SPIRITUALIZED/MERCURY REV/DR PHIBES AND THE HOUSE OF WAX EQUATIONS Main Debating Hall, Manchester University, 1/11/93
A novel night out this, a kind of alternative package tour featuring Liverpool (I think) types Dr. Phibes etc etc, the sublime American band Mercury Rev, and Spiritualized, who regard releasing a 3-track EP as sufficient reason to plug their lethargic space rock in student unions up and down the land.
The tickets said "Doors 7pm", so in we walked at 7:10 to find Mercury Rev already onstage and in ski hats, crashing through "Something For Joey" apparently oblivious to the lack of either darkness or an audience. Only when we were thrown out did it occur to us that we'd just witnessed a soundcheck. Ho hum.
Some hours later we were let in legitimately, and after what seemed an eternity or two of The Irresistible Force, allegedly 'The country's leading ambient DJ' (so ambient he didn't actually appear to be there), Dr Phibes etc. etc. turned up. They're quite good, in odious comparison terms they're The Boo Radleys play the Ozric Tentacles songbook. A shame that their light show consisted solely of two one-bar electric fires.
Mercury Rev have a shambolic live reputation, musicians often leaving the stage mid-song to see what their cacophony sounds like from the audience's point of view, but tonight they must have been well on-form. Despite starting with "Very Sleepy Rivers" - their longest and possible worstest song...but hell, who cares? - they were superb. Utilising back projections of suitably bulbous American cars and television 'snow', they played awesome deconstructions of too few of their songs: "Syringe Mouth", "Something For Joey", "Chasing A Bee", the unbelievable "Meth Of A Rockette's Kick" and "Boys Peel Out"...and that was all...only a 45 minute set. What the hordes of Spiritualized fans made of the intentionally stodgy mix and singer David Baker's (looking worryingly like Danny's brother) space cadet antics I wouldn't like to speculate.
And so to the headliners. On record Spiritualized are passable enough, a bit like listening to Primal Scream's "Higher Than The Sun" for an hour, but live they were a total anti-climax. Playing only two songs from the "Lazer Guided Melodies" album (and not the best two, either!) didn't help matters, and it wasn't until the last song that things started getting energetic. The light show was good, and no doubt their fans loved it, but 'twas not for me. Still, the Rev more than compensated!
SPIRITUALIZED Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (Dedicated)
And the third time Jason Spacemen came up for air, he emerged clutching a medicine bottle emblazoned with the legend "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space". Dim the lights and let the trumpets blare, this is the big one.
How to describe how fantastic this record is? Well, I was never much of a Spiritualized fan. True, "Laser Guided Melodies" is not without moments of extreme beauty (some of which are currently persuading sweet-toothed punters to sample the delights of Toffee Crisps, strangely enough), but both it and its successor "Pure Phase" are, especially in retrospect, the sound of a band not being entirely at ease with their vocabulary, as if theyre stuck in Syds room of musical tunes and cant quite get them to work as expected. "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" solves that dilemma in spectacularly successful style; these days, Spiritualized want to be everyone, everywhere, all over the place.
So you get delicious uncoiling trance rock in the form of the title track, totally unhinged harmonica-driven Stooges/MC5 rock-outs ("Come Together" and the soon-to-be-released-as-a-single "Electricity"), sardonic atheist gospel ("I Think Im In Love"), achingly pure and minimal love songs ("The Individual" or "Broken Heart" - cant tell which is what as the tracklisting only has a passing acquaintance with whats on the albums four sides), a smattering of white-noise Velvets-y instrumentals and the breathtaking side-long finale that is the stoned gumbo hoe-down "Cop Shoot Cop", featuring none other than the legendary Dr. John. Elsewhere the influences gallop from The Beach Boys to Michael Nyman and all points in between, but you really cant see the joins, the whole being way, way much more than the sum of such not insubstantial parts.
Oh, the lyrics. Mainly dealing with Spacemans perennial concerns, i.e. what its like to have a) an on-off relationship with your keyboard player and b) a daily intake of controlled substances that would pacify a herd of rampaging wildebeests, they nevertheless seem to have a degree more honesty and openness than before, lots of quotable quotes of breakfasting off mirrors and suchlike, which in these nudge-nudge days of cigarettes and alcohol and champagne supernovas seem almost shockingly direct.
