Live Music + Gig Reviews

Spiritualized @ Hackney Empire, London

19 March 2012



Spiritualized main man Jason Pierce has never been known for his quickfire on-stage patter, extensive wisecracks with the crowd and frantic bursts of guitar hero showmanship. And amid the grand surroundings of the Hackney Empire, Pierce doesn’t pull any surprises. But the veteran spaceman of yore doesn’t need to resort to rock clichés; instead, he serves as a sort of cosmic conductor, eliciting eardrum-smashing shards of blissful noise from his band, this time in support of their imminent seventh studio album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light.

Pierce has consistently associated himself with, shall we say, a rather pharmaceutical existence via the band’s albums and website packaging and the frontman’s own existence, often precarious as evinced by his pneumonia-infused brushes with death. Accordingly, the band’s live shows have been an increasingly life-affirming, lysergic rush of motorik euphoria in constant orbit around Pierce’s stationary presence.

Although to dismiss Pierce as merely stationary is doing the man a disservice; he is also every inch the snake-hipped rock n’ roll survivor, almost one dimensionally thin, eyes hidden behind the shades, never once making eye contact with anyone other than his bandmates. And in spite of the lull in the band’s commercial fortunes in the noughties, following on from the peaks of 1997’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, the teeming crowd in Hackney suggests the band may be on the up again, particularly in light of their stunning performances of the aforementioned album at the Royal Albert Hall last year.

But tonight’s gig isn’t simply about re-treading past glories. The band have a new album to plug and set opener Hey Jane, which doubles as current single, is not just a blatant steal from the MC5; it’s also a 10-minute incessant throb of Krautrock electronics, Pierce’s monotone vocal both clashing and meshing with the backing vocals, something which wouldn’t sound out of place on Julian Cope‘s masterful Peggy Suicide/Jehovahkill/Autogeddon trilogy; in fact, the opener is almost too good – everything that followed seemed positively bereft in comparison but this was no reflection on the performance, simply on a spellbinding introduction.

The band maintained their emphasis on the new album which confirms Pierce’s primary lyrical obsessions concerning the holy trinity of God, love and drugs. Indeed, if one is to throw any criticism Pierce’s way it would be that his lyrical obsessions and delivery never rise above the same monotone touchstones. But this is a man who knows his territory – Spiritualized singing about anything else would seem rather underwhelming. The big music requires the big topics.

The relentless surge of white noise gospel was not dimmed by a marginally reduced band line-up; the incendiary sounds conjured by Pierce and in particular Doggen on lead guitar were channelled through a to the unfailingly respectful congregation, displaying equal affection for the new tracks alongside Lay Back In The Sun and She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit). However, once the euphoric coda So Long You Pretty Things brought the night to an (initial) close, the band returned with the double whammy of Electricity and Cop Shoot Cop for a spectacular curtain call.

If anything, Spiritualized offered proof that they are, once again, in the ascendancy. While the likes of Paul Weller belatedly (re-)discover SpaceKrautrock grooves and tack it onto their ‘radical’ new releases, Spiritualized are consistently transmitting their own electrical mainlines at a far more celestial level and with a denouement that is positively intoxicating.

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More on Spiritualized
Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
Spiritualized @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
Spiritualized @ Barbican, London
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light