thu 30/05/2024

Spiritualized, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Spiritualized, Royal Albert Hall

Spiritualized, Royal Albert Hall

Gospel according to Spaceman: Jason Pierce's new material finally sees the light

Jason Pierce engages his audience

Two years ago, Spiritualized reprised their bestselling (one might say "only major") 1997 album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, in the curiously titled concert series, Don't Look Back. Since then, their frontman (one might say "only notable band member") Jason "Spaceman" Pierce has been constantly promising new material, along with persistent assurances that the band's (would-be) seventh album will hearken back to the g

lory days of yester-millennium and also have a more-than-usual inclination toward pop. The oft-postponed release is now slated, it seems, for March; but last night, at the Albert Hall, Spiritualized finally unveiled their work-in-progress.

Well, it was unlikely that Pierce ever meant "pop", in the Spice Girls sense of the word; but certainly their opening number, "Hey Jane" (we're working on trust with these titles), was, shall we say, chipper... by the band's own wall-of-sound fiery-rapture standards. Pierce had a shoulder-twitching back-up trio, sure enough, but he also had a substantial cohort of string players, a wind section, and a choir at least 20 strong - to say nothing of the actual band (four guitarists, drummer, keyboards, and occasional mouth organ). And this "pop" opener lasted at least seven or eight minutes. Thereafter it was business pretty much as usual. 

The sound of Spiritualized is self-defining: it makes you think of nothing else but Spiritualized

All the familiar elements were there, both in the lyrics - about Jesus, and love, and "choking back the tears" - and in the sound. The sound of Spiritualized is self-defining: it makes you think of nothing else but Spiritualized. Which is to say (er...), a sort of Kentucky bluegrass as interpreted by Oasis, or Screamadelica with industrial quantities of metal thrown in. Depending. (Their northernness is not generally emphasised; but it's worth knowing they were last out the door at the Hacienda.) 

With upwards of 50 people on stage, sung through the dry ice, "Little Girl" was a reminder that in any given Spiritualized song there is a blanket acceptance that they might, as a unit, go off the reservation for at least five minutes, the second (or third, or fourth) repeat of a refrain frequently hiving off into a self-contained movement of its own. Many songs worked around the band's hymnic revivalist stock-in-trade (why have one chorus when 25 would do?); others built into towering tone poems which seemed perpetually on the verge of implosion. Several traded on a proselytising "Freedom is yours if you want it" blues philosophy and/or ironical folksy wisdom ("Don't play with fire/ You'll never get burned"); but at least one - "Life is a Problem" - was stripped down until it bordered almost on Celtic song. Later items included a song with a kind of "Break on Through" bossa nova underlay, and one (which featured a seemingly improbable refrain around the words "sexy boy") even got its bad self halfway to funkytown. But there were the dark anthems, too, like "Mary", and even the occasional heartbreaking lullaby, as sung to a newborn by a man who's considering being gone by morning.

But Spiritualized - live, or on disc - don't really operate on a track-by-track basis. Their albums tend to be "growers". (Ladies and Gentlemen... is, not coincidentally, the exception), and whether or not you find yourself worked into a state of pseudo-religious ecstasy, their music is intended to be experienced as a substantial event, not trotted out in three-minute bursts (ask your friends to name their favourite Spiritualized single and see how long that conversation lasts).

For my money, the problem was the uninterrupted stream of new material

The problem with this kind of music at a live gig, though, especially when you don't know the songs, is that, no matter how big it gets, it's never what you'd call jump-around stuff. Looking down from my vantage point, I could see a little rapt swaying in the front few rows, but that was about it. The cavernous venue wasn't helping but, for my money, the problem was the uninterrupted stream of new material.

If familiarity with Spiritualized songs is rewarded, the corollary is that there's only so much new stuff you can hear in the course of an evening. The crowd began to get restive when, on several occasions, they were wrong-footed by what one might ungenerously call the band's tendency to thematic recycling, certain opening chords (no doubt mischievously chosen) making them think they were getting one of the old classics, when in fact they were getting, as the Irish might put it, one of the new classics they just didn't know yet.

