I Was A Member Of The Polyphonic Spree. (For One Song.)
It had already been a weird night.
It’d been a weird couple of weeks, actually. But this was an especially bizarre moment in a particularly strange stretch: Here I was, sporting the creepiest dad-mustache you’ve ever seen, dressed like I was ready to sacrifice my soul to the sugar-water gods and standing side-stage at the Granada Theater, mentally preparing myself to rock out with the (literal) biggest band in Dallas, in front of a packed house of obsessed fans — the Polyphonic Spree’s, not mine.
Either I’d lost all sense of dignity and self-respect or I just no longer cared.
It’s a fine line.
Some background: My life’s been consumed of late; I’ve been packing up one house and moving into another just a few blocks away. (I say “packing” because it sounds better than “pretending to pack and then doing other things instead when I should’ve just been packing,” and I say “moving” because it’s an improvement over “feeling stressed about my life still sitting around in that uncomfortable place between full moving boxes and pretty-much-still-full moving boxes.”)
Point is, my entire worldview has been moving by like a DVR recording played back at five-times fast-forward. No, I’m not quite living out of my suitcases at this point — but then I’m only a few days removed from moving my socks from out my backpack and into the that Ikea dresser I recently reassembled so its drawers would once again shut like they did back when I bought it right out of college.
Life has calmed and settled some in recent days, but my whole existence still sits far closer to vagabond than it does Cleaver Family on the settled-in-at-home spectrum. I probably should take a few days and figure it all out, but I still haven’t, and that’s on me. Instead, I’ve lately been agreeing to do things I otherwise normally wouldn’t because, hey, anything that takes my mind off unpacking sounds better than unpacking.
That’s how I got to standing where I was standing this past Friday night, basically.
We’ve been working pretty closely with the Polyphonic Spree in the run-up to the release of the band’s Yes, It’s True album at this very show, and, because of that but also because they’re just extremely kind and generous people, the band and its management had asked me if I wanted to join its members, plus a few other fans and friends of the group, on stage for a song at this show. Because thinking about that meant I didn’t have to think about buying pads to put on the legs of my furniture so it wouldn’t scratch my new place’s floors, I said yes.
That also more or less explains the mustache. Earlier in the night, with my life and various toiletries still in boxes that had been thrown together without much thought, and with my unkempt beard growth approaching a length best described as Appalachian, I decided to just shave the whole thing off rather than go box-digging so I could trim the sucker. Except, as every man shaving every beard ever has always done, I kept the mustache for a few minutes, because that’s just what you do. A couple cell phone shots and texts to a few friends of my best State Trooper look later, and it was determined that the mustache would stay. Basically, because my friends are assholes, they pretty much uniformly suggested I keep it. And because peer pressure cripples everything I do, I bought into their false hype.
Point is, despite my friends’ claims and my own brief moments of disillusion, the mustache did not look very good. Like, in no possible way. Worse: Coupled with the at-least-two-sizes-too-big robe I’d just been given to wear on stage by Polyphonic Spree management so as to fit the band’s aesthetic, I suddenly looked like some sort of creepy religious nut — the kind of man altar boys are warned about.
Still, I pressed forward. This was, after all, the chance of a lifetime. Well, OK, 80 lifetimes to be more accurate — that’s about how many members the Spree has seen come and go over the course of its 13-year run. Nonetheless: I figured this would prove a unique opportunity, not to mention an excuse to cross one of our 100 Things To Do In Dallas Before You Die items (No. 73: Join The Polyphonic Spree) off of my own personal checklist and something that people from around the world dream about.
Joining me in my brief moment in reaching for the sun — yes, that’s a reference to the fact that management had informed us that we’d be joining the band for a performance of the Spree classic “Light and Day / Reach For The Sun” — were a handful of Dallas radio personalities from The Edge (George Gimarc, Jeff K and Mark Schectman) and a couple that had won a contest on KXT for the privilege.
They all looked better in their robes than I did. They moved better, at least; unlike me, they weren’t tripping over their robes’ bottoms with every step.
