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The Polyphonic Spree w/ The Sharp Things @ Shank Hall

Nov. 7, 2015

Nov. 9, 2015
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There’s an old showbiz adage that says you should always leave ’em wanting more, and unlike most pieces of industry advice you are likely to receive, this one is completely true. To begin with it’s just good business, but aesthetically speaking, there’s a special kind of disappointment that creeps over you when any performer, even a great one, overstays their welcome. You’ve already been sold, but bit by bit your enthusiasm wanes and before long too much of a good thing becomes a bore. Knowing when to walk off can make the difference between a great show and an okay one, a good case in point being Saturday’s set from The Polyphonic Spree, a band that originally turned heads with their mysterious, cult-like image but tonight could have left a lot more to the imagination.

Getting things started at Shank Hall this evening was New York-based soft-rock outfit The Sharp Things, whose gentle brand of Americana boasts some decent songwriting chops, probably best heard on the typically accessible “Dogs of Bushwick,” but very few original ideas. In any event, they found significant favor with the respectable crowd that was forming, which naturally included the type of ostentatiously indie 20- and 30-somethings you might expect, but also a surprising amount of people who appeared to be over 50, in many cases well over it. Factor in a few inexplicable small children and it made for some pretty interesting people watching to pass the time before the headliners, famous for their ever-expanding ranks, came streaming onto the stage in their pseudo-religious cassocks. 

The ostensible reason for the tour being the 15th anniversary of their debut album, The Beginning Stages of..., the first portion of the show consisted of them playing the record more or less front to back, and in rich sonic detail despite the inherent logistical challenges of micing and mixing a dozen-plus players in a relatively small space. After a quick costume change, they continued the set with various selections from across their discography, which, with their propulsive string/horn section buildups and ’60s-inspired psychedelic optimism, couldn’t help but be emotionally rousing. This second section, seamlessly transitioning between cuts such as Together We’re Heavy’s “Diamonds/Mild Devotion to Majesty” and “Hold Yourself Up” from their latest album Yes, It’s True, gradually grew to a fairly thrilling, crescendo-laden climax, after which a pretty harsh comedown kicked in.

It would have been the ideal time to make a dramatic exit, at least for a few minutes before taking another bow, but instead of letting the moment land bandleader Tim DeLaughter and company segued straight into a strangely rambling encore. “One more song” turned into a fun-if-superfluous cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” a prolonged reprise of “It’s the Sun,” a seemingly impromptu version of The Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” another prolonged reprise of “It’s the Sun,” detailed introductions of each and every band member and finally some rather self-congratulatory speechifying. It would be too strong to say this pointless musical filibuster ruined what came before it, and of course the more undiscerning superfans ate up every last note, but the less zealous in attendance had stopping wanting more some time ago.

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