NASA Fails to Liftoff in Live Setting

I didn’t expect such a live letdown from NASA –– DJ duo Sam Spiegel (Squeak-E-Clean) and José Gonzales (DJ Zegon) — as it performed its debut album The Spirit of Apollo while dressed in matching orange astronaut suits at the Abbey Pub in Chicago last month.

The midnight set began with a dramatic surge of energy as a backdrop video screen flashed a shuttle launch and the rumbling of remixed track “Gifted” blasted from the speakers, sending us into the set’s sonic stratosphere.

But as the duo worked the crowd from behind four turntables and duel laptops — Spiegel with spastic fist pumps and Gonzales cool and collected — the show’s energy plummeted back to Earth in confusion and disappointing disarray.

Having spoken with Spiegel a few weeks prior for a forthcoming ALARM feature about the album’s production and collaborative back story, I expected a more compelling and creative set.  I expected more from a duo whose album includes a star-studded mash-up of artists such as David Byrne, Chuck D, MIA, Kanye West, and more.

But instead, the duo led the crowd through only a few remixed Spirit tracks and a barrage of trite dance floor techno, ’90s house, and old-school hip hop and electro-crunch that left me sunk and scratching my head.

Where was the fun and creativity that exists within the album’s 16 tracks? Why abandon the banging mix of break beats, psychedelic rock riffs, and Brazilian funk rhythms?

Why did NASA ditch its best tracks and decide to only play two or three songs from the album? And why pass up the chance to introduce live remixed versions of the album’s most emotive, celebratory, and party-starting tracks — “Way Down,” “Hip Hop,” and “There’s a Party”?

Sadly, not even the green body-painted she-alien booty shakers or the goofy space-monster costume dancers made NASA’s set sensual, entertaining, or worth remembering. The duo didn’t transmit any of the album’s intended rejuvenating spirit of musical unity and genre-blending character.

If I had never heard the album, I would never want to buy it based on this show. I left wondering if I had gone to the right show at all because the album’s potential for a live celebration of funky break beats and rhymes was completely abandoned.

– Chris Catania

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