N.A.S.A. at the Triple Rock

Ian Power

    In light of N.A.S.A.’s new record, "The Spirit Of Apollo," which explodes with ass-shaking beats and a long list of top notch guests, concert goers will undoubtedly expect the two-piece outfit to lay down a live set teeming with the same energy. Any doubts about N.A.S.A.’s potential as a live act, however, were laid to rest at their impressive bass thick dance-athon at the Triple Rock Social Club Friday night.  

    N.A.S.A., which stands for North America South America, is a blow out collaboration between DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean, two esteemed DJs whose reputations precede them in more ways than one. Ze Gonzales or Zegon is a pro skateboarder when he’s not performing at sold out shows in his native Brazil; Sam Spiegel a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean is oft times creative partner to his brother: director Spike Jonze.  Between the two of them, their connections must be vast: David Byrne, Chuck D, Kool Keith, Tom Waits, Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Wu-Tang and M.I.A. can vouch for that, since they, as well as an assortment of others, poke their heads in on "The Spirit Of Apollo."  With such a top-heavy album to support live, the question was how could the energy transfer? Short of a budget as large as the Voyager program itself, N.A.S.A. wasn’t going to be able to drag along its school bus of cameos, so what did they do? They opted to impress through innovation: the show was marked by a set starkly different from most of the album and a stage show spectacular in its oddness: aliens and puke green go-go dancers included.
    N.A.S.A. trotted onto stage around 11:30 pm, clad in tailored, matching orange jumpsuits (think Apollo astronaut meets Guantanamo detainee.) They stepped behind the decks and proceeded to blast out their unique blend of crazed tropicalia inspired hip-hop mixes for a whirlwind 90 minute set.  The thesis the two put forth for the audience was clear from the start of first song: “We don’t have the forty artists featured on our album, but we will change-up and remix everything so much and it will be so loud that you will have fun anyway.” Within the first 30 seconds the tone of the evening was set as “dance your ass off.”
    The stark difference between a computer-based artist like Girl Talk and an actual record-spinning DJ becomes painfully apparent within the live arena. It will always be more impressive to watch someone drop a needle exactly 32 seconds into a track on vinyl than watching someone click a mouse. Squeak E. Clean and DJ Zegon’s prowess as mix-masters was proven early on through their endless barrage of quick-handed record changes and switch-ups. The fact that Zegon has been spinning in Sao Paulo clubs since the 1980’s shows: he moves with a veteran speed that predates digital music. Against the psychedelic backdrop of an intense collaged video feed and accompanied by their otherworldly dance troupe, the two men set to work on four turntables re-mixing their albums tracks into a refreshing balance of new and old. Using their patented blend of cut up vintage Brazilian funk and rock mixed with blaring bass, the duo sampled an array of hip hop verses unique to the album as well as an assortment of other material previously unheard within the world of N.A.S.A.  The effect was something reminiscent of their record but unique at the same time: hip-hop mixed with dancehall enthusiasm and samba tones as well as tinges of Motown. Mash-up, eat your heart out.                     

     The energy of the set peaked with the surprise appearance of Ras Congo who pounced onto stage towards the end of the show to fill his part on the chorus of the single “Money.” Ras Congo is a musician seemingly unique to N.A.S.A., it’s understandable that he was available to tour since he was previously largely unknown.  His strong Rastafarized voice in “Money” packed a wallop upon live delivery and he served as an appreciated organic element to the set-up. The weaker points of "The Spirit Of Apollo," the wasted appearances and less impressive verses were strengthened substantially upon live delivery through improved reworking.  Seu Jorge may be completely drowned out and impossible to hear on record but when N.A.S.A. turned him up in concert, his place alongside David Byrne blossomed.  RZA’s verse may be redundant in “Electric Flowers” but it won’t matter if N.A.S.A. just bypasses that track completely.  "The Spirit Of Apollo" failed when it sometimes heaped too much on at once, but N.A.S.A. seems to be learning from their mistakes and correcting them.  When the alien finally jumped into the crowd for a sweaty break-dancing climax, most knew that the end was near.  Triple Rock’s management brought out a fire extinguisher to cool off the smoking turntables that Zegon and Squeak E. had smoothly backed away from, the go-go dancers skulked back to their strip club on Jupiter and the rest of us called it a night.