Live: Space Monkeys Too Loud For Wimpy U. S. Crowd

During one of their first U. S. shows, British combo prove they've got what it takes.

ASBURY PARK, N.J. -- The Saint nightclub here is becoming a place of rock

'n' roll legend -- one of those renowned, hole-in-the-wall clubs

where tiny crowds gather to discover sounds before the rest of the

mainstream world.

Behind the bar, a framed photo of the Ben Folds Five cramped onto the

Saint stage sits among old, discarded ticket stubs with names such as

"The Deftones" and "Jill Sobule" printed on them -- mementos of a time

when about 100 people came by, paid the $5 cover charge and

bothered to care. G Love and Special Sauce did time here. So did Fun

Lovin' Criminals. Jewel once yodeled to a Saint crowd of about 40

people.

So years from now, it might not be surprising to see a photo of Space

Monkeys lead singer / guitarist Richard McNevin-Duff on display. Tiny

bands play the Saint on a nightly basis. Once in a while, the promoter

gets lucky and a radio hit erupts days before show time. Like New York's

C.B.G.B.'s or Los Angeles' Viper Room, the Saint is where stars come to

shoot.

On Saturday night, the Space Monkeys took off.

Unfortunately, so did about a third of the audience, plugging their

ears and forming a grimaced conga-line to the door just minutes into the

band's second-ever stateside performance. From the shrill opening chords

of "Acid House Killed Rock And Roll" (RealAudio excerpt), it was clear that the Space

Monkeys are all about volume. However, it was just as obvious that the

audience, most of which had gathered for one of the two local opening

acts, weren't.

That puzzled Factory Records founder Tony Wilson, who said loud, blatant

music is still standard in England. Wilson, who signed Joy

Division and the Happy Mondays and brought them international notice in the '80s,

flew to America to watch his latest discovery -- which he described as the

most exciting band he's seen in years -- play their first shows here.

Two years ago, Wilson got so excited about the band, that he pretty much reestablished the Factory

label to sign them. Through a distribution deal with

Interscope, the Space Monkeys' debut album, The Daddy Of Them All,

landed in America about a month ago. "Sugar Cane," the band's

infectious single, has since climbed up modern rock and dance charts

across the country (it can be viewed right now at the SonicNet Streamland site).

"Were they loud," Wilson asked afterward, fingering through band photos

for a new pressing of the Space Monkeys debut. "I thought they were

rather quiet, myself. They play much louder than that at home. Much,

much more abrasive and louder."

Nevertheless, a good set of ear plugs was all anyone needed to see that

the Space Monkeys are worth paying attention to. McNevin-Duff is a star.

And the rest of the band, especially DJ / keyboardist Tony Pipes,

give great backup. Their sound -- a brash blend of British house sounds,

Manchester sonics, hip-hop splices and punk whine -- translates magically in person.

However, their "look" -- McNevin-Duff's classic, lazy stance at the

mic, Pipes' Terminator X-ish turntable antics and drummer Chris

Morrison's haphazard arm movements -- was moderately familiar. Sure, you've seen this all before.

Just not all at once.

Opening with the blistering "Acid House Killed Rock And Roll," McNevin-Duff

strapped on his guitar and littered the room with poppy, white noise.

Throughout the show, McNevin-Duff supplied a crashing cluster of guitar

pop, blowing through the jangly "Dance Music" with a flare of stringwork

and wisps of blatant feedback. Bassist Dom Morrison kept the buzz in

check, while turntable maestro Pipes and drummer Chas Morrison provided

blocking, thumping beats. During "Blowing Down The Stylus" (which

McNevin dedicated to Biggie Smalls) it coalesced into a vigorous blanket

of sound. "When you gonna wake up, when you gonna make your mark,"

McNevin-Duff strained, his neck stretched a la Liam Gallagher toward

the microphone. "Do you wanna be a comet or are you happy just bein' a

spark?"

Though difficult to pull off live, "Sugar Cane" was blemished only by

Pipes' inability to get the song's Public Enemy sample to track

properly. Instead, he improvised with some classic scratching -- tossing

a vinyl LP over his shoulder, using his spare arm to anchor a headphone

to his left ear. Drummer Morrison keyed in for chorus vocals, taking

McNevin-Duff's deep croon to a sweeter pitch.

"March Of The Scarecrows," another brazen wave of noise, also went

smooth -- albeit through a pair of venue-issued ear plugs (which, adding

to the sonic atmosphere, glowed beneath the club's collection of

blacklights). During "Scarecrows," McNevin-Duff's fanciful guitar playing

pitched in at a new high; Pipes' scratching and the drum and bass

Morrison brothers created a shrill onslaught of melody.

However, there were exceptions to the Space Monkey's barrage of tension.

"Inside My Soul" and "Dear Dhinus" are curious ballads, with sweet

guitars and keyboards cut into heavy drum loops and an array of spooky

bass lines. "Behind the writer of this song," McNevin-Duff crooned

during "Dhinus," "are a thousand love affairs gone wrong..." "Let It

Shine," a track from The Daddy Of Them All, which the band didn't

perform live, also follows the same formula: infectious and melodic, yet

dripping with electronic pulse and modernism.

For just their second American performance, the young Space Monkeys

fared well, despite the massive crowd exodus and a rather slow response

from the 50 or so who remained. Factory's Wilson, who almost 10 years

ago arrived on the East Coast carrying a then-young New Order and Happy

Mondays clan with him, said that he was nonetheless pleased with the

performance.

"My memory is getting worse as I'm getting older," he remarked

afterward. "But this seems to be better than the feeling of bringing

New Order to Hoboken or the Happy Mondays to the Limelight. This was

more exciting to me than that was. 'Sugar Cane' is hard to play live --

yet this was the first time I'd heard it done properly.

"Maybe they were too loud," Wilson said, responding to a few complaints

about the decibel level and one associate's advice that the band "tone

it down" for Monday's performance at Manhattan's Mercury Lounge.

"You see," he reasoned. "In England, it's still a physical experience.

Although the Space Monkeys are dance and hip-hop and a whole lot of

other sounds, it's still all rock 'n' roll. It's nice to know that." [Mon., Dec. 1, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]