The novelty should have worn off with The Polyphonic Spree by now, so long is it since all 24 of them crashed on to the UK music scene at David Bowie’s Meltdown Festival in 2002. With their choral robes and kitchen-sink sound, the Texan collective were hard to forget but surely not built to last.
Their most dedicated fans say otherwise, having crowd-funded a new album out this week, and selling out this sweltering show at which the overpopulated stage was eventually swelled by deranged stage invaders.
Even shrunk down to a mere 14 members here, which made the band less visually remarkable, in concert they remain a life-affirming force. Their problem was always that their recorded output revealed the songs weren’t all that strong beneath the bluster. Live, with bandleader Tim DeLaughter stretching and swaying, four female choristers busting synchronised dance moves and everyone else looking equally enthused, there was no choice but to be swept along.
New songs such as Hold Yourself Up, with its psychedelic breakdown, and the embattled tone of You Don’t Know Me, were less obviously euphoric than past work. Popular by Design showed the Spree still value catchiness over most other qualities.
It was telling, though, that the best response came for a cover of Nirvana’s Lithium, its raw blast of a chorus well-suited to the Spree’s unsubtle treatment. The fact that they’re still sending crowds smiling into the night, more than a decade since their rise, is a miracle worthy of the cult DeLaughter has created. Perhaps they’re too big to fail.