Friday, May 11, 2007

Space Needle (1995)

At first glance, the inclusion of both Varnaline and Space Needle on this list might seem to be a gratuitous nod to my friends...but it's not. They both remind me of the beginning of a period that I was turned on to a wealth of new music that, of course, was much better than the Spin Doctors. Space Needle, though, more than any other band, including the Velvet Underground, represents the experience of my mind being opened to music that I would have otherwise overlooked.

I have to admit that, if I had no connection to the band members, I probably wouldn't have given Space Needle a second listen. But, as I sit here listening to "Before I Lose My Style", easily my favorite song of theirs, I realize this would've been a huge mistake. Back in the mid-90's, even if I was beginning to branch out a little, my taste remained fairly mainstream, and Space Needle's brand of lo-fi post-prog was definitely a stretch.

It all started with a home recorded cassette of Voyager that Jud sent Scott during the time we lived together in Albany's somewhat hip Lark Street neighborhood. Tacked on to the end of this mix as bonus tracks were two memorable covers, of Neil Young's "Birds" and U2's "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)", songs I wouldn't hear again until a Space Needle rarities mix that Jud made for me a few years ago. In hindsight, their version of "Birds" is a little too lo-fi for my taste, but their take on "Stay" is on par with, if not better than, the original. Seriously, I'm sure most people, including Jud himself, will disagree with this somewhat outlandish claim, but there's no disputing the fact that Space Needle's version is a unique interpretation that still captures the spirit of one of Bono's best songs.

I only saw Space Needle live once, and I have a feeling Jeff Gatland is mostly to blame for this. In fact, I've made futile attempts to book a show at the Middle East in Cambridge that would also include Afshin's math/physics rock band Shore Leave on the bill, thus combining their modest local popularity with SN's cult following. Who knows, maybe the reason such a show could never happen is the fact that I plastered the men's bathroom at the Middle East Downstairs with Space Needle stickers the one time they played there.

Space Needle only released two studio albums, the aforementioned Voyager and 1997's The Moray Eels Eat the Space Needle, on which Anders Parker joined up as the second guitar player and Roger Dean provided strikingly similar artwork to what he did for Yes' Keys to Ascension, Vol. 2. While Voyager is my personal favorite, Moray Eels seems to be the touchstone of SN's cult following, including being named recently as one of Magnet Magazine's 75 most underappreciated albums of the last 14 years.

Maybe last year's compilation, Recordings 1994-1997, released by California based indie label Eenie Meenie Records, jogged some people's memories, but this is a band that should not be forgotten.

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