When lead singer Tim DeLaughter stuck his head out of the tour bus to see what the racket was all about as we approached the Concorde, I couldn’t help worrying which man was going to turn up tonight. The lecherous drug-fuelled Texan I’d read about, or the man whose voice can be relied on to soothe the mind and delight the spirit.
I’m aware they divide opinion. If you are the kind of person who simply doesn’t see the point of their ‘choral symphonic pop rock’ - who might sum up the band as toga wearing tossers’ and are reading this online - do feel free to skip ahead to the comments now and get good and purple. But if, like the people lucky enough to be here tonight, there’s a quickening of the pulse at the first parp of a Spree brass then read on, because there was pleasure and treasure here.
And there were rituals to be enjoyed even before they came on stage. The bell–ringing, top hat wearing circus ringmaster in the corner announced the bands imminent arrival with some linguistic gymnastics and a blanket of balloons, whilst a banner stretched across the full length of the stage. The crackle of excitement fizzed through the venue as Tim cut his way through the declaration of love for support bands MT and Plastic Dots, and there they were; this magnificent constellation of horns, string, guitars and joy. On stage was a pared down version of the full band; a mere 14 people and only 4 in the choir. Minus the usual white gowns, but in their ragbag collection of tie-dye, beads and smocks, they managed to look even more like the Manson family than ever.
When he was last here in Brighton, Tim literally walked among us in that pseudo-messianic fashion he basks in. I was lucky enough to touch his arm; pompous, bombastic, utterly compelling. Ten years on he’s fatter, with crow’s feet round his eyes, and apparently troubled by facial tics and twitches. Some of that self assuredness has been replaced with some self effacing humour, and an endearing sense of perspective. His wry smiles to no-one in particular as he sung about time slipping by, and getting old, hinted at a new found vulnerability.
But Tim is still a fresh and smart performer, and he spent most of the night standing on the monitors at the front; arms wide or punching the air, imploring us to be inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, full of homespun truths about love, family, smiling, staying positive and growing trees. And he made regular forays into the crowd, having us silent and sitting like a Streets gig, before compelling us upwards in an explosion of arms, legs, beer and blissful sweat.
But all those hedonistic hours of abuse and danger may have taken its toll. At times he seemed confused as to how to stretch out his arms and hold the mike in front of his face at the same time. After a dozen years performing this seemed quite something, if also charming. And the between-song conversations usually slipped into streams of consciousness where he would often come to a full-stop, having lost all sense of where he was going or what he was talking about. Imploring us to bring a griddle to the beach the following day, and his insistence we ask the bar staff to charge less for Vodka red bull, courtesy of the band, spring readily to mind. This insanity led to the one dark cloud in an otherwise sunny sky, when he made some puerile ‘hide the sausage’ innuendo towards the Spree’s female choir, which despite the obvious love in the room, was met with a satisfying smattering of boos.
The band picked their way through all five albums, including some curious covers (Dreamer by Supertamp and Neil Diamond’s Oh What a Night). But he brought the house down with first album favourites Light and Day and Soldier Girl, whilst the final song, Nirvana’s Lithium, threatened to rip the Concorde from its foundations and send us headlong into the sea, such was the force of the band and the bouncing in the crowd. Watching one of the band swinging her double bass over her head has to be a first.
For all the New-Age Nuremburg rally accusations thrown at the band, as I was jumping up and down, and the rest of the bar was jumping up and down, everyone’s face positively stupid, it occurred to me that this band, above all else, are fun. They take people to a new, great, wonderful world; a place who you can be happier than you ever dreamed possible.
So if you don’t get this stuff – or if you can’t for instance see what’s genuinely uplifting about Reach for the Sun – then pass on by. But if you do, they seem to be staying for a while, so make sure you catch them at a festival this summer, while you still can.