With their edgy guitar riffage, ominous organ and tight rhythmic assault, the Space Merchants are sort of the missing link between the Stooges and X, with frequent detours into stoner riff-rock and long, hypnotic, vortical jams in the same vein as the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Black Angels. They’re headlining a benefit for Planned Parenthood on March 4 at 10:30 PM at Union Hall; first-rate honkytonk songwriter Cliff Westfall opens the night at 8:30, followed by Tatters and Rags, who veer between plaintive Jayhawks Americana, honkytonk and cowpunk. Cover is $10.
The last time this blog and the Space Merchants were in the same place, it was in early November at St. Vitus. They opened with a low-key, purposeful stoner 70s riff-rocker that they suddenly took doublespeed, with a hypnotically pounding jam, like the Black Angels at their ballsiest.
Their second number had a fast backbeat from drummer Carter Logan, uneasy close harmonies from guitarist Michael Guggino and keyboardist Ani Monteleone; it was as if John Doe and Exene teamed up with the Stooges right at the point where Iggy went AWOL and checked into rehab. Guggino’s biting bluesmetal interspersed with bassist Aileen Brophy’s catchy, serpentine riffs against Monteleone’s tornado-on-the-horizon organ.
The next song was the reverse image of that, opening with a stomping swing that Guggino took halfspeed with a simmering, slide-fueled southern vibe. The band brought back the X harmonies on the song afterward, a stomping, swaying anthem, part Paperback Writer Beatles, part Deep Purple, Guggino playing through a repeaterbox patch, then hitting his wah pedal for a long raga solo as the organ rose to a flood warning behind him. Monteleone took over lead vocals as the song lurched toward heavy MC5 territory,Guggino veering between unhinged blues, wry hammer-ons and some murderous tremolo-picking.
From there they mashed up Steppenwolf and early Destroy All Monsters, hit a brief bass-and-drums interlude and segued into a burning, swaying midtempo song akin to Sonics Rendezvous Band covering one of the more cowpunk-flavored tunes on X’s Wild Gift album. They took it out with shimmering sheets of feedback.
The night’s last song brought to mind the Stooges’ Johanna with a woman out in front of the band; then they took it in a macabre Blue Oyster Cult direction. All night long, Guggino had been generating some of the most delicious low-midrange sounds heard at any rock show in town: was he splitting his signal between a Fender Twin and an ancient, unidentifiable, vintage sandstone-colored amp behind him? It was impossible to tell – St. Vitus always has great sound, anyway. The Union Hall show should be even more intense since the basement room there is a lot smaller.