No, I wasn’t exactly confident in that moment.
It didn’t help that our lone instruction on what to do up there on stage went something like, “I don’t know, just get up there and kind of rock out some, I guess?” That’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to a song like “Light and Day,” which, while a great song, is probably better described as “sweet and sweeping” than “ARRRRRGH!” It didn’t really help matters that our assistance to the Spree on that song would come directly in the wake of the band covering Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which is a song that actually very much does find the orchestral pop outfit rocking out quite hard.
We had our instructions, though, and I had all the conviction of committing to those instructions that a man in my unsettled lot in life brings to the table, which is to say “plenty,” I guess. So, when the band started playing the opening notes of “Light and Day,” I did one of those head-swirling neck stretches that I see basketball players do and dutifully followed my fellow Spree-temps up the stairs on stage right, behind the curtain and onto the stage.
Here’s the first thing you notice when you walk out onto a stage filled with Polyphonic Spree members: That shit’s not as crowded as you might expect. I don’t know how you fit two dozen players onto a stage and still have plenty of room for six more people to come onto it at a moment’s notice, but this is a band that’s solved that conundrum.
The second thing you notice: No one on the stage is as nervous about what’s going on as you are. Presumably, this is because these people are professionals. I also imagine it has something to do with the fact that people tend not to look at other people’s feet when they nod and wave and hug you hello, and, as a result, no one noticed that I was a stage light in the eye away from stepping on my robe and bringing the whole band down like dominoes or pretty much every Screech scene in Saved by the Bell.
The third and fourth things you notice: These people are happy and, while completely wrapped up in the show, they’re oddly capable of holding entire conversations during the in-between moments.
As we sauntered onto the Granada stage, Spree frontman and mastermind Tim DeLaughter stood at stage center, welcoming us. We formed a line; he hugged us all.
“Hey Tim!” I said to him when my turn came, probably sweating as much as he was at this point (and not because of the nerves mind you, but because what they don’t tell you about the Polyphonic Spree is that the robes the members wear don’t breathe at all and it’s hot as balls under those things). “Great show!”
“Hey thanks!” he replied, before stopping what he was doing to look me in the eye, and turning his back to his crowd, much to my inexperienced dismay. “You really think so?”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered, looking over his shoulder at the crowd and the people looking back at me, wondering who this weird dude in the mustache was and why his mother let him out of the house looking like that.
In my mind, I said the following: “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO HOLD A CONVERSATION WITH ME RIGHT NOW, TIM? THIS IS WEIRD, I’M UNCOMFORTABLE AND I’M PRETTY SURE WE’VE BEEN SPEAKING FOR 10 MINUTES NOW, AND THE WHOLE SHOW’S MOMENTUM HAS SLOWED AND EVERYONE IS GONNA NOTICE AND THEY’RE GONNA BLAME ME AND THE WORST PART IS I HAVEN’T EVEN TRIPPED AND FALLEN YET AND WE ALL KNOW THAT’S COMING.”
Except, no, I didn’t say that, so instead I just kind of shuffled two feet to my left and waited to see what would happen next. The Edge guys, who’d all walked onto stage before me, had started to form a kind of line of sorts about a third of the way back from the front of the stage and they were clapping along with the early beat in “Light and Day / Reach For The Sun” and I just kind of followed suit and did that. Then Tim popped back into my field of vision, his back to me and, though he was standing, his face was somehow right in the faces of the people standing in the front row, who sang the opening words of the song right back to him.
I’ve seen that episode of Scrubs that features this song a few times on TV — shout out to my buddy Josh Jordan, who played the patient in that episode, and for not actually having cancer in real life! — so, yeah, I’m kind of a pro when it comes to knowing this song’s lyrics. So I too started singing along, in addition to all the clapping.
It was pretty cool: I looked to my left and there was a temporary bandmate of mine, and we made eye contact and knowingly nodded at one another; I looked to my right, same thing; I glanced over my shoulder, same thing. It was reassuring, absolutely. The self-doubt rather immediately washed away.
