While Camp Bisco provided a glimpse of what was to come on this highly-anticipated evening; nothing could have prepared us for what we witnessed at Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday night. If you are a follower of all things Shpongle, or simply love being taken to another realm through music, performance, and spectacle, then this was the place for you.
A quick debriefing for those not in “the know” – Shpongle is a downtempo/psy-trance outfit that hails from Shpongleland (or England, if you want to get technical). While the Live band seems to have rotated members here and there over the years, at the core is Simon Posford and Raja Ram. From what I gather from my experience with listening to Shpongle, reading about them, and so on and so forth, Simon is The Creator of the sound, composition, and instrumentation. But Simon’s creations coalesce with the other important aspect of what is at the core of Shpongle; namely, Raja’s infinite wisdom to conceptualize music, and that oh-so-beautiful sounding flute. What they have created is something otherworldly; incorporating many subgenres of world music (namely traditional tribal, Indian, Moroccan, etc.) into their downtempo/psychedelic/ trance sound, which can only be aptly named as all that is truly Shpongle.
Back to Hammerstein Ballroom. After a wait in line that seemed to teeter on the brink of forever and ever, I finally got into the show with minutes to spare to find my people. Let me get this out of the way now; I am sorry for any of you that missed any of the show due to Hammerstein securities inability to get people into the venue. Whether it was due to lack of preparation, man-power, or whatever the case may be, it was truly poor form. And you couldn’t even get outside to get a breath of fresh air. Absolutely ridiculous – I hope somebody that runs Hammerstein is reading this, because if you are, you guys seriously need to get your act together. That was horrible.
I digress….aside from that, everything was incredible. It was Halloween weekend, and people were dressed for the occasion. It was a great weekend for Shpongle to bring their live show to NYC. All the creatures were out and about; and packed in like a can of sardines. Opening with “Ineffable Mysteries” brought the crowd to attention immediately, and the ceremonies commenced nicely. A perfect song to open with (as the lyrics so aptly point out), since we were all “strangers in paradise….entering Shpongleland”. And enter we most certainly did. Whether you were prepared for it, or not, it was on. Moving along, “Dorset Perception” came along with its Latin influenced guitar work. Pete Callard, who has played with Shpongle Live in the past, is a fantastic guitarist, and can always be relied upon with his spot-on licks.
As Shpongle tore through their set list, I couldn’t stop staring at the vibrant colored costumed dancers that accompanied each song. The dancers looked like some strange Inuit/Indian phantasms that just landed from planet Ziptar. If I had taken hallucinogens (wait, did I?), I may have thought that aliens abducted me and brought me back to their home planet to partake in some ceremonial dance ritual. There was even a multi-colored, dancing Slinky onstage….yes, you read correctly, a Slinky with dance moves. Anything that one may have needed to go THERE was there. Did anyone say lasers? Oh yeah, they had lasers too; and amazing ones at that. No one could possibly complain that we got short-changed, because nothing could be further from the truth. Shpongle pulled out their whole bag of tricks, and then some.
As the show continued, I stood in awe at what I was seeing onstage. It wasn’t just a concert, this was an all-out performance; a spectacle truly brought to life by the collective creative genius of Simon Posford and Raja Ram. New York City and its inhabitants are no strangers to some weird shit, but THIS was definitely something else; something beautiful, yet twisted; light, yet dark, in some ways. But in life, as well as with Shpongle, one cannot truly understand one without the other. All the elements need to be accepted in order to appreciate the experience.
Songs from Ineffable Mysteries seemed to dominate the show. The latter part of the set showcased a block from this album, consisting of “No Turn Unstoned”/”I Am You”/”Invisible Man in a Fluorescent Suit” and “Electroplasm”. This also gave the chance for Michele Adamson (my secret crush; well, maybe not-so-secret anymore), and Abigail Gorton to showcase their angelic pipes. There are some that may not appreciate the vocal-driven songs that make up a greater part of Ineffable Mysteries; I, however, am not one of those people. Adamson and Gorton bring a transcendental beauty to these songs, with their ethereal vocals and lyrics. I would also like to say that the addition of Sir Joe Russo to the Shpongle Live experience was absolutely brilliant; Simon, great thinking. Russo is one of the best drummers around, and I have seen him with The Duo, GRAB, Electron, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, Furthur, Younger Brother, and now twice with Shpongle, and the dude can seriously play the kit. He is a beast, and makes every project he is in that much better. I just had to say that.
What better way to set the stage for the end, than with a little DMT? I meant “Divine Moments of Truth” people, though there was plenty of what you’re thinking about being inhaled at Hammerstein, as well. The epic track from the 1998 album Are You Shpongled? hit on all cylinders. Since this track contains a vocal sample of Raja Ram describing the psychedelic effects of DMT, I guess it is apropos that a large minority fired it up at this stage of the show. After a resounding applause, with a “Happy Birthday Simon” thrown in, Shpongle returned to the stage for their final encore. Opening the encore with “Beija Flor”, everybody took their place aboard the rocket ship to Shpongleland. Technically, this song is a 3-part track from Nothing Lasts….But Nothing is Lost consisting of the songs “Botanical Dimensions”/”Outer Shpongolia” and “Levitation Nation”. I was extremely happy to get this, as the 3rd part of this song “Levitation Nation” puts a smile on my face from ear to ear. “Around the World in a Tea Daze” appropriately finished the ride, sending the uber-pleased crowd into the New York night, and looking to party some more.
I have heard rumors that Shpongle Live may be making a return to the States next year after the release of their next album. I know it is mere speculation, but I would love for this rumor to come true. Nothing would make me happier. What Simon and Raja bring to the table, along with their Shpongle cohorts, truly is “total and utter cosmic stuff”. I have been Shpongle’d….and I loved every second of it.
Written by Chris Meyer