January 04, 2002

Live Report: The Second Annual Polyphonic Spree Christmas Celebration, The Lakewood Theatre, Dallas, Texas 12/21/01

When I first received a notice about this show, it took me all of five seconds to tell myself "Dude! I am SO gonna be there." See, the thing about these "evenings with the Polyphonic Spree" are never anything short of entertaining, and with the mere notion of all of the acts that were scheduled to perform, passing up this show would just be...well...tragic. Such keywords that stuck in my mind included liederhosen, accordions, tap dancing grannies, break dancers, free styling, and improv comedy.

So, me and a friend decided to make the six hour trek to the Dallas metroplex to experience this....experience. The Lakewood Theater couldn't have been more appropriately located for the nature of this show. All around the theater are these little streets, lined with trees and shops and restaurants, I instantly thought of a downtown, small town America, even if the location was really the farthest thing from small town America.

As we entered the somewhat vintage theater, we were greeted by the traditional German music stylings of Norman and Sharon Seaton, Accordion Artists, who performed traditional Christmas songs. Due to the small nature of the lobby, and the sheer amount of people coming in, they were situated on the stairwell to the balcony, but their music certainly filled the entrance with a certain warmth. We really couldn't see if they were decked out in liederhosen, so we just imagined that they were.

As the audience was arriving, to keep the kiddies entertained, a Christmas film was shown. The Year Without a Santa Claus, from 1974, starred Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It was a nice backdrop, though it was rather difficult to hear, as it was treated more as background and not as something to watch. A slight shame, because I remember watching this as a child. Still, with the exciting acts to come, and with the general love in the air and visiting with friends old and new, I didn't mind.

Of course, in my mind, the best act was up next. Syncopated Ladies are a dancing troupe of eight middle aged and elderly ladies from a Denton senior center, and theirs was certainly the most anticipated. The ladies all looked fine, and could really cut a rug! With their intro of "In the Mood," to a tribute to "the boys in uniform," to 83-year old Vera taking a star turn to "Singing' in the Rain," complete with, erm, her umbrella, the audience was easily theirs. As they tapped and shim-shammed and strutted their stuff, the audience went wild, with many of the fellows sending cat-calls and adoring yelps their way....including yours truly. (As heard from two people behind me: "Oh, great...we got a lot of drunks in the audience already." "hey, it's cool, those ladies deserve the praise!") When they did their big finale to "God Bless Texas," everyone was on their feet, hollering and yelling and whistling and raising a beer or two to our great state. Nothing beats a good round of state pride, and the ladies certainly provided that! As they were so well received, they gave more and more and more, until they could give no more. Their emcee stated that they only usually perform for about 20 minutes, but they gave twice that amount. Not too shabby for eight ladies between the ages of 53 and 83!

The First on Film Improv Comedy Collective were up next, and, what with such an awesome act preceding them, they had their work cut out for them. They seemed up to the task, except for the fact that their microphones were cutting out on them, and for the first half of their set, anyone beyond the first three rows couldn't hear them. Methinks that their performance was hindered by the performance size, and that working with a setup such as this evenings wasn't one they with which they were accustomed. When they were finally able to be understood, their comedy was indeed funny, though their set definitely suffered from the sound. I thought their final sketch, an "acted-out DVD," was quite entertaining.

Next up was MC Astronautilus and the United B-Boys Breakdance Posse. MC Astronautilus, freestyler par excellence, wowed the crowd with his rhyme skills, his flowing prose, and his "World's Greatest Lover 1986" T-shirt. In between his three rhymes--which were chosen by the audience as being public transportation, rectangles, and being the world's greatest lover 1986--were dance moves by the United B-Boys Breakdance Posse. Now, call me a purist, but I thought a "posse" was more than one person, and though the Oxygen's dance moves were quite awesome, I'd have liked to have seen more than one person dance.

Then--the moment we'd all been waiting for. The Polyphonic Spree took the stage. Tim, being the loving father-type, called all for all of the babies to come to the stage to sing Christmas songs and to be cute, and everybody sang along to such hits as "Do You Hear What I Hear," "It's Christmas" and "The Little Drummer Boy," which featured the little drummer boy William Tinker--presumably the little brother of Polyphonic French Horn/dancin' fool Andrew Tinker. With the little brother and Tim holding his daughter through part of the set, and the kids running around, you couldn't help but say "awwww."

After the audience sing along, the Polyphonic Spree--who had been pumping up on the positive vibes in the room, simply BURST out of the seams with beauty, love, and emotion. Their set that seemed to consist of more new material than old, with several newer songs since the last time I'd seen them live. They played most of The Beginning Stages as well, and sounded just as tight on the newer material as they did with the older parts of the set. Of the new songs that really struck me, two of them are downright beautiful, "Fields" and "Suitcase Calling." At one point, during the intro to "Part Six," something went wrong with the wiring, stopping the song mid-intro. Tim, ever the showman, turned around, looked to see what was wrong, then turned back around and immediately started singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the choir kids joined in, as if this were indeed a part of the set. Of course, being the silly kids, they amended the song to amuse the audience.

Indeed, there was something very special about this evening. Life. I think Tim knows it sure is fun to sing about life, and the love and emotions that the audience felt was certainly felt on stage as well. All of the band were dancing around, bopping along, song to song. The choir kids and the dancing French Horn player were obviously having a blast. Tim was literally bouncing across the stage...he danced and leaped and gestured all throughout the set, not unlike a preacher man being filled with the holy spirit.

This was one of the happiest shows I've been to. It makes me realize that Tim DeLaughter and company have certainly stumbled on to something beautiful, and I think the time is coming very soon for the rest of the world to experience the beauty of the Polyphonic Spree. One thing I noticed is that the newer material seemed less reliant on the complex instrumentation of the first album. Having not heard the new songs in studio form, I realize I might be wrong, but I can't help but wonder if Tim's starting to feel the desire to take his show on the road, and is writing material that can be performed just as well with a five or six piece band as well as the 24-member ensemble. I sensed that Tim was really rocking out, enjoying the performance, and I couldn't help but notice that the newer songs seemed to be a slightly more traditional in nature, reminding me in no small part of Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb. When he addressed the audience after the show, he said "thank you for this year, be careful, we want you back, this is just the beginning," I felt as if he'd given it away right there: that he's ready to hit the road.

I think the world's ready. Don't you, Tim?

--Joseph Kyle

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