Spiritualized w/Nikki Lane
Monday, May 7
Better than: Being in the ICU for six months I would imagine.
Bands that have truly seismic musical moments can never maintain that streak for long—not necessarily because their music declines, but because of a fickle and ever-changing public climate. (Even The Beatles only went for eight years; it just feels longer.) Last night, Spiritualized played like a band on fire—if you’d walked into Terminal 5 and had never heard them, you would think you’d stumbled upon the greatest new band. But other people in the crowd might have been holding the band up to unfair standards that they themselves set years earlier.
He’s a notorious studio perfectionist, but Jason Pierce has always led a great live band, no matter who his bandmates might be. “Everyone’s convinced he sacks the whole band after each album, but I’ve been with them for thirteen years,” guitarist Doggen Foster told me. The veracity of that nasty, long-running rumor may be why the band did sound so good. This was clearly not just some bunch of ringers able to seamlessly blend brand new tracks with classics, never letting you breathe long enough to tell them apart.
Spiritualized’s live show has always been the great equalizer, a place where the newer songs actually make more sense. It’s not that the tracks off Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum) aren’t good—they are. Their recorded versions just sound drastically different from 20-year-old Spiritualized records, despite traveling similar thematic territory. It wasn’t that Pierce had that many themes to explore in the first place, he just explored them deeper. Which is exactly what his trip has been all along, from naming an album Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To to playing the “highest gig on earth”: I’ll go higher than you.
As a champion of drugs both soft & hard (but mostly hard), Pierce threatened to become another casualty—or, at least, a caricature—but he never did; he was jarred back to Earth by the hand of God in the form of two near-death experiences, which is something that is clear from his new music. He doesn’t play faster or with more purpose, but he’s now seen what he only sang about before—and he’s even less afraid.
The stage was completely unadorned, as is the seven-piece band, which was all dressed in black, white, and denim—never colors (God forbid). The occasional well-placed disco ball or subtle lighting effect offered the only pyrotechnics, but lest we forget how much of a change even that is. During its earlier tours the band would remain backlit the entire time, with only strobes to occasionally illuminate them. Like many twenty-year-olds, Spiritualized has become much more comfortable doing their thing with the lights on.
After leaving the stage, the band returned one by one with Pierce last, hands aloft clapping for the audience—again, with more enthusiasm than this writer has ever seen him muster. They then tore through “Electricity” and “Cop Shoot Cop.” Pierce always seemed to match the energy of the audience, as if he has an electric mainline straight into the crowd’s collective arm. And while the newer recorded material may suffer from a bit of been there/done that, what remains vital about this band is that they provide the kind of sonically grandiose, no-frills, shut-up-and-play rock show that is sorely lacking in today’s new bands (Muse, we’re not interested; please go home now). Pierce wins because he’s the last man standing, the one who was literally ready to lay down his helmet & fly off into the great unknown. But he’s still here.
Critical bias: This is my seventh time seeing them.
Overheard: Me: “I really liked those restrained lighting effects.”
Guy who turned out to be the lighting designer: “Thanks!”
Random notebook dump: Don’t forget to make a joke at Muse’s expense. They deserve it. (Find good Kate Hudson joke in there.)
Lord Let It Rain On Me
Heading For The Top
She Kissed Me
Lay Back In The Sun
I Am What I Am
Born Never Asked
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Stay With Me
Cop Shoot Cop