No Monkey Business

The Space Monkeys hail from Manchester, a working-class enclave far from the of-the-moment trendiness of London. That bleak spot is also the hometown of the long-defunct Joy Division, and of the more recent English phenomena Stone Roses and Oasis.

Like their post-punk countrymen, the Space Monkeys are, in essence, performing to keep from being ground to Manchester dust. But what seems to set the Monkeys apart from the pack is an unabashed hunger and no-bullshit integrity. One hopes that will translate into long-term American success for the band. Of course, it wasn't long ago that the Stone Roses were billed as the British Invasion's second coming, and they never really made a dent in the American psyche. As for Oasis, they've been dubbed (hilariously) the Lynyrd Skynyrd of England. But these days, nothing lasts, and that might as well be doubly true when it's of U.K. origin.

So, rather than bowl everyone over with hype, only to wither in its backlash, the Space Monkeys -- a fairly regular rock trio that knows how to work a turntable -- have cracked the U.S. market rather discreetly, touring behind Smash Mouth before crisscrossing the United States on their own. "Where we're from, you either work hard for a living, or you do something to try and get out," says Richard McNevin-Duff, the Monkeys' guitarist and vocalist. "I was never good at football, and so that only leaves rock and roll."

Still, the Space Monkeys aren't naive enough to think they're the next Oasis, and they're fully aware that there is more to winning over America than showing their faces in New York City and Los Angeles. To the Monkeys, rock and roll has always been more than guest lists and industry showcases, and they're prepared to play just about any place that will have them.

Despite that traditional work ethic, the Space Monkeys have a thoroughly modern sound. On their debut release, The Daddy of Them All, they fuse dance music and rock seamlessly. The first single, "Sugar Cane," is infectious; the leadoff track, "Acid House Killed Rock and Roll," is provocative; both tunes, by the way, have made inroads into Billboard charts. In fact, "Acid House" may have missed the boat by inches, beaten to the punch by the Prodigy's "Firestarter"; while that song was climbing the charts, the Space Monkeys' album and single were locked up in a legal battle.

Although the album's material was written in '95, The Daddy of Them All feels surprisingly fresh. The Space Monkeys deftly define America as an amalgam of Shangri-La, trash culture and musical legends -- which, of course, it is. Their sound, though clearly rooted in the signature, post-Roses downbeat, owes as much to the groove as its does to psychedelics. And, unlike those unpredictable Oasis brothers, there's a good chance this band will show up to play.

-- Brendan Doherty

The Space Monkeys perform Thursday, March 12, at Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Ivy opens. For info, call 629-3700.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy -- Few retro bands succeed at summoning more than the tiniest shred of a genre's original fire, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy happens to be one of those few. There's no denying the powerful first impression made by several horns blaring at full tilt, a power that this ten-piece outfit exploits to the fullest. Sure, they look like guests on some Jenny Jones segment titled "I was born in the wrong decade." And yes, they dig flashy suits, wide-brimmed hats and fat cigars -- the requisite "just add vermouth" aura that defines the declining lounge music trend. But unlike other bands of their ilk, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy can actually write songs: "You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three," from the movie Swingers, is a primal slice of vintage jump swing. And they weren't formed yesterday: In almost two years as the house band at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles, they perfected their harmonies and presentation. It may not be great art, but damned if you can't dance to it. The Voodoo Daddies are so money, and they don't even know it. At 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at the Orchid Lounge, 2415 1/2 Dunstan. Tickets are $10. 524-4677. (B.D.)

Swervedriver -- Swervedriver love distortion as much as they do good melodies. That being the case, this long-running British quartet buries beautiful songs of epic proportion under mountains of Marshall sludge, leaving a trail of catchy tidbits for careful listeners to follow. While occasionally falling short, they've always striven for greatness on their albums, with bandleader Adam Franklin spinning intelligent tales of hallucinatory horror and passion. On-stage, they're prone to noisy, distended freak-outs in the far less cerebral spirit of Crazy Horse. Unfortunately, record-label squabbles sidelined Swervedriver just as they seemed to be sloughing off their cult status. That prolonged hiatus was finally halted with the new 99th Dream CD, which finds the band dabbling in less fuzz and more substance. After such a long break, Swervedriver is basically starting from scratch. But this is hardly a bad place to begin. With Hum on Friday, March 13, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8. Tickets are $12. 862-7530. (David Simutis


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Brendan Doherty
David Simutis