Here I was, a member of the Polyphonic Spree. And I wore a robe with the band’s insignia stitched into the chest, thereby proving it.
Anyway, the climax of the first chorus was just around the corner, and, yeah, I was definitely ready to do my best impression of the always-energetic Spree cellist Buffi Jacobs — only, y’know, without the hair flips because I don’t have that much hair, upper lip notwithstanding. And when that moment came, I launched right into it: I rocked from left foot to right foot like a boxing kangaroo. I threw my fists in the air — right in time with the horn flourishes, which I knew were coming. I jumped up and down a little. I pointed at some dude in the audience like I knew him (I didn’t) and he didn’t react at all — like, not even a little. And I looked over at my fellow temporary choir members, smiling and expecting them to be doing the same.
Only, they were just doing the very same thing they were at the start of the song. They were standing there and smiling and clapping like they had been all along, and in turn, I’m sure, giving the crowd the surefire impression that my exaggerated movements were the result of the cocaine addiction that I don’t — but in their eyes probably do — have.
“SCREW YOU GUYS,” was a thought that went through my head, but only briefly.
Then? Back to rocking out because that was my instruction and I’m a man who follows the guidelines he’s given.
In all, the performance felt like one of those weird, in-the-moment life circumstances that feels at once impossible long and horribly cut short. As the song ended, I clapped along with the crowd and my fellow Spree-temps, and then gave Tim a head nod and pretended to bow to the crowd to thank them even though, really, I was mostly just applauding myself for overcoming my own fears and my own facial hair misgivings.
And that was it, pretty much. We turned to leave, and guitarist Cory Helms shook my hand and told me I did well. I made eye contact with bassist Mark Pirro, and he raised his hand and so did I, and we shared one of the better high-fives I’ve shared in the past five or so years. Back with her fellow choir members, my friend Jennie Kelley waved me down and called me over and gave me a hug.
“You did great!” she said.
“No, you did!” I replied, not realizing in the moment that I had no idea if she did great or not because I hadn’t even looked back there, not even once, before this moment. I guess I just said it because I thought that’s what Spree members said to one another in moments such as these, and yeah, that was me now.
Once finally off-stage, I collected my thoughts and started guessing, on a scale of 1 to 10, how badly I’d just embarrassed myself. Even though I hadn’t tripped, I was still settling on a number in the vicinity of a 9.5 when I overheard one of the Spree’s handlers talking about George Gimarc, my fellow momentary Spree-mate still standing on stage.
“He doesn’t want to leave!” the manager said, laughing and pointing at him up there.
OK, so I’d done better than George.
But, also, her laughter was a good indicator of something: None of us had embarrassed ourselves, turns out. Not even me. Not even a little. We each just gave in to our moment with the Spree as we each saw fit. And, with a band as euphoria-inducing as this one, there’s really no wrong way of doing that.
You’d think I’d have realized that in the dozen Spree shows I’d seen before, but no. It took me being on stage, performing with the band to really get that there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the Polyphonic Spree.
Maybe that’s the greater lesson behind the concept of the Spree as a whole — that no matter how unhinged your life may become, that no matter how unprepared you are for what may be sitting around that corner, that no matter what bad decisions you may make with your personal grooming, all that really matters is the moment, the Right Now and how well you’re able to enjoy it.
I thought about that for a few seconds off to the side of the stage before realizing, somewhat somberly, that my moment had passed, and that I was still wearing the robe I’d been given.
A little dejected, I pulled it over my head, folded it up and started to hand it back to the Spree’s manager.
“No,” she said. “You get to keep that.”
So I did. And I’ll continue keeping it — and not just because it means an easy Halloween costume always at the ready each October. It’s something that, just like my moment on stage with the Spree, I’ll just always now have. And that’s a pretty awesome thing, I think.
As for the mustache, though? That motherfucker is gone. I shaved it as soon as I got home that night.
My friends are dicks.
All photos by Karlo X. Ramos.