It would be churlish, too, not to mention the packaging, an elaborate reconstruction of that applied to pharmaceuticals, right down to the Patient Product Information (or sleevenotes), which answer such frequently asked questions as "What constitutes Spiritualized tablets?", "What is Spiritualized used for?" (to treat the heart and soul, in case you were wondering), "When and how does treatment with Spiritualized end?" and "How should Spiritualized be stored?".
"Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" sounds like the end of the rainbow or the search for the lost chord; its the sort of album that people really dont make much anymore (did they ever?). True, it doesnt have the raging ambition of a work like "OK Computer", for example, and close analysis of its gene pool finds a lot of elderly DNA swimming around in there, but its so confident you cant honestly complain, as if, after years of fumbling around in a haze, (the Irreverend) Jason Spaceman has finally found his true vocation, fashioning gospel music for those with nothing left to believe in, hymns offered up in praise by people whove honed the very point of their existence down to two or three dangerous and crippling obsessions. As the song title says, "No God only religion". Let the choir sing.
SPIRITUALIZED Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 Live (Deconstruction)
For some people, myself included, Spiritualized produced one of the finest albums of last year in the shape of "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space". Those people would probably agree that the functionally titled "Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 Live" is destined to be one of the finest albums of this year.
Recorded with the assistance of a choir, brass section and a string quartet, this double album lovingly captures the entirety of the Spiritualized live experience at its towering peak. (Many shows on the "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" tours featured the assembled ensemble cut back to yer standard guitar/bass/drums/keyboards unit). Those eagle of eye will also notice Julian Copes mate Thighpaulsandra deputising for the still-AWOL Kate Radley on piano and Hammond organ.
If you think that, since the setlist contains at least 75% of "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space", this live album is some kind of evil corporate cashin designed solely to fleece the pockets of a Spiritualized-starved nation, and consequently to be ignored, that would be your loss. What this album does is put a different spin on the music of Spiritualized, showing them to be even more multi-cultural than we could have ever previously imagined. Live, they take the pop perfection of "A Day In The Life" as a starting point and blow it to smithereens with vast tracts of gospel, Stooges and Velvets punk, incredible sheets of late-period Coltrane style cacophonous improvisation, early Floyd psych-outs and Nymanesque systems music. The whole is a beautifully off-kilter sound, the kind of music that aspires to be everywhere, all the time, and pretty much succeeds.
Moving from widescreen generalisations to the specific, hear how Jason Spacemans vocals are far, far more fragile than weve heard previously: there are moments, particularly on the open-emotion surgery of "Broken Heart", when you feel they might be grounded by the weight of the Albert Hall air upon them, and be amazed by what seems like some kind of synth drone wash that seems to be on a permanent loop for the entire duration of the gig. And how many albums do you own where even the balloon droppers (and you can hear the articles in question being popped at the end of the concert) get a sleeve credit?
"Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 Live" is a fabulous album, both for what it is (substantially "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" revisited) and what it isnt (er, substantially "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" revisited). Perhaps its sentiments are best expressed by the cover, a photograph of the Royal Albert Hall and the surrounding area taken from an altitude of 8,000 feet.
SPIRITUALIZED Let It Come Down (Spaceman/Arista)
Spiritualized's last studio album, "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space", was one of the unsung triumphs of the 90s. Released the same day as "OK Computer" but garnering only a fraction of its commercial success, it was Jason Spaceman's third and finest chapter of atheist gospel, a devil-dance hymn to the powers of addiction, be it emotional or chemical. Its successor would be a hotly anticipated platter, albeit one whose production was temporarily stunted when the rest of his band escaped to become Lupine Howl.
So here comes "Let It Come Down", and I have to confess it's a huge disappointment. Much has been made of the 100-plus gaggle of musicians used, no doubt a by-product of the lashings of major-label money lavished on the project, but all the string arrangements and massed choirs have succeeded in doing is to act as a comfort blanket around Spaceman's fragile melodies. A Channel 4 documentary followed the efforts of Spaceman, hampered by his inability to read music, as he dictated the string and choir lines to his co-arranger: as a result they sound like the work of someone who has had to express his thoughts through means other than musical notation, doing little more than following the melody lines, where truly memorable and inventive charts would have taken the songs to another dimension entirely - consider Craig Armstrong's work with Massive Attack, for example. And when you drill down to the melodic core of these songs, through the layers of strings and voices, you'll find some of the most insipid material yet to grace a Spiritualized album. On a couple of occasions I could have sworn I'd uncovered a borrowed Monkees riff: one song even loots the title track of "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" wholesale for its inspiration. Lyrically Spaceman lets things slide as well; deep inside this warm narcotic womb the best he can come up with generally involves saying one thing then twisting it around on the next line, for example "If I'm good I could add years to my life/I would rather add some life to my years".
