Maybe Tim DeLaughter likes it this way. Start a band as the calendar hits Y2K, slowly but surely develop a cult following with quirky but catchy, humming-to-yourself-in-the-morning sounds and cryptic lyrics, then deliver his gospel with Up With People fervor.
If others catch on, fine, and in a world where there are no rules (only guidelines), just stipulate that this creation never, ever swims up mainstream.
DeLaughter is the shaman's showman of the Polyphonic Spree, a robe-wearing group of ever-changing numbers, angelic voices and dynamite musicians that bring a kitchen's sink variety to the basic mix, including a French horn, flute, piccolo and cello. And they will rock your socks off.
As the years mount, it gets tougher for many of us to stay ahead of the musical curve. And that's coming from someone who wasn't afraid to sonically experiment, blasting Todd Rundgren, pre-"Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen and Mott the Hoople in the mid-'70s while his college dorm roomies in the Deep South were replaying Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Oak Arkansas. Supporting unusual bands lacking a widespread audience felt like having your personal little secret.
The Polyphonic Spree have been on my peripheral to-do list for a while, but it was only after seeing what alum Annie Clark was capable of accomplishing that the deal was sealed. Discovering this euphonic odd-yssey for the first time was sort of a mixed blessing. Like, wow, what a treat, but what happened to the invitation?
Whether DeLaughter (right) likes it or not, the Polyphonic Spree finally might develop some mass appeal of the secular kind. He already has unleashed the power to raise more than $36,000 above his $100,000 goal for a number of projects through Kickstarter last year. And, sure, there have been global travels, late night TV and strange-but-true appearances (a Rocky Horror Picture Show performance at Bonnaroo), proving that the potential to become wildly popular while preserving artistic integrity is possible.
The positive pop perfection of TPS finally hit close to home in two forms this month. Yes, It's True. (on DeLaughter's own Good Records Recordings), their first full-length studio release of original material since 2007's The Fragile Army, was followed by the spectacular sensory overload of a tour that rolled into a half-empty Bluebird Theater in Denver on August 11.
On a white piece of cloth that stretched across the width of the stage to hide what was happening as the band moved into place behind it, DeLaughter properly introduced himself to the audience during a six-minute instrumental/choral overture that went from New Age to Space Age.
Painting the word WONDERFUL! from back to front, he then sliced through the banner to reveal himself and the 16 performers, with four chorus girls dressed in short white dresses standing out from the rest in flowered vestments.
Most in attendance already seemed to know what to expect as a prancing DeLaughter provided bits of Freddie Mercury flamboyance, David Byrne peculiarity and David Bowie charisma. At one point, the dazzling light show illuminated him like a Human Christmas Tree.
The focus surprisingly wasn't on material from Yes, It's True., with only the album's first three songs making the cut while numbers covering the three previous records dating to 2002 got reverential treatment.
Uplifting anthems such as "Two Thousand Places," "We Sound Amazed" and "Light & Day" (which DeLaughter said was written in a massive tree he flew into after hitting a ski bump on the slopes of Crested Butte) got the crowd singing along with bright-eyed spiritual glee.
The 12-piece band, down from a total of 18 players on the album (including DeLaughter's guitar, piano, vibes, samples, Linn drum machine/beats), was led by Bach Norwood (keyboards), Buffi Jacobs (cello) and bearded guitarist Cory Helms (a dead ringer for Eric Clapton's "Eyesight to the Blind" messiah from The Who's Tommy movie). The formidable bunch was a Super-Sized cross between the folkier Decemberists and the edgier New Pornographers.
Having just released Yes, It's True. only five days prior, DeLaughter got the crowd to laugh by consulting his setlist before jumping into the magically delicious album-opening "You Don't Know Me" about halfway through the 75-minute show. After his brief John Denver tribute (a nearly unrecognizable a cappella verse from "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"), the Top 40-friendly "Hold Yourself Up" concluded the Yes, It's True. portion of the show.
DeLaughter, who wrote all the album's songs and shared lyrics with Julie A. Doyle, even avoided Yes, It's True. tunes that are certain to showcase his expressive tenor. The "Modern Love"-like "Heart Talk," buoyed by a powerful horn section and DeLaughter's cheerleaderish exuberance, and the thunderous "What Would You Do?" -- which would fit nicely into the Beatles' Love mashup -- were skipped in favor of "The Best Part," a reject until it became a bonus cut on the Japanese release of Together We're Heavy.
"Daddy booted it off" the original record, DeLaughter said about himself. "It was one of the dumbest moves I've ever done but we're gonna play it for you tonight."
Fair enough, as long as it's part of DeLaughter's game to tempt listeners just enough to get them begging for more.
The eternal optimist is preaching to the converted now, and only Thanksgiving stands in the way of turning up Holidaydream: Sounds of the Season Vol. One, the Spree's 2012 "Christmas" album filled with 10 standards, two originals and the John Lennon/Yoko Ono collaboration "Happy X-Mas (War is Over)."
The Polyphonic Spree obviously can't make everyone drink the Kool-Aid, otherwise they'd be seeing lines around the block at bigger venues like the Ogden, a few stoplights west down Colfax Avenue. But apparently that's OK with DeLaughter, whose carefree spirit allows him to openly share post-show dinner (Benihana) and entertainment plans (a shout-out to The 2Up arcade-tavern for Joust and Galaga videogames) with his guests rather than play an encore.
The last few minutes were like hearing a pastor's final thoughts after the official service, with DeLaughter leisurely thanking "a lot of familiar faces" in the crowd, along with opening acts The O's and Harper Simon.
"We're gonna walk back there and take our robe off -- I'm not gonna take mine off because I just like to wear this thing all the time -- but we're gonna come out here and join you guys," DeLaughter said to the devoted few as the house started emptying to prepare for another manic Monday.
There might be safety in numbers, but you really have to appreciate someone who prefers to live dangerously and knows how to do more with less fans.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of the Polyphonic Spree in Denver on August 11, 2013.