San Francisco Bath House
Friday, February 1
I was nervous for them – right up until the first shimmer of guitar, the first thrum of bass, the first slosh of the hats. It seemed like it could have gone either way – first time seeing one of my favourite bands in over a decade. But as soon as they started – as in the very instant – it could only go one way: straight through me, straight through everyone in attendance. A giant, huge, glorious sound – the Bailterspace sound.
Here’s a good argument for the return of bassist John Halvorsen – if I had to pick one MVP for the night (rather than the obvious/correct answer: all three) I’m going to call Halvorsen, possibly for fact that seeing and hearing him in action once again was the best reminder of how and why it was not going to work without him.
Here is a lead bassist – just as often at the front of the song as guitarist Alister Parker, in fact more often it’s a case of Halvorsen probing on ahead, Parker left to inhabit that strange, mystical version of slow-motion energy as he hovers atop the song.
Brent McLachlan does for this band as Tom Larkin does for Shihad – he drives it; he could be sitting behind a tractor or at the wheel of a bus as much as he is a drum-kit. And that subverted Soca beat, you could isolate McLachlan’s playing and build a Columbian disco tune around it, incongruous – but true.
Songs I’d heard so many times before sounded bold and big and fresh and new – I could hear the vocals better than I ever remembered in the past. Parker presenting them as both another texture to the tune and – this time – as actual words, where so often so long ago it was a mumble, some shoe-gaze reverie left to drift and waft and dribble down. This time they arrived with the shine of spit.
There were songs from Tanker and Thermos, Shadow from 1994’s Vortura seemed bigger (and better) than ever before. It was back to the sound. It was a return though – rather than a repeat.
So many of the songs on this night were left to ride along on a groove slowly, surely becoming hypnotic; the sheer volume pushing its way through every audience member’s very being; we were all but pulverised by the songs. And we loved it.
I had wanted to see Bailterspace because – back in the day – I always wanted to see Bailterspace. (And I did – many times). But it would have been enough to just see them one more time. To just say hi, as it were, to catch up. But I was faced – confronted, even – with a band so happy to be itself once again, so sure of the way and so effortlessly rebottling the lightning without ever seeming like they were trying too hard to want to be vital again; to want to mean something to those both new to the sound and the stalwarts from a decade and a half ago…
You could hear – and see – how Parker took from what Kilgour and Carter were doing before him and went on to give to Dingemans. You could see – and hear – a band back for the right reasons: to enthral, to create a happening. To leave an audience spellbound.
Bailterspace never tried to be the best band in the world and whether they ever got close or not is really not important. As floods of memories from gigs gone by swept back into view for me I thought about how Bailterspace certainly made you forget about any other band while they were playing – while you were listening to them, participating in the gig. They pulled you in, their sound circling around you and itself. Music – in terms of anyone else making it – was irrelevant. It was (and is) about the sound, the simple layers, the new melodies that can be heard in the screech above the place where the pop tune is laid down, laid out, laid to rest.
Bailterspace made you believe. In them. In the sound. In believing. In the vitality and in the strange and beautiful visceral dream-world that each song builds on and bursts out from.
They still do that. For me.
I left with a ringing in my ears, a static residue through which I could hear the shadow of several Bailterspace songs circling in on themselves within that in-ear ringing. It was beautiful. Profoundly so. I’d been kissed by their magic once again.