Every time I mentioned to someone (including my mother) that I was going to see Spacehog at Mercury Lounge, they said, “I loved that song they had! What was it called again?” The song in question, of course, is the mid-90s super-hit, “In the Meantime,” from their debut album Resident Alien (1995). Spacehog represented a 90s reinvention of glam-rock. Their songs could have been conceived by T-Rex or David Bowie, yet their layered distortions could only have been born of the glory days of alternative rock. “In the Meantime” was one of those iconic standouts that became anthems of the 90s, like The Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom” or Blind Melon’s “No Rain.”
On the night of February 26 (in the year 2013), Mercury Lounge was packed. The crowd was a mix of college-age hipsters drinking Bud Light out of plastic cups, and thirty-somethings (like myself) who actually remember the wiry Brit-rockers from their MTV days, when they played their hearts out to a group of bored, pierced, be-goggled alternakids in the video for “Meantime.”
Brooklyn foursome Camera2 opened the show, celebrating their first New York performance by blasting through their set with a precision that could only come from such experienced performers. The vocals of frontman and guitarist Andy Chase (formerly of Smashing Pumpkins), combined with bassy backbeats and soaring synth, make Camera2 sound like a more electronically-minded Spoon. They closed with their hookiest song, “Just About Made It,” which had premiered that day as part of a nine-video series on Vice’s music site, Noisey; it has since been released as the title track on their debut 3-song single, now available for download.
Spacehog took the stage looking like Dick Tracy villains in their coordinated blue, cherry, emerald and mustard-colored suits. Lead singer and bassist Royston Langdon started the set by joking, “Well, we’ve got another record…finally.” It has been awhile. Spacehog released two albums after Resident Alien—1998′s The Chinese Album and 2001′s The Hogyssey—and then took a decade-long break to pursue side projects and life offstage.
Their set started out with “Beautiful Girl,” a slow-building, rock love ballad that entranced the audience while also sparking a hunger for the harder stuff. From there it was a mix of old and new, as they played euphoric space-rock fantasties from Alien, like “Starside” and “Zeroes,” Hogyssey‘s “I Want to Live,” and new singles like “Try to Remember,” from their long-awaited fourth album As It Is On Earth, due out in April. The recently released single, “Glad to Know,” was a show-stopper, highlighting the grandeur of Spacehog’s sound with rollicking piano, female backup vocals and a stomping beat.
As the opening notes of “In the Meantime” twinkled away, Langdon introduced his band-mates by name—Timo Ellis on rhythm guitar, Richard Steele on lead and Jonny Cragg on drums. As soon as Langdon’s unforgettable bassline kicked in, the crowd cheered, whipped out their phones and tried to capture a little piece of rock history. Some artists seem bothered by playing their hits, or the songs that brought them the most commercial success, but Langdon and company, in their sweat-through suits, played it with love and appreciation for their fans, and the satisfaction of knowing they had created something timeless.
One of my favorite quirks of Mercury Lounge is that the band actually has to walk through the crowd to get backstage. After closing with “Shipwrecked,” another favorite from ’95, Spacehog waded through fans, and disappeared through a back doorway. The crowd began to chant—“Space-hog! Space-hog!”—but the lights came up and the house music played.
As It Is On Earth promises a return to the glammy, symphonic Spacehog we know and love, as they reunite with Resident Alien producer Bryce Goggin. The album will be released on April 16, but you can catch them live in New York before that—they play Arlene’s Grocery on April 11.