By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
You'd think, nine years into the annual Polyphonic Spree Holiday Extravaganza's existence (the event went on hiatus in 2006, making this the slightly dubiously named "eighth annual" version of the concert), that audiences might start taking the show somewhat for granted.
And yet, they're not. Not at all. Not by visual standards, at least. This, truly, is a treat.
It's early, just a few minutes after 8:30 p.m., and the show, which is scheduled to continue into the wee hours of the morning, has just started—the Dallas Youth Orchestra is about halfway through its set of orchestrated takes on rock 'n' roll mainstays, and the kids, performing alongside various members of the Polyphonic Spree, are quite all right, actually, doing The Foo Fighters' and Nine Inch Nails' songs plenty of justice. But, as impressive as the Youth Orchestra is, what's even more staggering is the line of people still patiently awaiting entrance into the Granada Theater.
The line stretches through the theater's front patio, down the road and down the alleyway on the side of the building.
And then there's how those fans are greeted: Each fan receives a gift bag of sorts, filled with a schedule-of-events booklet, stickers, ribbons, sippy cups and candy canes; Santa and Mrs. Claus greet fans as they walk up; a costumed reindeer ambles about and a snowman too; and, for good measure, an accordion player and a ventriloquist entertain the people still waiting in the somewhat slow-moving line.
No one seems to mind the wait; this event's something of a charity affair—in the Granada's main lobby, bins are set up for collections to be donated to Toys for Tots and the North Texas Food Bank—but with the décor (balloons are, well, pretty much everywhere) and the greeters in place, it's pretty clear: A lot of time and money is dropped on making sure this event goes off well.
Even on eBay, actually.
In January, a ghost of Christmas past popped up for sale on the online auction site: The 1999 Dallas Observer Music Award for Best Act Overall. It belonged—once upon a time, at least—to Tripping Daisy, the still-beloved neo-psych rock act that Spree founding members Tim DeLaughter, Mark Pirro and Bryan Wakeland performed in through much the '90s, until the 1999 death of guitarist Wes Berggren.
Somehow, though, through a mysterious chain of events, the award ended up online, up for the taking to anyone who wanted it.
Well, anyone who wanted it at the right price.
The man who bought it—for the kind of astounding price of $408 (no, seriously)—had his reasons. For one, Ric Brehm's been a Polyphonic Spree fan since the 24-piece act's inception. But before that, he was a devout Tripping Daisy acolyte.
"I'm probably the most die-hard Tripping Daisy fan on the planet," Brehm says proudly, with a thick Boston accent, over the phone from his Massachusetts home. "I just wanted to make sure the award got back where it belonged."
His plan was simple: Buy the award, hold onto it, and when the time came for this weekend's annual Holiday Extravaganza, drive from Massachusetts to Dallas to return it to DeLaughter and Co.
And though there were some kinks along the way—namely the economy and Brehm's losing his part-time job recently—that prevented the fan from making it to town this past weekend, the award, thanks to some good ol' fashioned snail mail, nonetheless did arrive. Through a chain of people—Brehm, then area photographer Jason Janik and Polyphonic Spree forum administrator TJ Goodwin—it was returned to Good Records, which DeLaughter owns, on Friday night, where it was received by store and band manager Chris Penn before being returned to DeLaughter.
A sigh of relief for DeLaughter? Maybe.
"I'm glad to have it back," the Spree's jester-like frontman says while greeting fans on the venue floor between sets at the later of the Extravaganza's two Saturday presentations. "Or, rather, my mother-in-law is glad to have it back—she holds on to all that stuff."
More than anything, though, the award's resurfacing seems rather like a reminder of the past to DeLaughter—and, perhaps, an impetus for things to come.
"Tripping Daisy's been on my mind a lot the past couple of years," he says.
As the night wears on, it's clear that DeLaughter, Ebenezer Scrooge dress notwithstanding, means what he says; there are constant Tripping Daisy reminders throughout the course of the show. During a raffle giveaway, one of the prize packs handed out to attendees is a Tripping Daisy gift package; later, after having already performed a stellar set of Spree'd-up Christmas classics, DeLaughter and his band sprinkle a Tripping Daisy piece, "Tragiverse," in amongst Spree originals and covers of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" and Nirvana's "Lithium."
"This song goes out to my good buddies in Tripping Daisy, from Dallas, Texas," DeLaughter announces to a warm crowd reception, before launching into a drawn-out performance of the song.
During this "Tragiverse" performance, it becomes clear that DeLaughter's not the only one still emotionally invested in Tripping Daisy's past. Bassist Mark Pirro, who sat out most of the evening show after coming down with food poisoning earlier in the day, returns to the stage to join DeLaughter, Wakeland and the rest of the Spree in performing the one song and, afterward, exits without mention of his appearance. With the 10th anniversay of Berggren's death coming next October, it's tough not to see the performance as an emotional reminder of his absence.
Considering what Tripping Daisy meant to Dallas music in the '90s, it's a fair reminder. Alongside fellow area acts like Reverend Horton Heat, The Toadies and The Old 97's, the band helped legitimize the Dallas music scene by continuing the Deep Ellum tradition started by other acts in the '80s.
Seeing the troubles faced by Deep Ellum since, those who were around at the time, perhaps fairly, still look fondly upon that era as something of a heyday. And now, more than nine years removed from Tripping Daisy's existence, it's certainly plenty weird to acknowledge that The Polyphonic Spree has been around almost as long as Tripping Daisy was. Even though the Spree will soon boast a longer tenure than Tripping Daisy, it's tough to say that the Spree boasts bigger clout, even on this night, at a show that has drawn in out-of-state fans from as far away as Montana.
As much as they love the Spree, for many, including Brehm, it's Tripping Daisy to which they maintain an emotional connection.
"I just wanted to help out," Brehm says of returning the award to DeLaughter. "I'm not looking for anything back."
Right. 'Tis better to give than receive and whatnot.
But, turns out, there may be something in it for Brehm, after all.
Says DeLaughter: "I've got some unreleased [Tripping Daisy] songs—really, really great stuff—that we're gonna work on releasing in the future."
When? DeLaughter can't say for sure. But for Tripping Daisy fans, that's no doubt quite the treat. OK, sometimes it's better to receive.