Anyone who has seen Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized play a live show would know calling it a “big production” would be a massive understatement. Whether it’s cramming over 30 people onto a stage, the intensely personal and spiritual lyrical content (pun intended) or the band playing for well over two hours on a Tuesday night, this British space rock band lives for the big moment. Last night they performed at one of the most well-restored of the old movie palaces in the Broadway Theatre District, washing the ornate interior with seemingly never-ending waves of intense aural and visual stimulation.
Those familiar with the music of Spiritualized know that they’ve gradually (and at times heavily) incorporated the sounds of soul, gospel and blues into their psychedelic rock template. The result’s great on record; they’re simply magnificent in-person. It’s hard to not be blown away by a six-piece band, playing along with a 15-piece orchestra (eight string instruments, seven brass/woodwind and one percussionist) and a 10-member gospel choir. Seeing all the musicians that go into the production of these songs gives a tangible perspective of the ambition Pierce puts into every Spiritualized release. Credit goes to The Orpheum’s sound team as well as the venue’s excellent acoustics–each element of the oversized band rang through and the wall of sound not once deteriorated into the equivalent of sonic mud.
In the absence of an opener, Spiritualized broke their set down to two sections. The first served as a bit of a “greatest hits” period, with the band touching on some of their most beloved tracks from the first seven LPs (though their second album Pure Phase was omitted). The second half was a song-by-song performance of their latest album, the excellent And Nothing Hurt, which judging by the reactions by fans to the songs being performed live, will go down as another triumphant entry into the band’s storied discography. The performances were colored by an impressive light and projection display, which varied from geometric patterns, Morse code messages (presumably song lyrics or song titles–unfortunately this reviewer is not adept at on-the-fly Morse interpretation) and undulating jellyfish.
Pierce sat to the far right of the stage for the entire performance, allowing the audience to turn their attention to the various components of the performance. He didn’t address the crowd throughout the performance until the final note of the set proper, to simply say “Thank you.” This is just the way Spiritualized organizes their sets. If you’re hoping for a show with witty and engaging on-stage banter, best to look elsewhere. Instead, this was a chance for fans to experience the band’s music in a whole new way — the catharsis of the horns blasting out notes to punctuate the band’s triple-guitar-assault and white-robed choir singers swaying along to the rhythm.
After the set got started with segments of “Hold On” serving as an introduction of sorts, “Come Together” gave the band a chance to show off the full capabilities of their elaborate stage set up. A raucous selection from the band’s legendary Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, the song is all droning guitar riffs with head-bobbing chord changes. While the venue had assigned-seating, which puts a damper on some of the energy, the excitement while the band cranked out “Come Together” was palpable. Next up was “Stay With Me,” from the same landmark 1997 album, which continued the brief nostalgia trip into the band’s deeper discography. A much more ambient selection, it’s filled with twinkling arpeggios and bend-filled riffs that give the feeling of a space-age-country ballad.
Next, the band took us all the way back into the earliest days of the band, when J Spaceman broke away from Peter Kember to form Spiritualized. “Shine A Light” is from the band’s debut LP. The song was a subdued affair, but one that longtime fans knew well, perfect to peacefully sway along with as the set began to pick up momentum. “Soul On Fire” is a shout-along, one of the biggest choruses in the band’s discography. Taken from Songs in A & E, it’s a song that Pierce wrote after a very close brush with death following a bout with pneumonia and serious infection. It’s certainly uplifting, a theme that would be carried throughout much of the night. The first half of the set concluded with “Broken Heart,” yet another cut from Ladies and Gentlemen…
At this point, it’s worth noting that despite the ambitious and elaborate stage set up, at no point during this set did anything become over-indulgent. With the massive amounts of musical talent present on stage, it would have been easy for Pierce to direct his band to pull out every jam-band excess known to man. He could have allowed for two-to-three minute sections of guitar drones or extended intros that dragged songs past the 10-minute mark. Instead, things were kept relatively tight (Spiritualized is still known for fairly long songs), allowing the band to fit in an impressive 18 song set (including encore).
After playing six songs from their previous albums, it was time to focus on the band’s latest release, And Nothing Hurt. Another solid entry into the band’s already nearly-flawless back-catalog, it’s not a radical departure from anything we’ve heard from the band over the previous three decades. Sometimes, the best thing a great band can do is tread water. This may sound like an insult but it’s not, and the nine songs on their latest album (and first in six years) prove that there’s plenty of territory and nuance to explore in Spiritualized’s sound.
The songs were played in order, so “A Perfect Miracle” kicked off this segment. This song, with sentimental lyrics like “I’d like to sit around and dream you up a perfect miracle / I’d catch the wind and have it blow all my kisses to you / I’ll take the birds and teach them all the words of every love song I know / And I’d have them fly around and sing them all to you” belies chorus lyrics that include selections such as “My mind is a mess and I’m needing you less / Give me a call in a little while” and “Lately I’ve found I don’t need you around / I don’t think it’s working out anyway.” The dueling sentiments of the song prove that the narrator’s mind is truly a mess–equal parts longing for his lover and hoping they just stay away.
“I’m Your Man” once again hides a more negative message behind uplifting instrumentals and at first glance, reassuring lyrics. Pierce admits he could be faithful, honest and true–but really what you’re getting with him is a man that is wasted, loaded and uneducated but doing the best that he can. But maybe we can all relate with this lyrical turn in one way or another? The next few songs included the loping “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go” and “Let’s Dance,” which features a piano line that is extremely reminiscent of the iconic symphonic strings in The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”
“On The Sunshine” saw the band returning to the type of intensity and aggression that up until this point had only really been reached with “Come Together.” While it is upbeat and enthralling from the opening seconds, it was when the choir, orchestra and six-member rock band all came together in the middle section that the song reached its ecstatic climax. After “Damaged” came another high-octane cut “The Morning After,” which mixed motorik Krautrock tempos with jangling garage rock riffage reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. “The Prize” and “Sail On Through” concluded the main set as the 30+ performers circulated off stage.
Following an extremely short standing ovation calling for the band to come out for an encore, they obliged. It was so short in fact, that the performers exiting stage right likely just walked around the back of the stage before returning on the opposite side of the stage. Sweet Heart Sweet Light standout “So Long You Pretty Things” was the first song of the encore and with its concluding lyrics of “Sail On / So Long,” could have served as the perfect conclusion to what was already an epic night. Instead, they continued on with “Out of Sight” and then what was their most gospel-influenced song of the night, “Oh Happy Day,” which is (seemingly) literally about the joys of Jesus Christ’s acts and teachings. Finally, the night concluded with a reprise of “Hold On,” which served as the perfect parting gift to an audience that had been provided with a one-of-a-kind musical experience.
Spiritualized Set List
“Shine A Light”
“Stay With Me”
“Soul on Fire”
And Nothing Hurt
“A Perfect Miracle”
“I’m Your Man”
“Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”
“On The Sunshine”
“The Morning After”
“Sail On Through”
“So Long You Pretty Things”
“Out of Sight”
“Oh Happy Day”
“Hold On (Reprise)”
File Photo: Marv Watson