There is one moment when all this pomp and grandiloquence actually works in the music's favour, and that's "Out Of Sight", a huge, craggy, scary construction that, despite housing the lyrics referred to above and many more of similar verbal dexterity, actually manages to sound like it was worth the time and money expended, crashing waves of orchestration bearing down on a psyche spiralling out of control. (How much it's assisted by the accompanying video of Jason stumbling around on Mount Etna dressed in his tinfoil spacesuit I wouldn't like to speculate.) But elsewhere I'm reminded of Frank Zappa's comment on attending a Van Morrison session, wherein the Belfast cowboy had amassed a veritable orchestra of string, brass and vocal sections, and had mixed them in such a manner that, to Frank, they sounded like a single harpsichord. That's the curiously reductive feeling that this immaculately veneered and polished record exudes, a small package of expensive emptiness. First the Super Furries and now Spiritualized, it has not been a good year for major label money meeting British psychedelia.
SPIRITUALIZED Cardiff University 27 June 2002
The last time I saw Spiritualized was way back in 1993. Coming onstage after a fractious Mercury Rev (in one of their last appearances with original vocalist David Baker) had just completely dismantled the concept of guitar-based rock music they just couldn't compete, and plodded through a set in which the light show was far more interesting than the music. Nearly ten years later, and with at least one classic album in their back catalogue ("Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space B P", coincidentally released on the same day as "OK Computer", is that album's dark, narcotic, psychedelic evil twin, and makes far better music because of it), how would they fare on this Glastonbury warm-up date?
Firstly, Cardiff University seems to have shrunk somewhat as a venue, being a fraction of the size I remember from my last visit (seeing Shack headline a mostly triumphant NME Brats gig in January 2000, with promising unknowns Coldplay footing the bill). And, contrariwise, Spiritualized seem to have expanded: although the full strings and choir and balloons spectacle is absent tonight, the band are a septet with two guitarists and a bassist ranged across the frontline, with Jason Spaceman conducting proceedings perpendicular to the rest of the band on the right hand side of the stage, and two percussionists and a keyboardist accounting for the second wave. No names are given, and with Spaceman's propensity for disenfranchising entire bands it would be pointless to speculate as to the musicians' identity, but given the delicious cacophony they kick up tonight it sounds as though they've been playing this music for a long time, if not as Spiritualized then in some other life, at least.
The synth loop that backgrounds most of the "Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997" live album has been slithering around the room for around twenty minutes by the time the band slide onstage and launch into a feral, cataclysmic howl that eventually disorganises itself into "Electricity", a fine rendition not totally sabotaged by this new improved shrunken venue's lousy, thumping acoustics. It backslides suddenly into the lizard languid "Shine A Light", and in the relative quiet it becomes easier to discern what exactly goes on at a Spiritualized show these days. The name of the game is exaggeration: that which on record is ragged, distorted and cacophonous becomes even more so in performance - happy with that! - and the slow, meltingly sonorous material is served up with extra honey glaze, the bpm rating struggling to hit double figures as Spaceman drawls his lines from a whole other civilisation altogether which too is brilliant. When subjected to this treatment even the lacklustre material stitched together to form "Let It Come Down" (which now more than ever sounds like the work of a Spiritualized tribute band) is relayed with some conviction, although that album's one true shining moment, "Out Of Sight", is slightly diminished by the absence of its volcanic harmonica action. Whilst I'm carping, some strobe effects aside, the light show hasn't kept pace with the monumental developments in the music, or perhaps the music has become so absorbing that attention is focussed elsewhere. And it would have been nice to hear a full version of the cyclical smack epic "Cop Shoot Cop", rather than the desultory stumble through its closing pages that closed the main set. But otherwise I spent most of the 100 minute performance either slack jawed in amazement or mouthing the lyrics in joyous abandon; last time around I'd spent most of their set looking at my watch. Now, that has to be a good sign.SPIRITUALIZED The Complete Works Volume One (Spaceman/Arista)Like contemporaries Primal Scream (with "Screamadelica) and The KLF (on "The White Room"), Spiritualized performed much of the spadework for what would eventually become their debut album, "Laser Guided Melodies", on their earlier single releases. In compiling those singles, "The Complete Works Volume One" sounds like a huge, sprawling scrapbook, teeming with ideas, experiments and the odd mistake, especially compared to the concise, coffee table (well, a coffee table littered with drug paraphernalia, most probably) sheen of that aforementioned long player.
