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Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 14 / 8 / 2004

Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004


In the luxurious surroundings of London's Royal Festival Hall, Dominic Simpson watches Spiritualized play a frequently spellbinding set, but is left wondering, after 20 years of perfecting his vision, where frontman Jason Pierce might go next

As venues go, the Royal Festival Hall is perfect to host a band like Spiritualized. For some twenty years, Jason Pierce has plied and perfected his dream-pop vision, first with fellow visionary Sonic Boom in Spacemen 3 in the 80’s , and then, at the cusp of the 90’s, with Spiritualized. Spacemen 3’s primitive garage-rock beginnings, which relied on the ghosts of the MC5, the Velvet Underground and Suicide, quickly developed into their characteristic explorations of drones and minimalist melody, an aesthetic that was taken on by much of Spiritualized’s work. But Pierce has not been without his grand, ornate moments, such as ‘Broken Heart’ of 'Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space', and the 100-plus orchestras employed for' Let It Come Down', and the choice of venue is typical. But first there’s Pere Ubu, a pretty interesting choice of support, and one they live up to more than well. Legendary proto art-punks from the mid-70’s wastelands of Cleveland, America, they ply a bleak sound full of dissonance, jagged guitars, and whirring keyboards. Its singer David Thomas, whose really the focus of attention, is a portly 50 year old with an apron whose frequent onstage babble is one of the draws of the night. One song begins with a spoken lament to the audience about the encroaching old age that the post-punk generation are facing (what about the old age the pre punks must be facing?). The familiar oscillating drones of ‘Electric Mainline’ from 'Pure Phase', an aural bubblebath of analogue repetition, signal the arrival of Spiritualized, who signal they are here to rawk with the opening ‘Electricity.’ It’s a thrilling start, allied to a stunning light-show which sees the band mostly shrouded in darkness with white strobes on either side of the band. The feedback of this opener suddenly gives way to a mournful ‘Shine A Light’, slowed down to funeral place, and with some beautiful slide playing while a single blue light illuminates the stage; it’s an emotive moment as the song swells. Much of the set that follows is taken from the recent 'Amazing Grace' album, and a viscously spat out version of ‘Cheapster’ is particularly effective. But Pierce is keen to remind us of just how long he’s been plying their trade, one that has consistently followed a trajectory which pays little attention to musical fashions and the outside world in general; hence we have ‘Let It Flow’, an often-forgotten gem from 'Pure Phase', and a vibrant, all-out version of Spacemen 3’s 'Walking With Jesus', one of the highlights of a long, drawn-out set. 'Run', too, is triumphant after slowed down, considered versions of ‘Broken Heart’, ‘Anything More’, and ‘I Think I’m In Love’, and Take Your Time' is as awesome as ever, Pierce wailing “You know I’ve been thinking about not coming down” repeatedly. But the night’s real draw is a pitch-perfect inspiring run through ‘Lord Let It Rain On Me’, in which the band really click. As the set draws us to a close, we’re treated to a dirgy reworking of 'Smiles' from 'Lazer Guided Melodies', which segues into ten minutes of freeform noise in a similar manner to the middle of ‘Cop Shoot Cop’. As a statement of intent, it can be a frequently spellbinding experience. Spiritualized live match most other bands for sheer spectacle and emotive power live. Nonetheless, the nagging suspicion remains that, after twenty years of perfecting his vision, it’s unclear where Pierce to go next, now that he’s gone from albums of enormous scope ('Ladies & Gentlemen..., Let It Come Down') to stripped down ones ('Amazing Grace') and all points in-between. Maybe it’s a question he asked himself during the closing noise workout - even if what was before regularly climbed some pretty inspiring heights.

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Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004

Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004

Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004

Spiritualized - Royal Festival Hall, London, 1/8/2004

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