Two dozen musicians. That's enough for, say, six bands, and that's being conservative. You could book an entire weekend at just about any local club with that many players to choose from. That number, however, is not enough for The Polyphonic Spree: The group wants to add one more member, a tuba player, before closing its membership books. (FYI: We played tuba in high school and we're attempting to quit smoking, so we're good to go. Just saying.)
Somehow, it all makes perfect sense. After all, when you're in a band that features trombone, trumpet, flute, piccolo, theremin, French horn, viola, various keyboards and electronics and, most recently, harp, adding a tuba is the natural next step. And once you've made the decision to involve a 10-member choir, it's not too big a deal to bring one more member onstage.
But The Polyphonic Spree clearly is a big deal, and we're not just talking about the amount of work (and laundry detergent) required to clean 24 matching white choir robes, especially on tour. Whenever we get calls from writers in other cities and friends from around the country, sometimes even when we're on the phone with publicists and label reps, The Polyphonic Spree invariably comes up in conversation. It's been that way since March, when the group went down to Austin for this year's South by Southwest Music Festival and came home with even the most cynical writers' hearts in their back pockets.
Shortly thereafter, they went to the U.K. and did it again. Over the summer, they played David Bowie's Meltdown Festival, as well as high-profile gigs in Reading and Leeds, a few club dates and at least one performance in a church. And the British press has, as the British press tends to do, professed their love openly and often, raiding their thesauruses for every synonym for "joyous," finding religion, losing it, finding it again. The critical crotch diving is on par with The Strokes' first U.K. appearance, and we all know what happened after that. (Too soon to tell if the Spree's success will transfer back home, but the group is playing a series of shows in Los Angeles at the beginning of October, where there are, you know, labels and stuff.)
The zealous British press will get another crack at the band in October, when The Polyphonic Spree heads back overseas for a two-week tour, capitalizing on the U.K. release of the band's debut, The Beginning Stages of The Polyphonic Spree, by 679 Recordings. (It's a small label with a big backer--Warner Bros.--and is also home to Stanton Warriors, The Streets and Ben Kweller.) The label will put out The Beginning Stages of... (pretty much the same as before, but with new artwork) on September 23, and not a moment too soon. Since the group's one-band American Invasion, record stores in the U.K. have been importing copies of the disc (originally released by Good Records) by the hundreds, buying every copy they can get their hands on. (One word: eBay.)
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You can catch the group before it leaves on September 20 at Gypsy Tea Room, when it will be playing with The Julie Christie Music Boxes (the new band from Comet's Stone brothers), Now It's Overhead and Azure Ray. Bring a tuba and maybe they'll let you join. Bring a box of detergent and "maybe" becomes "definitely."
Ronnie Dawson last played at the Sons of Hermann Hall in January, a few days after doctors detected a cancerous tumor in his throat. Over the next few months, Dawson was a familiar face at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School's department of radiation oncology. During that time, his friends and family never thought he'd be back onstage playing music, and they didn't care: They just wanted him to be OK again.
It looks like he is. Dawson's cancer is in full remission--on June 13, the doctors told him he was "free and clear of any residual disease"--and he's feeling well enough to pick up his guitar and be "The Blonde Bomber" again. He'll play at Sons on September 21, along with longtime cohorts High Noon, and the whole thing is both a tribute to Dawson as well as the people who stuck by him. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and the show starts at 9 p.m. We'd pay $100.