Normally when I go to a record release show, or any show for that matter, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting myself into. But after I read a couple quotes about this band, I decided to go in with as little knowledge as possible. This remark from the Chicago Tribune pretty much nails it, “equally influenced by Danny Elfman, Portishead and Orson and H.G. Welles.” Going to see Terrible Spaceship isn’t really like going to a concert, it’s more like seeing an avant garde performance piece.
Their idea is a little bit of mad brilliance, really. They take old media, public domain type stuff, and create music to go along with the images. In the case of their debut record, Invaders ’38, they’ve taken Orson Welles’ original radio play based on H.G. Welles’ The War Of The Worlds and built a dance record out of it. There are only a couple spots where there are any vocals from the band, with the voices of Welles, Kenny Delmar, Frank Readick, and Ray Collins delivering the story. The music Terrible Spaceship has designed to go along with the play is haunting, terrifying, and yet oddly fun and exciting.
Taken as a whole, with the images displayed on the large screen at Lincoln Hall, I found myself wrapped up in the story like I hadn’t been in a long time. The way they use their instruments as props for things like heat rays and screams is well done, and I never felt like the music was taking away from the story or vice-versa. I was surprised, actually, by how well it went together.
The audience held their applause for the most part until the story had ended. Itonly lasts about a half hour, so I didn’t know what else was going to be coming up. Turns out they had quite a bit more in store for us. The second thing they played was a unfinished piece based on a Gene Autry serial, which I think they said was called The Phantom Rides.
They called it a western, but it certainly had science fiction elements to it. An underground civilization that looked like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was going to kidnap Gene Autry for some reason. There were only two or three chapters finished, but it looked and sounded like it could be a fun one. After that there was an intermission of about ten minutes while the band went to change their outfits.
When they returned, cloaked in lab coats, they kicked things into high gear with their finished but as-yet-unrecorded opus, Zontar: The Thing From Venus. This is the one they consider their real dance record, and I have to agree. Of the three things they played for us, Zontar was my favorite. I won’t spoil the story for you, but basically it’s a really terrible sci-fi B movie that has some truly ridiculous moments.
I’m not sure if this is the first time they’ve played Zontar in it’s entirety, but there were people in the audience screaming at the screen like it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I can see it garnering a big cult following. It’s a little bit Mystery Science Theater as well. Some scenes get manipulated a little bit to highlight the absurdity.
Whoever is in charge of culling all the footage and deciding what works and what doesn’t deserves a lot of recognition. Done poorly, the concept could be a complete trainwreck. I found myself enjoying it more and more as the night went on. It isn’t something that I would want to check out every night of the week, but I’m glad I got the chance to see it. If you’re looking for a different kind of entertainment than the usual, I would definitely recommend checking out a Terrible Spaceship show.