It's a fine line, and it runs parallel to what may have been the other problem of the evening. I've always liked the fact that Pierce sits throughout his gigs. It's in keeping with the music, and shows a certain quiet control, as well as demonstrating that he doesn't need to resort to cheap theatrics, or even common or garden rockstar grandstanding. That said, it might have been a good idea to introduce the songs. Or even just say "Hi." Impressive as it can be to play it cool, on this occasion I felt Spiritualized under-did it, and in the circs it was frankly risky leaving it as long as they did before coming back on for the encores. Even then, they didn't exactly crack on: by the time they got to the barn-burners like "Take Me to the Other Side" a lot of the crowd had begun to lose interest.


I agree that Pierce wasn't particularly vocal with the audience last night. This was hardly a surprise, he's not really known for chat and anecdotes about his music. I think anyone going to a Spiritualized gig knows what to expect. Whilst I don't consider myself a hardcore obsessive fan by any means (I prefer Let It Come Down to Ladies and Gentlemen) my attention was held completely for the entire set. I loved the new songs and really enjoyed the back catalogue stuff too. Yes, it's a brave move to play over an hour of new material, but I do think they (he) pulled it off with gusto. Not many artists could do that and not many fans would accept it as readily as they did last night. This is more of a strength than I think you're giving them credit for, A great gig and a well written review. Thanks.

Good review. Sounds like you put a lot of work into researching and critically appreciating all the songs. I'm envious that you had that task to keep you engaged, as my attention drifted for most of it. I love Spiritualized - I saw them loads back in the day - but that was self-indulgent in the extreme. Want to play (nearly) two hours of new stuff? Fine. XOYO/KOKO/Scala for £15 - "Spiritualized play their upcoming album in full!" Royal Albert Hall for £36? That requires some kind of concession to crowd pleasing surely. I rarely even applauded last night and nearly walked out on many occasions. Very disappointed.

Agree with Dave. Spiritualized fans know what they're getting when they go to a gig. Despite that, I've seen them play ten or so gigs over the years now and they've never played the same gig twice. And I've never been disappointed. Loved the new stuff last night - can't wait to hear it all again. I think the Albert Hall is totally the right venue for them these days too - like it or not, we're all too old to stand up all night these days! And who wants to hop about with tired legs on the sticky floor at Koko or similar? Not me ... Great gig - can't wait to see them again next time and see what's coming next.

I'm with Albert on this - the show was massively self-indulgent, and it was a huge risk to expect the audience to stick with Pierce for an hour of new material (material which, it has to be said, isn't the most dazzling stuff he's written). At 30-odd quid a ticket, even the most die-hard fan would be entitled to get a bit restless waiting for the showstoppers. The audience's reaction was clear, judging by the number of people wandering to the bar or outside for a smoke. If stories are to be believed, Pierce has struggled to perfect his new material for its release. So, to choose to unveil it at a gig like this, where fans are spending a pretty penny to see him, is all a bit 'artist', isn't it?

"That requires some kind of concession to crowd pleasing surely" spiritualized owe you nothing. open your mind, drop your expectations. it's art.

Hang on a minute... Is it just me? Or was the sound system possibly the worst I've ever heard? I know it isn't easy to take that many sound sources, mix it and amplify it pleasingly to a venue the size of the albert hall, but what I heard on Tuesday lacked any form of resolution or range. It was genuinely like someone had striped out the bass and turner the treble up to max... Not a good thing for vocals or the drums, which is kind of the point! I know it wasn't the venue because I saw metronomy at the albert hall the week before and they sounded amazing. In fact, the brought the house down! It's a shame that spiritualized couldn't deliver their content on a par with what I can achieve on my modest hi-Fi at home. All in all, a huge disappointment.

Well I only have a cursory experience of Spiritualized - tended to like the idea of their Psychedelic -Gospel(?) fusion more than the various tracks i had stumbled across... BUT Tuesday night high up in the Gallery was possibly one of the greatest musical experiences I've ever had - the sound was the worst ever but somehow that made it work for me - I am slightly deaf anyway so this was 2 &1/2 hours of mesmerizing ambience with beautiful melodies wandering in and out - i am just grateful Spiritualized -whoever or whatever you are!

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