So I’m listening to the new (old) Bailterspace album, Trinine. It’s better than the 2-piece version of the band; that other new album from recent times – which was simply okay. Good for existing, but not great. This one was recorded before that one but here it is now. It features the classic line-up; the line-up that reformed at the start of the year and played yet another wonderful gig (check out my review of that gig; amazing show).
Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing about times when I saw a band and thought that “it was the best gig ever!” And you know what, I’m not lying at all to say this – every time I saw Bailterspace was one of those moments.
They are, therefore, the most consistent live act I’ve ever seen. I base that on the fact I’ve seen them a bunch of times and specifically I saw them in a concentrated period – I’m calling it 1995-2000 but it’s probably more like 1996-1999 actually. So, yeah, you can talk about seeing them earlier than that, or enjoying them more as The Gordons or how The Skeptics really are the band and all that – but none of that was available to me then. And I only got to Bailterspace really when I got to university. I knew them a bit from the early 1990s, from my high school years. Had heard some of the albums. But it was when I moved to the Big Smoke that I was suddenly able to see them play; to see them wandering the streets too.
Seeing Alister Parker or Brent McLachlan mooching about Cuba St or Manners or Willis was a real fucking highlight; like seeing a major star. And it was made all the more cooler that, most often, your mates walking alongside you couldn’t give a fuck, didn’t know what or who they were meant to be looking at or for. Seeing John Halverson in the daylight was always a little bit scary.
I love all the Bailterspace albums. Even the ones that are superfluous. I still collect ‘em. And love ‘em. But the great albums are really great. Really fucking great. But you know what, none of that matters a shower of shit when compared with seeing them live. The records are good but they just don’t stack up against the band live, because something happens. That orange flame of guitar, Brent beating those skins like they owe him money. That proud-pixie nod of demented bass; a pitchfork between the white lines of space-guitar and that pulverising percussion.
They mighta had a bad gig. They mighta even had a bad gig when I was there. But I didn’t see it. If you know what I mean. I couldn’t hear it as bad. That’s not exactly objective – but then again: fuck objectivity. That’s for wimps. And duds. And the “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” brigade. Everyone’s opinions are equal, but some, my little Orwellians, are more equal. Anyway. Fucking hell this band was always on as far as I was concerned. Certainly in that period I’m talking about.
They shut down that place known now as the San Fran Bath House (musta been Indigo back then?) Noise Control. I swear McLachlan was gonna deck the idiot that got up on stage to serve a notice.
That was one hell of a gig before it got shutdown.
And I’d seen them before that.
A couple of weeks after that they played at the place that was The Hole In The Wall. A sorta-secret gig; a thankyou and a fuckyou for being Noise Controlled off the stage. And that was a blinder. A touched-by-god sort of thing.
They played at the uni on a great triple bill for Orientation. Each band great, each band surpassing the one before it though, an early showing from Superette too – wonderful. But I remember driving home after that gig, well, I was dropping someone else home and I can remember feeling like I was floating, like the car was hovering above the road. Like I was drunk and high and I was neither of those things.
This music – they harness it only for a moment, never quite with the firmest grip (which is perfect and then they fling it at you, it moves through them, it moves through you – was always positively electric. You could close your eyes and when you close em really tight, your eyes pinching down to almost form the start of a headache and then all of a sudden a blur of reds and blues and fragments of static-snow form; it’s somehow blacker than black, but it gets so dark that some light somehow sneaks in – well, you could do that while Bailterspace was playing and you’d have a neon line run through your mind’s sight. It will pulse and charge, for that briefest of moments the music would become you; you were becoming part of it.
I saw them one time – and perhaps this was the best – with a mate. We were home from uni in that little ole dump of a place called Hawke’s Bay and we drive over to see Bailterspace play in Napier at a venue called The State Of It. It used to be a movie theatre. Cool old building. It was a work night, mid-week, in that empty-hearted town. And there was no-one. No one. Me and my mate. And I reckon four other people. No more than that. So essentially the audience is only twice the size – in number – of the band. And this band comes out and just kills it. Like absolutely nails it. Goes guns-a-blazing, both barrels. It’s just a gig. Another gig. And they kill it. Stomp on its neck. Murder it beautifully. It was like they were playing to a sold out show at a venue four times the size. It was like they were calling out for another Noise Control shutdown.
After the gig, as soon as it finishes, Alister Parker puts on this fringed duffle-coat, well it’s almost an Adrian Mole look (he becomes kinda Alister Parka) and jumps down into “the crowd”. It’s really just my mate and I standing there. We’re in awe. It’s a wonder he didn’t fall over our jaws. Instead he has a can of VB – hey, you play to six people, you get a rider to suit. And he gives us a nod, like a “howzit” kinda of thing. An eyebrow. Or two. And there’s this sub-KLF bullshit-kinda dance-music shit going on. Totally incongruous to the experience we just had. Come to think of it no one was better at sub-KLF bullshit kinda dance-music shit than The KLF. So perhaps that’s what it was. But maybe it was bad Primal Scream (so hard to tell from the good Primal Scream) but anyway, he starts twirling and spinning and having a party-for-one. And he says to us “come on man, let’s dance. Have a good time”. Or something like that. So strange to actually hear words coming from Alister Parker’s mouth, to actually understand them. Perhaps that’s why, now, I can’t quite remember what they were. I almost don’t want to believe he speaks sensible/recognisable English.
And we look at each other. Me and my mate. And we look at the floor. And our legs start to knee-shimmy, just for a bit. And we look at each other, wonder what we’re both doing. And then we say “see ya”. It’s awkward. But only as awkward as it needs to be. And we head to the car.
We drive home buzzing. Partly because we escaped more awkwardness, mostly because our minds have been smashed by this amazing sonic stretch. It was – of course – the best gig ever!
I realise, just now, in all the times I’ve seen Bailterspace, probably a dozen I reckon, something like that, I’ve only ever really made out Parker hinting at just a few words in English. Something about “shadows”. Always manage to catch that. And something spitting and snarly-like about “retro”. That’s actually about it. The rest of the words just blur in with the noise. That wonderful, beautiful, mercurial noise.
You listen to them play Argonaut and realise that they gave birth to HDU. You hear HDU and know it gave birth, on some level, to Jakob. I’ve seen Jakob now about as many times as I’ve seen Bailterspace. They’ll never let you down too. And HDU were great and now Tristan has Mountaineater. A new kind of great. And all this comes from Bailterspace. And yes, yes, it comes from The Gordons and Skeptics, The Meemees and The Clean and all of that. But sometimes there’s just Bailterspace. And sometimes that’s enough.
Seeing Bailterspace live was always great. It always meant something. It meant so much – at the time while it was happening – that nothing (NOTHING) else mattered.
And now there’s a new album. And it’s good. It’s better than the last one. And I’ll return to it often. And then I’ll wait and hope and plan for when I next get to see them play again. So good. So very fucking good.