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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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Turner Hall felt the love with Poly Spree.
Turner Hall felt the love with Poly Spree. (Photo: Erik Ljung)

Turner Hall feels the love with Polyphonic Spree

The large collective known as the Polyphonic Spree stopped at Turner Hall Ballroom Tuesday night as part of the third leg in their You+Me Tour. It is a fitting title for the tour, as their performance felt totally inclusive of the warm Turner Hall crowd.

Dressed in white robes with a red heart on the chest, the Polyphonic Spree may have cult-like attire, but their show focused on unity and celebration. The size of the band has always been notable, and there were 15 members that took the stage on Tuesday. This includes a cellist, two drummers, some assorted brass players, a choir, guitar and the lead singer of the group, Tim DeLaughter.

Their set began with a large red sheet covering the front of the stage. As music began to build, DeLaughter cut a heart-shaped hole in the fabric. He continued to expand the size of the hole until he split the sheet in two, revealing the wide array of musicians and singers onstage with him. As the second song of the night started, confetti rained down on the crowd in front of the stage. The set consisted mostly of their second and third albums, although they did perform "Soldier Girl" from their debut album, as well as a cover of The Who's "Pinball Wizard."

Toward the end of their set, the group performed the song "Section 19 (When the Fool Becomes a King)." At the end of the song, a lingering note played while all the members of the Polyphonic Spree except DeLaughter froze in place. DeLaughter went from member to member, examining their position and ultimately using this as a ploy to get the crowd involved. After the audience's participation, normalcy was restored and the entirety of the dethawed Polyphonic Spree were able to continue playing. In a way, this portion of the show was reminiscent of Mary Martin as Peter Pan asking for everyone to clap if they believed in fairies to aid Tinkerbell.

After the Polyphonic Spree played what DeLaughter claimed was the last song of the evening, the entire group left the Turner Hall stage. While the passionate crowd clamored for an encore, a recorded instrumental song played over the speakers. As the build-up of this song reached its peak, the Polyphonic Spree emerged from the back of the venue. They then weaved through the crowd towards the stage while each member distributed plenty of high-fives to their eager fans. The encore featured the band's most mainstream song "Light and Day/Reach For the Sun" and once again a round of confetti was fired.

The final song of the night was "The Championship" and in a brilliant move, the performance was extended so that every member of the band incrementally left the stage except for DeLaughter. He continued to lead the crowd in singing the lyrics until he abruptly stopped and it was everyone else in attendance celebrating the final repeated lines of the song:

"All in good time, we'll come around,
Raise our voice, make another sound."

The actual Polyphonic Spree had stopped performing, but those inside the Turner Hall Ballroom were carrying the baton to the finish line. DeLaughter wrapped up the night with an apology that it had been so long since the band had performed in the area and vowed that the wait won't be as extended for their next local show. With so many members in the actual band, it's hard to imagine how financially rewarding a tour might be for them. However, the joy the group gives off and receives as part of the performance is blatantly sincere and should be experienced in-person when they make good on DeLaughter's promise.

The opening acts for the show were both members of the Polyphonic Spree given a chance to shine on their own. New Fumes, the project by touring guitarist Daniel Huffman, kicked off the night with a performance that felt more like an art installation. While Huffman built walls of melodic layers with his guitar, keyboard and laptop, videos were projected on a screen behind him. The content of these abstract videos ranged from swirling shapes to an extended view of elephants mating. At times, some of the sounds within the layered music were very grating, but the overall performance was quite captivating. Recently, the Flaming Lips collaborated with New Fumes for a song that was released on their Record Store Day album. This doesn't come as a surprise as Huffman's work is reminiscent of some of the Flaming Lips experimental songs which go on a bit too long.

The second opening act of the night was Sweet Lee Morrow, the stage name of Jesse Hester, who is the keyboardist for the Polyphonic Spree. While Hester has a great voice, his performance was totally scatterbrained. Performing in bare feet, Hester kept repeating that his name was Sweet Lee Morrow and seemed really overwhelmed and jittery onstage. While he did make an impressively obscure reference from the sketch comedy series "Mr. Show," Hester couldn't master the crowd by himself. He did seem far more at ease later when he was part of the Polyphonic Spree. It's hard to imagine anyone feeling unwelcome in the atmosphere they create.

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