Spacehog– THE DEAF INSTITUTE, MANCHESTER – 

Many things were lost in the noise of Britpop and grunge – bands that otherwise would have stood out as special were overlooked in the search for the next Oasis, the next Nirvana. Spacehog are a band who straddled the Atlantic with a toe in each of these scenes, without ever really being in one camp or the other.

Although having achieved significant success, including topping the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks for four weeks with their single ‘In The Meantime’, it feels to me as though Spacehog never quite achieved the success they merited, especially in the UK – and especially considering the success that The Darkness achieved a few years ago.

Spacehog was formed by four Englishmen in New York – a shared status which undoubtedly inspired the name of their first album Resident Alien – the band seem comfortable in their role as outsiders, openly exploring themes of homosexuality and venturing that little bit further than most other mainstream bands do in to the sentimental, the avant garde and the almost-comical. This makes them a lot more human as a group – which could perhaps explain their relative lack of success in a world where rock bands always seem to be marketed as “other”, aloof and mysterious.

Marketing, eh… It’s got a lot to answer for – not least of all the whole “Oasis vs Blur” thing – the visceral versus the intellectual – similar, really to asking people whether they preferred The Beatles in their early, straight pop phase, or whether you prefer their later, more challenging material.

Really, though this is like saying “breathing is better than eating”, since music which offers us nothing new, and doesn’t stimulate402406_10150605472603799_30633706_n the mind is just a fleeting experience and on the other hand, listening to music which doesn’t make us feel anything is a purely academic exercise. Both extremes are still valid, of course, but for me, all great music must combine the two.

Spacehog do a fine job of mixing the two – although they fall certainly in to the more mentally-stimulating category along with bands like Blur, Radiohead and the Divine Comedy: drawing on multiple influences, defying attempts to nail them to a particular genre, counterbalancing rock, punk and post-grunge with sing-along choruses, clever arrangements and emotional and heartfelt lyrics.

It’s been more than ten years since I listened to Spacehog with any regularity – before they released third album The Hogyssey, but I am looking forward to this gig a lot.

Support band Slow Reading Club are very 80s influenced, at first reminding me of Joy Division, and later of Franz Ferdinand with all the hope and positivity sucked out. Meant in a generous way, Slow Reading Club do upbeat hopelessness – a sort of motorway melancholy, if you’ll forgive the abstraction. The songs are driving and relentless – although they avoid plodding, and do throw some grunge quiet-loud dynamics in there now and again.

Lots of strong choruses, and catchy, simple motifs define the vocals – and the rest of the band do a good job of consistently providing a solid, though somewhat monotone backdrop for the singer to lay over some melody and provide a definite focus for the audience.

Then come Spacehog, who immediately have the aura of a big band – that je ne sais quoi which brings a level of excitement just from watching them take the stage. There is a good balance of songs across their set – showcasing the variety that Spacehog offer: the ballad-like qualities of the opener ‘Beautiful Girl’ and the poppy appeal of ‘Zeroes’ and ‘In The Meantime’; the gentleness of piano-driven tunes like ‘Deceit’; the all-out rocking qualities of ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Try to Remember’ and the reckless abandon of ‘Mungo City’ and ‘Never Coming Down (Part 2)’.

 A tip of the cap to the sound engineer at Deaf Institute, who quietly does a great job of managing the desk tonight, managing a singer whose range goes from almost-whispers to full on shouting, and getting a massive, thick, warm wall of noise out of both of the two guitars. When the band are playing, there’s something in the air, and you can almost hear a big venue full of cheering people hiding somewhere just behind the music. It’s almost disorienting on the several occasions where I suddenly remember that I’m in a venue with less than a hundred people.

Listening to their latest album, As It Is on Earth it’s hard to see Spacehog hitting the big time again – their edge seems to have diminished a little, replaced by a more measured and technical approach to their music and more measured and consistent songwriting style, exemplified by the brooding a cappella harmonies and delicate arrangement of ‘Deceit’. Still, it’s more than just a novelty “blast from the past” to see them play tonight – a genuinely warm and inclusive experience that I wish more people had been there to share.

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I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.