Show Review: Shpongle Live Halloween Ball at the Fox Oakland, 10/29/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on October 30, 2011

We can take this huge universe and put it inside a very tiny head

Simon Posford and his band of psychedelic freaks and phantasms

October 29th, 2011. Possibly one of the biggest party nights of the year, thanks to the world-recognized holiday celebrating the bizarre, the underworldly, and the otherwordly, just around its corner. We’re speaking, of course, of Halloween, and in addition to being a fantastic occasion for costumes, candy, and chaotic parties, it’s also one of the best opportunities for live shows, allowing artists to come out in a blaze of style and passion with something unique and special for the night when spirits walk and demons dance. The Fox Theater in Oakland is no stranger to guests of many colors, persuasions, and strangeness, and with stiff competition to draw in concertgoers tonight — with deadmau5 taking residence at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, Primus rocking the streets of Berkeley at the Greek Theater, and the Damned keeping the San Francisco punks packed to the gills in Slim’s — it seemed only fitting for them to play host to one of the most anticipated acts of the entire year: Shpongle Live, the full-band-plus-dancers-and-more ensemble to masterfully color the otherworldly psybient music of UK psytrance masters Simon Posford and Raja Ram.

Raja Ram and Simon Posford frame the multichromatic slinky dancer

Raja Ram and Simon Posford frame the multichromatic slinky dancer

A fully-enveloping red curtain at the front of the Fox Theater’s stage did much to raise the crowd’s anticipation of the evening’s headliners, who played for nearly 3 hours when they finally graced the stage at 9:30pm. While said curtain remained closed for the opening hours of the evening, the stage was graced with performances from a few intense openers, such as the psychedelic-cum-jammy DJ tunes of Outersect, and the expert beatboxing and atmospheric post-punkish electronica of Lynx. Due, no doubt, to the subtle lighting that offered extremely limited perception of the early acts, the blast of light, color, and sound that flowed forth from the spreading curtains was met with glorious shouts and cries of joy when Shpongle at last took the stage. Unlike their last two performances in the Bay Area, compositional mastermind Simon Posford was joined onstage by his partner, Melbourne flutist Raja Ram, who announced, midway through the set, that tonight was the first time he had ever been to California. To say that the crowd was stunned and overjoyed to welcome him to the Fox Theater was an understatement; such a wave of cheering met his words that the sound onstage was almost dwarfed — if only for a moment.

One of the many outfit collections worn by the dancers

One of the many outfit collections worn by the dancers

While Raja and Simon definitely took center stage and piloted the course of the evening’s technicolor sprawl, they were far from being the main attraction in terms of visual accompaniment. Nearly every single one of the 15 songs that night was graced with a performance from a collection of dancers, in all manner of color, movement, elegance, strangeness, and everything in between. From the massive “slinky dancers” that undulated about the stage, swathing the darkness in rainbow hues like a handful of vibrating, oversized glowsticks, to the dance troupes that swirled about, decked in sequins and flowing ribbons, every piece was brought to new life with the magnificent motion exhibited by the onstage performers. There was dancing from all walks of life, costumes seen in this dimension and other unknown ones, and just enough light and motion on behalf of the technical crew for that last dash of hallucinogenic icing on the psychedelic cake.

Color and movement

Color and movement

However, the most rewarding part of the live experience was definitely the opportunity to hear Shpongle’s music as it was meant to be: live, performed with actual instruments, instead of a collection of clips and loops manipulated by the graceful hands of Simon Posford. Accompanying the dynamic duo was a full band of eclectic musicians, with drums, guitars, cellos, violin, and extra percussion gracing the stage. Simon took over lead guitar duties for many of the pieces, including the well-loved “Dorset Perception” and the new favorite “Electroplasm”, while Raja provided his own musical silver tongue in the form of the sharply elegant flute. Extra backup singers accompanied the group from song to song, with the vocals ranging from chorusing chants to thunderous, operatic blasts, and other times the frontmen provided the dialogue themselves through a set of heavily-processed microphone channels. The most exciting moment of the night, in terms of sheer musical performance, was the performance with a hang drum, an instrument possessed of so many aspects of a UFO that it might as well be one; it maintains the characteristic bulging saucer shape, and make sounds best described as a steel drum played by a waterfall in a forest that has seen every color but green.

