after that.

After one or two more songs, the band remained on stage for the curtain call at the end. Tim had spent a lot of the evening interacting with the crowd and it seemed that he didn't want to stop! This included his farewell speech that encouraged all of us to go to the merch stand in order to fund their visit. You can understand why a band this size would need all the help they can get when you consider that the cost of the tickets for this gig was the same as you would normally pay for to see a four piece band at the same venue.

In all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining night, and I would recommend anyone who hasn't seen them yet to do so if they get the opportunity.

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