City Slang: Sponge and Spacehog at the Magic Stick

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On a cold Thursday night, people need a really good reason to venture out onto the snowy roads, and it would appear that a double bill featuring local heroes Sponge and former Brit pop faves Spacehog (for $20) isn’t enough to pull people out in force. Times are hard and the weather is getting harsh. The people that were at the Stick tried to make up for the lack of numbers by giving the bands their all, and kudos for that. God loves a Detroit crowd.

It’s still a shame though, because this was a great show. This writer walked in about halfway through Lionize’s set, but the Maryland band did more than enough to impress. The stoner influence (particularly Clutch) is overt, but the Hammond organ adds a classic rock, Deep Purple element, and front man Nate Bergman has a Brian Johnson-esque screech. The chucky, sweaty result provides the perfect warm-up to the co-headliners.

Time to fess up – going into this show, I was only familiar with one Spacehog song, the perennial commercial soundtrack “In the Meantime.” It’s a good tune, fair play. Thankfully, it’s not their only great tune (it just happens to be the one that is always played everywhere). So on Thursday, the Leeds boys played old tunes and songs from the new As it is on Earth - it made no difference to me, I didn’t know any of them but nothing was terrible. Maybe starting the show off with a slower number was a bad move – this crowd wanted an explosive start. But after that, Spacehog delivered with their ’90s twist on Bowie glamour and Queen operatics. Tracks from the debut Resident Alien were lapped up, and the cover of Queen’s “In the Lap of the Gods” was superb. For front man Royston Langdon, a chilly night in Detroit must seem a long way from Liv Tyler’s embrace. The crowd did its best to make it just as warm.

Then it was left to Vinnie Dombroski’s Sponge to close out the night and put a metaphorical cherry on this orgy of ’90s alt-nostalgia. “Wax Ecstatic,” the title track from the ’96 sophomore album, kicks off the set and even the presence of a couple of slower tunes, essentially power ballads, doesn’t hamper the momentum.

The stripper’s pole, by now a staple of a Sponge show, is present and correct, but it says something about the charisma of Dombroski when a straight male barely noticed the writhing ladies. They seemed enthusiastic enough though. Good job, girls.

Sponge ploughed (no pun intended) through pretty much everything you’d want to hear, from “Molly (16 Candles)” and “Plowed” to “Treat Me Wrong” and “The Man”. Personally, “I Am Anastasia” from Wax Ecstatic and “Party Till We Drop” from 2007’s Galore Galore would have been nice, but I’m just being picky.

At this point in the band’s career, Sponge isn’t hip and cool anymore. That’s ok. But the songs are still huge and the band is tight. The local boys will have bigger nights than this one in the future, but they certainly didn’t fail the few people that turned up.

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