Live Review: Spiritualized
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 04/11/2012
Support: Roy And The Devil’s Motorcycle
In the liner notes of their 1997 masterpiece Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, the music of Spiritualized is coined as something “to treat the heart and soul”. As a huge fan of that album in particular, and feeling a little disjointed after a short-lived visit to the homeland, I approached Spiritualized’s performance on Sunday night with a keen anticipation. Surely the warm sounds of the gospel-tinged rock group would be an uplifting way to conclude a weekend?
First onstage at the Butterworth Hall was the bizarrely-named psychedelic group Roy And The Devil’s Motorcycle, whose strung-out guitar exercises leapt between slowly contemplative and biting. Their performance offered some interesting sounds (and the drummer’s haircut was ridiculously entertaining), but they never felt genuinely engaging, a fact which wasn’t helped along by the fact that the Butterworth Hall was half-empty during their set. That said, a sizeable portion of the venue was still empty when Spiritualized arrived a short while later, and the fact that the venue was so spacious and sparsely-filled made it kind of tricky to feel any surges of excitement.
His expression inscrutable behind his characteristic dark glasses, Jason Pierce spent the entire event perched on a stool stage-left, performing with an almost-detached quality. Given his recent battle with liver disease, one can forgive him for not having exuded charisma in spades, but it was a shame that he displayed little-to-no stage presence. Not a word was offered to the audience for the duration of the set, and while this wasn’t exactly heartbreaking, it did make the performance seem a little aloof and inaccessible, as if we were watching from a distance.
All the same, the gig began on a very strong note. After a wall of reverb-laden guitars announced the band’s arrival, the huge screen lining the back of the stage flashed images of a bustling city as Pierce and co. launched into the gospel chug of Hey Jane. Followed up by a ferocious rendition of 1997’s Electricity, it was an amp-crackling opening which set a high benchmark for the remainder of the evening to live up to.
From there, however, the pace sagged as the band began to perform a plethora of mid-tempo numbers from 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light. While some were pulled off nicely (the fluttering pianos of Too Late were really quite lovely, and in a live capacity, Little Girl transformed into a tastefully funky shuffle), the concert quickly became repetitious and slightly tiresome, with little variation to the formula to elicit surprise as their most recent album was played from start-to-finish. Admittedly, I do find it annoying when people complain that bands won’t “play the classics” at live performances, but the prevailing ignorance of songs from Ladies And Gentlemen… and Lazer Guided Melodies did give off the impression of flippancy. While the new material is largely strong and evocative, on stage it felt a mite too inoffensive, and I started to wish for a little more from the group’s 1990s output to get an airing.
Even in the more blustery moments, the musicians didn’t seem to invest any real passion into the music (with the exception of the lead guitarist, who looked like he was having a whale of a time during the squall of Headin’ For The Top Now), which was strangely at odds with the nature of the band’s music. With their songs traditionally so heart-on-sleeve, it was disappointing that the emotional potential of these songs was never fully realised. It wasn’t until the later outings of So Long You Pretty Thing and the spectacular light show that accompanied Take Your Time that the music started to offer something beyond mere prettiness, helped along by an increase in guitar skronking towards the gig’s climax.
Still, half of those in attendance were really getting into things, with the left-hand-side of the mass in particular bobbing and cheering along to every song on offer. This could be my bad: perhaps if I was more of a die-hard fan, the gig would have made much more sense and been a lot more enjoyable as an experience. But as a casual listener, it was merely a pleasant way of spending an evening, with nothing quite reaching the euphoric or life-affirming standards left by other concerts, or for that matter, left by listening to the group’s albums back on the stereo.
(Instrumental)* // Hey Jane // Electricity // Get What You Deserve // Little Girl // Too Late // Headin’ For The Top Now // Freedom // I Am What I Am // Mary // Life Is A Problem // So Long You Pretty Thing // Another Man’s Crime* // Part The Clouds* // Take Your Time // (Instrumental)*. All I Wanna Do* // (Instrumental)*
*I’m not entirely sure of the titles of these pieces, so I’ve just popped in the lyrics that cropped up.