BY FRED MILLS
Spacemen 3 fans can rightly be characterized as “long suffering”: the Rugby, England, drone/psych monsters imploded before reaching their full potential—although subsequent sonic investigations by offshoots Spiritualized, Spectrum, E.A.R., Darkside, Slipstream, etc. certainly yielded multiple mental fruits—and while there have been numerous posthumous releases, those sundry collections of demos/outtakes and live sets tended to be either mere shadows of the original albums or of only so-so sound quality. Though there are several classic singles (notably 1988’s “Revolution” and one near-perfect full-length (1987’s Playing With Fire) in the Spacemen 3 back catalog, that’s barely enough to toss the term “legacy” around unchallenged. Guitarist Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember has periodically hoisted the S3 flag skyward, once even mounting a Spectrum tour in which he performed mostly material from his former band, but with his erstwhile creative foil Jason Pierce apparently having vowed to never utter the bandname in public again once his Spiritualized earned enough fame to eclipse the mother ship, each passing year makes it more and more likely that Spacemen 3 will one day be but a vague memory of greying/balding shoegaze acolytes.
Still we persist in our obsession, and this year we received an early Xmas treat in the form of Live At the New Morning, Geneva, Switzerland, 05.18.1989 via Swedish custom label Mental Groove. Recorded at the aforementioned venue a quarter-century ago, it finds Sonic Boom, Jason “J. Spaceman” Pierce & Co. in superb, if smoked-up, form, from the trance-inducing anthem “Things Will Never Be the Same” to the revved-up “Bo Diddley Jam” paired with the Motor-city-riffic “Revolution” (which, sharp eyes will recall, was famously covered by Mudhoney) through the final half-hour long motorik dronefest “Suicide.”
The set presented here, is as it was…except the show was twice this length. We tuned and smoked for almost as long as we played.”—Sonic Boom
His comment in the liner notes is apt; the hour-long set presented here apparently also included a good deal of not-necessarily-superfluous tuning up and fucking around (particularly midway through “Suicide,” which Sonic adds involved “taped down keys and feeding back guitars propped against our speaker cabs [while we went] back down to the already too familiar dressing room. We rolled large smokes and cracked fresh drinks [then] re-appeared on stage… Extending the maelstrom as bloody mindedly as we could.” (For purposes of releasing this album, the errant noises and whatnot have been edited from the show.)
Bloody minded is right: these guys could make a right royal racket on even the most “off” of off-nights. Geneva was definitely not an off-night, what with The Perfect Prescription’s killer opening cut “Take Me To The Other Side” rewired for the concert stage with an almost feral ferocity and the aforementioned “Revolution” getting revved up to such near-Stooges velocity that you’re basically exhausted by the time side 1 has finished. That 29:55 is matched by side 2’s “Suicide,” which induces a listener’s trance of such tension that by the 15 minute mark you’re practically leaning forward in your seat, begging for a climax.
Rather than allow catharsis, however, the band simply… winds down, fades out, and shuts off, which is exactly how most drug trips end anyway. It must have been quite an experience to see Spacemen 3 in the flesh, because the group’s stated intention was to reproduce the drug experience.
The 1989 trek across Europe was in support of that year’s Playing With Fire album and there have already been several documentations both official and unofficial of that tour, in particular the Bomp! label’s 1995 release Live in Europe 1989. In that regard, Live at the New Morning doesn’t really offer any surprises, and the sound quality, while on par with the Bomp! title, isn’t particularly revelatory, either. (Also, when you try to cram a half hour onto a single LP side you are automatically somewhat compromised: releasing this as a 2-LP set might’ve made it a pricey affair, but speaking as someone who has heard a lot of live S3 recordings, I would have gladly ante’d up.) But for all those so-called long-suffering fans out there, it’s still an essential addition to the collection. Grab it, roll some large smokes, crack some fresh drinks, and cue it up.
DOWNLOAD: “Revolution,” “Things Will Never Be The Same”