Until tonight, I hadn't mentally logged the O2 as a place of worship.
This was a band I was pretty excited to see. In case you don't remember the Spree, they were the ones with up to thirty members, French horns, all clad in white robes, which sounds a bit weird and affected when I describe it to people. And though most of their work that has entered the public consciousness was made a shocking thirteen years ago, tonight inspired one of the most rapturous crowd reactions I've seen in a long time.
Support came from indie/dream-pop act Hunck, fresh from the Reading Festival, who were slick and musically confident if self-deprecating in song - they thanked us for being gentle with them. The mood was even better set when our DJ started spinning Les Fleurs and the soundtrack from Hair, which now seems so obvious - but with that was established the atmosphere of gleeful abandon in which the Spree are best enjoyed.
So, to clarify, the Polyphonic Spree are not a cult - though you get the sense that front man Tim DeLaughter would have the charisma to gather a flock if he so desired. He and thirteen other Spree members took to the stage to present in full their debut album The Beginning Stages Of... and far from some slavish recreation of an artefact, this was an experience. DeLaughter's style is that of an ecstatic choir leader/conductor, and many of the songs have simple banner-like lyrics (about love, and the sun). Thus with wild performance directions and ventures into the crowd, he elicited a huge volume from a couple of hundred of us.
The album is uniquely ordered in that its hits are at the end, culminating in the biggest - so, way to get a crowd thoroughly warmed up. The songs seem to start mid-crescendo anyway, so by that final chorus, as much sound was coming from the audience as from the band. Speaking of whom, a fourteen-piece line-up can easily be excessive: however it seemed like every cello scrape, flute trill and guitar riff was integral to the sound.
One costume-change later, the Spree laid on more recent songs which made up for relative unfamiliarity with enthusiasm and ELO-esque rhythmic propulsion. It's easy to see in retrospect how this band acted as a midway point between the 90s freak-outs of the Flaming Lips, and this century's ensemble casts such as Arcade Fire and the devotional conceits of Sufjan Stevens. So when a sweat-drenched DeLaughter thanked us and his yogi (present), he had a lot of records to sign and lots of hugs to receive from followers.