Polyphonic Spree Reflect on Paying Tribute to David Bowie at Radio City Music Hall

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Tim DeLaughter decided to take a moment for himself before playing the David Bowie tribute concert at Radio City Music Hall last Friday. He went out into the New York concert hall and sat in one of the seats to take it all in. For DeLaughter and his band, the Polyphonic Spree, this show was more than paying tribute to a musical legend. Bowie was the man who helped make the Poly Spree's career.

"I'm just so thankful I got to sing with him on a nightly basis as a duet, and he liked us enough to even want to do that," says DeLaughter, referring to the tour that the Poly Spree did with Bowie in 2004. While on that tour, which would ultimately be Bowie's last, he would bring the band onstage to duet his song "Slip Away" each night.

"For me to be able to pay tribute to him at Radio City Music Hall, once again, it was like, 'Hey man, here you go. Here's another shot on me,'" DeLaughter adds. "It was kind of poignant."

Bowie's relationship with the Poly Spree started in 2002, when he picked them out to perform at the Meltdown Festival he curated in London that summer. Two year later, he invited them to open for him on his U.S. tour. Ten days after the Poly Spree's leg of the tour had ended, Bowie suffered a heart attack. He made only a handful of live appearances for the rest of his life and never toured again. He died of cancer last January. 

"David was super cool to my group, to me. He was very down to earth, a great guy and very genuine," DeLaughter says. "I'll never forget him."

The Poly Spree have long included a cover of Bowie's "Five Years" in their live performances, but when it came time to pick a song for the tribute concert DeLaughter says the decision was a no-brainer. "They asked us which song we wanted to do and we were like, 'Why not do the one he chose for us to do with him?'" he says, referring to "Slip Away." "It ended up being the perfect choice."

The band hadn't performed the song since they'd played it with Bowie, and also hadn't played together since his death, so they needed to rehearse before making the trip to the East Coast — no easy task with a 30-piece band. On the spur of the moment, they decided to add part of the song "Sun Machine" on at the end. "We'd done all of this for one song, we could at least spice it up and put a little Polysphonic Spree stamp on it," DeLaughter admits. "It was kind of a renegade move because we didn't run it by [the organizers] first."

The Radio City Music Hall concert was the second of back-to-back concerts celebrating Bowie, and also the first time the Poly Spree had ever played there. The previous night had taken place at Carnegie Hall, but with artists including Michael Stipe, the Pixies, Robyn Hitchcock, the Flaming Lips and Cyndi Lauper on the bill, DeLaughter says the Radio City show was the better of the two.
"It was pretty, pretty great — pretty surreal. It was a great vibe in there and it's such a beautiful place," he says. He'd attended the previous night's show at Carnegie, which he says felt much more uptight. "The laws on what you can do in the place are really strict. You just could feel the weight of that."

The looseness on Friday night carried over to the after-party, where DeLaughter says there was a live house band playing Bowie songs. Different artists would jump on stage throughout the night to sing. He sang "Five Years." "We all threw down. Everybody had a great time," says DeLaughter. "Michael Stipe walked up to me and said, 'It was sublime. Just sublime.'”

Now a few months removed from Bowie's death, which came as a shock to almost everyone except for those in his inner circle, DeLaughter says the show was a cathartic experience. "In the middle of the song I just felt almost, I don't know, relieved and thankful all at same time," he says. "I was just present and in the moment. It felt really good, you know?"

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