Writing as one who has seen Spiritualized countless times over the years, this evening’s performance can be characterised as one of their more unusual gigs. For a start, it has been rescheduled from last October, first to last month, then to tonight, just as the release of new album Sweet Heart Sweet Light has been delayed for a month, from March 13th to April 13th. Therein, perhaps, lies the strangeness, as Jason Spaceman and co find themselves touring behind a collection that is not even available at the merch stand yet. Aside from pre-release public performances of some of the songs, available via The Guardian or our own Other Voices, most audience members will be unfamiliar with at least a third of the set. Damn it, review copies haven’t even arrived yet, a disorientating situation only compounded by the lack of contextualisation that is an inevitable consequence of Mr. Pierce’s customary lack of indulgence in between song stage patter.
The songs essayed from Sweet Heart Sweet Light are: lead single ‘Hey Jane’, ‘Headin’ For The Top Now’, ‘I Am What I Am’, ‘Mary’ and ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’. (I know this because I nabbed a setlist.) Folk/blues standard ‘Life Is A Problem’, long a live staple and now enshrined on the new record, is inexplicably and capriciously passed over.
However, it’s an alienation effect that is not noticeably unpleasurable, and may even be what any Spiritualized performance is ultimately striving for: cool distantiation coupled with the equal and opposite creation of a warm atmosphere of community and fellow-feeling, a kind of gospel meeting outpouring heightened by the slow layering of sound over repetitive riffs and rhythms, which simultaneously circumvents any trace of sentimentality. And the unfamiliar new material is not the only constituent of the overall oddness: the are outings for other songs which are rarely performed live, like Ladies and Gentlemen’s’ ‘Stay With Me’, Pure Phase’s ‘Born Never Asked’ and ‘Electric Mainline’, and Amazing Grace’s ‘Lord Let It Rain On Me’ and ‘Oh Baby’. These feature at the expense of jettisoning regular crowd-pleasers like ‘Walking With Jesus’, ‘Take Me To The Other Side’ or ‘I Think I’m In Love’. The encore consists of the risky instrumental ‘Electricity’, and the dreamy plod of Ladies and Gentlemen’s closer, the John Prine lyric-sampling ‘Cop Shoot Cop’.
This is not to suggest that there is a wilful disregard of audience expectations. The show kicks off with Ladies and Gentlemen’s title track, and still includes warhorses like ‘She Kissed Me, It Felt Like A Hit’, ‘Rated X’ and ‘Lay Back In The Sun’, and achieves a climax of sorts with ‘Come Together’. Other familiar features also remain intact. Jason still relinquishes the centre stage frontman spot in favour of lining up stage right, creating a void into which the audience can project itself. There is the habitual guitar interplay with Doggen, stage left, and the backing singers still add lush harmonies. Starting at 9pm with no support, it’s a solid two hours’ immersive experience. At least you can’t accuse them of always doing the same old thing.
PHOTO by Kieran Frost.