Weekend concert previews

Friday, Oct. 1, 6 p.m.
Polyphonic Spree
The Kennedy Center South Plaza Stage

Dallas-based pop anomaly The Polyphonic Spree will perform a free outdoor concert as part of The Kennedy Center’s “Performing Arts for Everyone” series. Fluctuating between 22 and 24 members, the group includes orchestral instruments and an 8-10 member choir that sings to celebrate pure, unadulterated optimism. Critics have lauded the group for its innovation, positive message, genre and age-spanning versatility, while individuals also say they fear the band’s cult-like fa?ade.

Discussing the trademark, multicolored robes worn by each member, bassist Mark Pirro said, “I know they send out religious tones to some people. But we don’t have any sort of agenda in that department. It’s humbling in a way. It’s not like we’re trying to be a fashion show.” Polyphonic spawned from 70’s alterna-act Tripping Daisy, after guitar player Wes Berggren died of an accidental drug overdose. Pirro said that years later, lead singer Tom DeLaughter approached him to form a group around the name Polyphonic Spree, and the wide recruitment effort began. “Most people in the band are connected through either friends or family,” he said.

The band has racked up a good amount of publicity recently, seen on Apple iPod and Hewlett Packard commercials, multiple network talk shows and on David Bowie’s most recent nationwide tour. At the 2004 MTV Music Awards, Marilyn Manson and Mandy Moore introduced the robe-clad collection as “the white D12.”

“If Mandy and I had a love child (if she was old enough) this is what they’d look like,” Manson said. Moore also said that if there’s any justice in the world, Polyphonic Spree will be the music’s next big thing.

“Right now we’re kind of known for this wall of sound. It’s like a tidal wave of the sonic spectrum coming at you,” said Pirro, who announced the band’s plans to scale down its sound in the future and try simpler arrangements of instruments. “Also, the theatrical aspect is creeping its way into our show,” he said, explaining that the band may begin “residency-style touring,” in which various installments of the band or “Sprees” would stake out and perform multiple shows in major cities.

The “Performing Arts for Everyone” initiative has brought a wide variety of artists to the Kennedy Center every day for the past seven years. With most performances held on the Millennium stage, the venue has hosted more than 20,000 artists ranging from rock, experimental, jazz, orchestral and everything in between, more than 15,000 of which are D.C. based. Lines for the Oct. 1 Polyphonic Spree performance form 5 p.m. outside on the River Terrace. In the case of inclement weather, the concert will be held at the Grand Foyer on the Millenium Stage.

-Sacha Evans

Friday, Oct. 1, 1 p.m.
Jason Liebman and the Uprising
GW Tower Records

Fresh on the heels of the release of its new EP, Jason Liebman and the Uprising will hit up the on-campus Tower Records across the street from the Marvin Center for a special in-store performance. The performance is part of a two-year, mid-Atlantic tour that has extended the band’s fan base well beyond its native New York City. Liebman, a guitarist/singer/songwriter, began performing solo three years ago, eventually recording his debut LP The Driest of All Seasons. With 200 college stations adding the album into regular rotation, Liebman took to the road with a lineup including Jon Lundbom (guitar), Andrew Bain (drums) and Aaron Wolfe (bass/vocals). Soon after, the group felt that it was no longer a solo project and added “the Uprising” to its name.

“There’s a sense of unity, drive and common goal. It’s a real credit to our relationship as a band,” Liebman said. “You don’t see it with a lot of those big bands enjoying strippers backstage. We spend more time with each other than some of us spend with our own girlfriends.”

Liebman considers the new EP, Escape from the Heart of Darkness, to be one step in an increasingly group-centered songwriting process. “It was much more of a band thing,” he said. “We had been playing so much at that point that by the time we recorded this EP it was an entirely new lexicon of vocabulary.”

Among four other radio-friendly tracks, the new EP features “Radio,” a song that features Liebman’s falsetto crooning over top of Lundbom’s poppy guitar riffs. “Hated” is also striking, beginning as an acoustic ballad that gradually develops into a full-fledged rocker by the time it reaches its climax. In reviews, the band has often been compared to U2, and “the heartbroken, sensitive brooding of solo artists like Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, and John Mayer.” One fan even told the band at one point that they were “like Greenday, except good.”

Jeffrey Mirel, the band’s manager, said the band has performed roughly 25 shows a month for the past 10 months. “For every six shows, at least four are performed at small venues such as record stores and coffee houses,” he said. “They have been working with Borders and Starbucks on a national level.”

Despite the constant touring schedule, Jason Liebman and the Uprising still remain unsigned by any major label. “It’s tougher, definitely,” said Liebman of the band’s independent status, “But I think it builds a stronger fan-base. The people who gravitate towards us got to see us stripped down, playing in a cafe somewhere. We don’t necessarily have a hotel room booked. We often rely on meeting some cool people and crashing in someone’s living room.” Liebman says the goal has never been one of financial success. “The process is the goal,” he said, “We just want to share our music with as many people as we can.”

Jason Liebman and the uprising has additional D.C. shows scheduled Friday, Oct. 1 at Staccato Lounge, an afternoon performance on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Tenley Starbucks and at Soho Tea & Coffee later that evening.

-Tommy Siegel

Saturday, Oct. 2
Virginia Coalition – 9:30 Club

“Even music that I hate I like to laugh at,” said Andy Poliakoff, the lead singer of the band Virginia Coalition. Coming from most musicians, this statement might come off as a platitude, a variation on ‘I like all music.’ But then again, most musicians don’t front college-rock bands that cover Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”

Drawing from rock, hip-hop and jam band traditions, the band prides itself on eclecticism. “Alexandria, Virginia, where we grew up, had a very inclusive atmosphere,” Poliakoff said.

OK to Go, the band’s fourth album, marks a new chapter in the band’s creative development. “Before, we cared deeply about getting to a certain stage. Now that we feel like we’re on the precipice of being there, we feel responsible. That opportunity, that chance, that belief in a dream is coming to a head. Maybe it’s that we’ve come to understand that there’s something that we have that we want to say.”

Which is? “Positivity,” he said. “Believing in yourself and the people around you and wanting to share in something can provide you with the most beautiful amount of energy.”

As social activists, the band asks that people to bring canned goods to shows to donate to a food bank. Members are also involved with Rock the Vote. “It’s mainly helping people to wake up,” Poliakoff said.

But don’t let the high-mindedness fool you – the band hasn’t lost touch with the banal. The front page of their website features someone holding the new CD and the “Different Strokes” box-set.

“We put that on there as a joke, because we like to take the piss out of ourselves,” Poliakoff said. “It’s not picking up the 9/11 Report. It’s Gary Coleman.”

-Jeffrey Parker

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