Apollo 440 Takes Flight
APOLLO 440 At Axis February 25
If a band plays to a tiny crowd, does it make a sound? Formed in 1991 in Liverpool, England, by brothers Howard and Trevor Gray and guitarist Noko, Apollo 440 gained a reputation as a dance group that was decidedly eclectic, criss-crossing the various subgenres of dance music. Where other dance acts might have been happy to go on stage with just two turntables, the group turned up at Axis not only with a DJ, but with the full complement of a rock band: guitarist, bassist and two (!) drummers to simulate the maniacal drum-machine rhythms of their songs, not to mention loads of lighting effects. It wasn't just a gimmick. Apollo 440's big-beat-tinged songs tend to have an arena-rock quality; indeed, their biggest hit, 1997's apostrophe-laden "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub," samples a Van Halen guitar riff.
The band kicked off by checking the lyrics from Fatboy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank," before launching into "Lost in Space," their theme song from the 1999 movie of the same title. It wasn't the most auspicious of choices for an opener: just as that movie disappeared without receiving much of an audience, the manic energy of the lead singer dissipated among the less than 100 people who turned up. Poor publicity might have been to blame for the empty-looking floor: while they were on tour to promote their new album Getting High On Your Own Supply, word about the concert was rather last-minute. Finally, in the second song, an exasperated "I don't think we're getting any kind of reaction" came out. Danger, Will Robinson! No one dancing!
It didn't help that despite the extravaganza of stage decor, lead singer Mry Mary looked like he had decided to throw on a tatty T-shirt before coming on stage. It took the drum 'n' bass beats of the single "Heart Go Boom" to finally get the crowd going, and even then, the transition into a slower song killed the momentum. Another single, "Stop the Rock," came next, but the rock was already stopped: like a weak bomb, the crowd bounced slowly but never exploded. The poker-faced security people might have smiled inside, faced as they were with the incongruous sight of an equally poker-faced front row.
Fortunately, Apollo 440 finally took off, moving into a series of beat-heavy songs that restarted the crowd. It helped that these Brits seemed to actually remember being in Boston, not just through shouts of "there's a party in Fenway Park!", but also by reminiscing about performing in the pre-remodeling Axis.
Lights out, and there was enough demand for an encore. The familiar strains of the Van Halen guitar riff came through the speakers and everyone sang along to the one line of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub." But that moment came too late and ultimately, it was hard to avoid the feeling that a good show had been lost in the vast space of the unfilled club.