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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."