Multihued spirits run through the night

Multihued spirits run through the night

The joy of the performance was mirrored perfectly between the crowd pressed at the barricade and the color-bathed musicians onstage. Simon, whose birthday had been the evening prior, seemed incredibly happy to finally bring his circus of inexplicable beauty to the Bay Area, and Raja Ram was seen jubilantly tossing hats, shirts, and slipmats into the crowd between songs, in between their dances with the demons, satyrs, ghosts, and other humanoid creatures from worlds beyond. The pause for an encore break was subtle and swift, with the band returning for another treat in the form of “Beija Flor”, a much-loved B-side that was given new life in this organic performance. Simon and Raja closed the night with a magnificent performance of “Around The World In A Tea Daze”, which saw the duo, and their band, accompanied by every single performer that had graced the stage during their set — an eclectic potpourri of multifaceted dancers, the towering satyr, the undulating slinky, and the gorgeous opera queens that dazzled the side of the stage with their shimmering gowns. Simon remained onstage for one final, heartfelt farewell and a warm word of celebration and acknowledgement for their fans, who numbered nearly three thousand by the time the collective had departed from the stage.

We can take this huge universe and put it inside a very tiny head

We can take this huge universe and put it inside a very tiny head

My own anticipation for this show could not have been higher; as I had made mention back in June when Simon brought the Shpongletron Experience to San Francisco, his announcement of an actual Shpongle Live performance was some of the most fantastic news I had heard that year. It was, as well, a difficult decision for me to make, in terms of which show I should attend. The clincher, however, was not how I had already seen certain acts, nor that I wanted to be at one of the smaller venues for that night; more than anything, it was scheduled to be a mindbending experience and a glorious performance that had never made its way to the US, much less to California, and it was unclear as to whether it would ever be seen again. I would definitely hope that the overwhelmingly positive response, the brilliant and gorgeous energy, and the magnificence of the spectacle — all of which were in full effect for the evening — will be enough to convince Simon and Raja to bring their incredible collective back to the Bay Area again, when the next Shpongle album is released. Who knows… we may yet see a combination of Shpongle Live, the Shpongletron, and Hallucinogen (Posford’s other main psytrance project) in the form of an evening of electronic and world fusion movement unlike any that has ever yet been beheld in this dimension.

The Shpongle Live setlist

The Shpongle Live setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Seb October 31, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Excellent review! I just wanna comment on two slight errors that got in: the pic of the setlist does not mention “electroplasm”… did they actually play it as it says in the review ?
“beija Flor” is not really a B-side (well technically it is) but – as far as I know- it’s the first track off “nothing lasts”, shpongle’s third album, a track that was “broken” into three parts in the album, called “botanical dimensions” / “outer shpongolia” / “levitation nation”

they apparently also played a new track (that is supposed to be on the newcoming album) called “museum of consciousness”… I wonder what that sounds like…. 🙂

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yoyo November 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

@Seb

They did play Electroplasm. I was far gone into Shpongleland so my memory of the concert is a little fuzzy, but I remember the feeling of everything! It was an amazing show and experience! As for Museums of Consciousness, I found a link here. It’s the only one I could fine. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQqUnFZSdxw

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Jacqui Tichenor November 1, 2011 at 1:39 pm

The show was amazing! The masked costumed character’s were hired by Shpongle to perform and they’re from a beautiful theater company called ArcheDream for HUMANKIND. They have full length shows that are exquisite to watch. They have performed with Shpongle for a few years now. Check out their other performances!

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Tessie November 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Awesome show! So many unforgettable moments…Dante Bucci playing the hang drum, the quirkiness of Raja Ram running around the stage, and off course, the grand finale where everyone and their mother was on stage. Outersect’s opening set was awesome too! BTW, he’s not just a DJ, he’s a music producer. A real local talent.

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Paige K. Parsons November 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Nice pix, Jonathan! I especially like the one captioned, “Multihued spirits run through the night.” I’ve never tried shooting under a black light before, but it really makes for some cool shots.

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Elle June 8, 2012 at 10:15 pm

hey, I was wondering if you guys knew of a download for this show. I was there and it was absolutely amazing. Much love from Outer Shpongolia.

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