'It's kind of like Laugh-In with the Polyphonic Spree as the soundtrack."
That's how Tim DeLaughter describes the Polyphonic Spree's Holiday Extravaganza, which comes to the Trocadero Friday night. But while Laugh-In of '60s TV possessed a skewed adult sensibility, the Polyphonic Spree aims for all ages, with animals, science demonstrations, cartoons, and other diversions.
"It's a family environment, for ages 1 to 92," DeLaughter says from a truck stop in Nevada, where the band is en route to a gig in Chicago.
DeLaughter formed the Polyphonic Spree 12 years ago in Dallas. The band comprises 18 or so members, including a choir, classical harp, flute, and French horn. They wear robes on stage (trading their traditional white for red ones for holiday shows) and radiate joy and playfulness. They're the perfect band for Christmas music, and although they have been presenting Christmas shows for 10 years in Dallas, the new Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holiday, Volume One is their first Christmas album, and this brief six-city tour is the first time they have done holiday shows outside their hometown.
"I can't believe it's taken us 12 years to make a Christmas record," DeLaughter says. "I love this one we did. What I like about it is that I don't think it's just for the holidays. It doesn't have the cliches of traditional Christmas records. To me, that's kind of refreshing. That's what we were going for, to not re-create the obvious, to change it up. That's why we took standards that have been played forever and changed the music and melody."
While "Silver Bells" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?/Carol of the Drum (Little Drummer Boy)" possess the celebratory crescendos and massed choirs that are the Spree's signature, much of Holidaydream is somber and dreamy. DeLaughter wrote new melodies for chestnuts such as "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow," and the focus is often on a shimmery harp and his helium vocals, with careful, subtle arrangements.
DeLaughter's favorite Christmas albums are classics from Bing Crosby, Mitch Miller, and Burl Ives, and the band played them to create a seasonal mood when recording the album in a sweltering Dallas summer. Those prerock orchestrations helped inspire the album, too.
"Polyphonic Spree tried to do some beautiful arrangements," DeLaughter says. "We did our homework."
The band is three-quarters finished with a new rock album that should see release next year, and at the Trocadero they will do both a holiday set and a rock set. The show will also feature a smorgasbord of other acts, many of them local, including the Franklin Institute Traveling Science Show, the Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels, and New York children's songwriter/artist Gustafer Yellowgold. It promises to be a carnivalesque holiday party.
"It's worth the money," DeLaughter says. "There's really nothing quite like it. People leave with a big smile on their face. People seem to have a really good time, and I'm just happy to bring Polyphonic Spree out on the road."