Shpongle 10/28 Hammerstein Ballroom NYC Review

By Kevin Seaman

This past Friday, Simon Posford, Raja Ram, and a dozen or so of the city’s most obscure, diverse, and talented musicians, acrobats, and performance artists transformed New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom into a psychedelic dreamscape for the ages. Being Halloween weekend in NYC as well as the eve of Simon Posford’s birthday, the expectations for this rare live band performance were quite high to say the least.

For the fans that have grown to love Simon’s “Shpongle” act over the years, it is truly difficult to discern what its best component really is. Sometimes it’s the performance, sometimes it’s the costumes, sometimes it’s the environment, sometimes it’s the music itself, and sometimes, often times; it is a synergistic supernova comprised of all the above. I think its safe to say that on this particular night, it was very much the latter. Being one of only a handful of live band performances in the act’s history, the combination of each aforementioned element made these pricey tickets worth the $120+ aftermarket price that some paid. The deployment of a live band alongside Simon Posford and Raja Ram instantaneously sent shockwaves through all 6 (yes 6) senses in ways that it never had before. The acoustics at the Hammerstein are famously incredible, and this sound filling out the room was definitely impressive. Joe Russo (Furthur, Benevento/Russo Duo) on drums proved to be a perfect match for the maniacal bass-driven tribal-psy-trance of Shpongle, much as it did at Camp Bisco this past summer. The music itself literally came to life right in front of my eyes by way of unique instrumental accompaniments, and was as visually pleasing as it was electrifying. Upon exiting the show, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d just taken part in a ceremonial pre-Columbian ayahuasca trip with a bunch of costumed freaks and contorting neon chimeras. The ensemble on stage cannot be done justice by spoken word. Every music fan deserves to see this performance at some point in his or her career because no one in the game is doing anything remotely similar to this. I can’t even imagine how much time goes into the costume design, and I believe it to be one of the most impressive parts of the entire production.

Surprisingly, this music critic generally dislikes almost all trance and house music, so you may be asking yourself “what the hell are doing at Shpongle???”
And I answer… interest in Shpongle has really always been performance oriented. If someone as musically opinionated as myself were to see Shpongle for the first time in the form of a Simon-only PA set, they could very possibly be let down by the lack of visual aesthetic. Almost so much that it seems like a completely different act altogether. One may not understand this review without my stating the following: The late night Shpongle set at Bonnaroo this year was entirely unspectacular. The set consisted almost exclusively of loud, hard, and fast electro-house Shpongle songs, and was completely devoid of any type of performance aspect. On the other hand, you take a show like this past weekend at the Hammerstein and you can get someone who may only enjoy classic rock completely hooked on what Shpongle is all about. To hear this incredibly unique and original music from speakers is one thing, but to see the instruments breathing life into it is something else altogether. Shpongle live is a bucket-list show in every respect. It really is too bad that shows like Bonnaroo even occur because people typically get very hyped up about Shpongle, and what a shame it is when you hype up your friends, and they get an underwhelming show. I say this first hand, because unfortunately, I know this feeling.

The show on the whole was incredible. I’m not sure that the band and the performers could have done any better if they tried, but I do have a few very valid complaints that I’m certain many fans would agree with me on. I am not sure that The Hammerstein was the right venue for Shpongle for a few reasons. It was very difficult to see what was going on from the GA floor. Dancing while trying to check out the on stage theatrics was nearly impossible unless you were standing in the front 1/10th of the crowd. Additionally, it was somewhat of an issue that the venue was half seats and half GA. Its no secret that psychedelic music like Shpongle is best observed in an outdoor setting, but theater seats being in the way of drug fueled psychedelic ravers on Halloween just doesn’t sound like a great idea to me. Not to mention that the show was way oversold in the first place.

In summation, the Shpongle Live act is a rare treat, and should be treated as such. Any chance you may have to check this out should be a no brainer decision. The only remotely comparable electronic acts I’ve ever seen are Justice circa 2008 and Daft Punk, and that makes a pretty clear statement. Simon Posford is a genius, and I can’t wait to see the evolution of Shpongle in the years to come. If you enjoyed this show or enjoy Shpongle, check out Simon’s alter-ego ‘Hallucinogen’ on iTunes. You can thank me later. Happy birthday Simon, and thanks for an awesome Halloween weekend!

Photos courtesy of Kevin Seaman

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