Remember back in the wake of 9/11, when a number of pundits pronounced the end of irony? The last 2½ years have made those decrees seem a tad, shall we say, premature. Irony has returned with a vengeance, with phantom WMDs, Fox News and the decision to go to war based in part on the assertions of a spy code-named “Curveball.” Tim DeLaughter and The Polyphonic Spree apparently never got that memo, though, because their show Friday night at the El Rey Theater was basically an irony-free zone.
There are moments when it’s impossible not to be pulled into the Spree’s ecstatic orbit — to follow lead singer DeLaughter, foot on the monitor, his head thrown back, arms stretched out, a beatific grin on his face, a robed, 24-strong band rapturously dancing behind him, the word HOPE printed out on a banner unfurled across the rear of the stage. But then you notice his saffron robe, his unrelenting positivity and the glaze-eyed smiles of the sold-out aud and the evening starts to feel like something you’d end up attending if you went off with one of those nice people at the airport who claim to have the answers for a happier life.
For DeLaughter, happiness is built with the high, trilling trumpet of classic British psychedelia, the theremin and insistent piano from the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and costumes from a summer-stock production of “Godspell.”
With strings, horns, a harp, synthesizers, up to three percussionists and a nine-strong choir, all whipped up to a frenzy of serial crescendos, they live up to the title of new Hollywood album “Together We’re Heavy.”
The appeal is obvious: Songs such as “2,000 Places,” with its refrain, “You got to be good, you’ve got to be strong, you’ve gotta be 2,000 places at once,” sound like affirmative lullabies for multitaskers.
But halfway through the hourlong set (followed by a 20-minute encore), the evening’s one-note quality loses its novelty, as one too many instrumental freakouts takes the air out of the show.
A steamroller, even one filled with love and good vibes like The Polyphonic Spree, is still a steamroller. If you are even the least bit resistant or skeptical (and at times it’s hard not to scream out something along the lines of, “The Earth revolves around the sun,” “The world is round” or “Soylent Green is people”), it’s going to flatten you.
Jon Brion’s charming perf set the stage nicely for the Spree as he appeared with a string quartet; the highlight was an antic cover of the Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.”
The Polyphonic Spree plays Gotham’s Irving Plaza Aug. 24-25.