Space 2011... (l-r) Franny Griffiths, Phil Hartley, Ryan Clarke, Tommy Scott, Jamie Murphy, Allan Jones
Review: Space at O2 Academy Liverpool
Published on December 23rd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Liverpool odd-pop heroes Space made their first major step back into the spotlight a memorable one with a show so electrifyingly triumphant and ecstatically received that the band members themselves were evidently taken aback.
Having gone their separate ways in 2005 after falling out of record company favour – a tale discussed at length in Rocksucker’s recent in-depth interview with the band – founder members Tommy Scott, Jamie Murphy and Franny Griffiths reconvened at the funeral of original drummer Andy Parle in 2009 and announced a few months ago their intentions to resuscitate Space as a going concern.
Messrs Scott, Murphy, Griffiths and new drummer Allan Jones were enthusiastic about their forthcoming activity when we spoke to them, and if last night’s breakneck performance at their hometown’s O2 Academy is anything to go by then this comeback is set to go way beyond the realms of mere nostalgia.
“A Little Biddy Help from Elvis”
Let it be known that Space have reinvented themselves to spectacular effect. They look different, particularly by dint of Scott’s suave red blazer and Elvis quiff combo, and the respective distinctions of new bassist Phil Hartley’s yellow string beard and new ‘vintage keys’ player Ryan Clarke’s fez-topped orange locks. They sound different, a ska-punk energy coursing through the new songs and breathing new life into old favourites.
“Surface of the Sun”
And, what’s more, they are different: different, that is, to every other band in existence. Uniqueness and damn fine tunes make tremendous bedfellows, and Space are back with a brand new strand of this to alienate the overly earnest and exhilarate the fun-lovers. Last night, a jam-packed O2 Academy crowd demonstrated their exhilaration most vocally, at once feeding off the band’s boundless enthusiasm and setting them up to have quite possibly the best time that Rocksucker has ever seen a group of musicians share together onstage.
Proceedings got underway with breakneck renditions of erstwhile album tracks “Mister Psycho” and “A Little Biddy Help from Elvis”, the pace never in danger of inducing shambolic performance thanks in large part to the expert musicianship of the three new members. Moving swiftly on, the monumental croon-along of “Money” (from 1996 debut album Spiders) was sandwiched by new numbers “Surface of the Sun” and “Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab”, the latter both destined for ‘crowd-pleaser’ status and purported by the band to be the title track of their forthcoming album. We can but hope.
The whole venue then went absolutely primate-poo to 1998 top ten hit “Avenging Angels”, still wearing that Marlene Dietrich mid-section like a big old badge marked GENIUS, before another brand new instant classic was aired in the form of the ever-so-Space-ily titled “She’s in Love With a Boy in a Bodybag”, whose call-and-response barks of “bodybag” filled Rocksucker’s heart with such joy that a muck-munching grin was entirely unavoidable. Looking around at a sea of delirious, bouncing faces, it would seem that we weren’t alone in this.
Birthday boy Murphy then got in on the lead vocal act with the rollicking “Bad Witness”, reminding everyone that standing alongside Scott’s consummate showmanship is as natural a rock star as you’re ever likely to encounter. Murphy was in superb form all night, geeing up the crowd, good-naturedly hassling his bandmates and even at one point head-butting his microphone mid-song (not to mention such facetiously tongue-in-cheek proclamations as “We’re well better than Cast” and “All the other bands in Liverpool are pretentious wankers”). This yin and yang effect always made Space such a compelling two-headed beast, but it could not operate were it not woven so expertly together by Griffiths’ ingenious layers of electronic colours, textures and intuitive counter-melodies.
Of the new members (all culled from Scott-led splinter group The Drellas), Hartley’s snarling, whirlwind presence on double bass may have been the hardest to reconcile with what we know and love about Space, but, removed from its presumably most natural environment of sweat-soaked ska-punk club nights, it could scarcely have been more enthralling to witness. This man is a star; and, like his fellow newbies, a damn fine musician to boot.
A bizarre reimagining of “Dark Clouds” ensued before Murphy took lead vocal duties on Scott-recorded 2002 single “Zombies”, moving on to a glorious run-through of his own could/should-have-been-single “One O’Clock” (from 1998 second album Tin Planet), itself sandwiched by two more new songs – namely “Anthony’s Brainwaves” and “Cash Converters” – that point towards Space’s forthcoming album being the surprise hit of 2012. Like we said: this ain’t no nostalgia act crawling out the woodwork.
Murphy’s Thatcher-baiting masterstroke “No One Understands” was given a thrillingly pumping makeover, berserk new ‘un “Frightened Horses” saw Scott appropriating Nick Cave’s knack for commanding story-telling, and then classic single “Female of the Species” brought the house down, Scott wading into the adoring crowd and very nearly failing to emerge from it intact, if at all. As he crouched on the edge of the stage, a grinning Murphy shaped to boot him up the arse and over, wisely restricting the gesture to a shared joke with a funky flashing glasses-clad Griffiths, himself in typically relaxed good humour throughout.
Morricone-esque mini-epic “Begin Again” was tacked suitably onto the end of a spoken acknowledgement of the band’s resurrection, while early hit “Neighbourhood” sparked yet more sing-along rapture before they fled the stage with their thanks for the clearly humbling levels of support (“We thought about three people would turn up tonight,” said Murphy).
They then returned for a double bass-enriched rendition of stellar b-side “Spiders”, a vigorous cover of Roy Orbison classic “Pretty Woman” (dedicated by Murphy to “all the little fitties”), a romp through fans’ favourite “Me and You Versus the World” (dedicated by Murphy to his mother, who has not been well) and, finally, for good measure, a repeat airing of “Female of the Species”, which even included a brief blast of accidental feedback so piercing that it almost destroyed everything and everyone in an eighty-mile radius.
Emotions naturally ran high on this remarkably triumphant return, not least when images of fallen Space cadet Parle were projected onto the back of the stage. “We wouldn’t be here now without him,” attested Murphy, with whom we spoke at some length about Parle’s influence and distinctive working methods in this interview a few months after he passed away.
If the night threw up any sort of disappointment, it was for Rocksucker that ultimately unreleased 2000 album Love You More Than Football was entirely unrepresented in the set; indeed, the introduction of “Zombies” as being “from our third album, Suburban Rock ‘N’ Roll” confirmed the band’s disinclination to even acknowledge a body of work that for various reasons they clearly have no time for.
This is a shame as, in our humble opinion, it would still sound fresh and exuberant even if it were to be released tomorrow. The ecstatic rush of Scott’s “Yes You Do”, sweeping majesty of Murphy’s “Gravity” and funky party-psych of Griffiths’ “Juno 54” would all go down a storm in a live setting, but these are minor gripes to wrangle out of what was a hugely enjoyable and successful night for band and crowd alike.
All in all, last night’s show felt like the arrival to prominence of a truly exciting new band who just so happen to be blessed with a deep well of killer past material from which to draw. That Space are a band like no other was resoundingly reflected in what was a comeback like no other, and their destiny may now deviate from going quietly and underappreciated into the night.
Click here to read Rocksucker’s in-depth interview with Space! For more information, please visit spacetheband.com