Of course, much of "The Complete Works Volume One" sounds necessarily familiar, and in being compiled in near enough strict chronological fashion that familiarity is compounded by, for example, the three versions of "Feel So Sad" that trot along after each other, and the fact that "Good Dope/Good Fun" and "Lay Back In The Sun", sitting pretty together on disc two, are essentially the same song. Nevertheless, there is still much to marvel at. Proceedings open with "Anyway That You Want Me", improbably enough a Troggs tune turned space symphony. An extra woozy "Step In To The Breeze" follows, before all those "Feel So Sad"s, reverberent chamber pieces that take recognisable motifs and ravel them through a kind of cottonwool equivalent to the systems music of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. Other highlights include the steam train trance of "Luminescence (Stay With Me)", and an accappella (sic) "100 Bars", during which Kate Radley bravely struggles to keep counting in the face of all manner of effects.
The second CD is noticeably rougher stuff than the first: a version of "I Want You" originally found on the b-side of "Run" shatters the beatific sense of calm with its opening guitar shards, but with the addition of a brass section the sound soon settles down into a kind of early-Dexys-on-downers vibe (e.g. "Medication", "Smiles"). The two-part "Electric Mainline" finds the band at their most obviously Glassy, silver waterfalls of percussion tumbling over endlessly revolving slow motion melodies. Finally, "100 Bars (Flashback)" neatly encapsulates the preceding two hours, a kind of "Stars On Spiritualized" that melts together the highpoints.
Arguably a more difficult, taxing and hence involving listen than "Laser Guided Melodies", "The Complete Works Volume One" has an aesthetic (the CDs and jewel case are all white, bar a sliver of identifying colour on the former) and musical purity that you have to admire. The only black mark concerns the anti-interactivity that prevents the album being played on a PC unless via some on-board software, meaning that I have to plug my headphones into the hissy, distorted, lo-fi soundcard on my Babbage differential engine of a PC, rather than tapping the (relatively) high quality output direct from the CD-ROM drive. If the impetus behind this crushingly restrictive practice is to prevent folk burning copies of the album, it doesn't work. Allegedly.
SPIRITUALIZED Manchester Academy 25 March 2012
What tonight’s seven-piece incarnation of Spiritualized perhaps lack in charisma – Jason Spaceman positions himself on the right of the stage, perpendicular to the audience, wears shades and barely manages a few perfunctory “Thank you”s – they more than make up for with what back in the day would’ve been referred to as a “light show”, all stroboscopic fury and footage projected above the stage. They play lots from yet-to-be-released new album “Sweet Heart Sweet Light”, including single “Hey Jane”, which marries a concise pop song to lengthy cosmic jamming, one that seems to have a very Sly & The Family Stone thing goin’ on (hardly to its detriment, of course) and another that espouses the curiously old-fashioned notion of listening to music on a radio in an inevitably anthemic stylee.
Laurie Anderson’s “Born Never Asked” is stripped back to garage rock fundamentals, “Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” is performed complete with the “Can’t Help Falling In Love” quote so cruelly denied it on record by Elvis’ estate, and “Lord Let It Rain On Me” is a prime slice of agnostic gospel. It’s a shame that they somewhat overuse their glorious white light/white noise freakout routine by deploying it in three songs in succession (albeit one of them, the magnificent “Cop Shoot Cop…”, also using it during its recorded version). Otherwise, though, this is probably the best form I’ve yet seen the band on, and with a promising-sounding new album imminent, these are exciting times for oft-frustrated (the fact that this gig has been twice postponed from its original October date being a prime example) Spiritualized fans.