Sunday, November 4, 2012

Live Review: Spiritualized, Hall 1, The Sage, Gateshead, 01/11/2012

Not many artists can get away with shunning their best album by a country mile, but by the same token few possess a catalogue as strong or expansive as Jason Pierce and Spiritualized. Hugely acclaimed both on record and on stage, the space rock master is noted for his tendency to shuffle setlists, though few who congregated in The Sage's main hall could have predicted such a drastic curve. He had a new record to exhibit in Sweet Heart Sweet Light, but even the most seasoned observers will surely have anticipated a level of reliance on 1997's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space; universally regarded his masterpiece and a high point of '90s music as a whole. As it was, only a solitary song, "Electricity," made an appearance - and that ended up being an unlikely trough in a show which predominantly focused on less familiar reaches of his discography.

In fairness, that particular quirk wasn't so much due to the song itself as it was a lackluster opening. This being the first date of their UK tour, a little rustiness was understandable, but that alone didn't account for the extent to which the group remained grounded. Indeed during the half hour nothing whatsoever seemed to gel. The sound was too quiet, the visuals were too conservative, and the musicians on stage were patently struggling to establish any kind of rhythm. It was underwhelming to say the least, and for a long while threatened to render the night an almighty let-down.

Luckily, a eureka moment was forthcoming in the shape of early number "Take Your Time." Whether by luck or design, all which had previously fallen flat suddenly slotted gloriously into place, transforming sluggish bombast into soundscapes of truly magnificent and engrossing scope. Finally living up their their potential, the band preceded to go from strength to strength, confirming their live credentials even with a set short on crowning achievements. Material from Sweet Heart Sweet Light, which comprised a vast chunk, was particularly impressive. With its serene progression and classic sky-scraping crescendo, "So Long You Pretty Thing" was a predictable standout, matching its recorded guise even with only a pair of backing singers and nothing in the way of orchestration. Less foreseeable in its excellence was "I Am What I Am," whose irresistible rootsy stomp was quite literally lit up by a stunning angular visual extravaganza. As if they weren't fresh enough, Pierce also found the time to air a pair of brand new cuts, along with a document of his early career with a trademark cover of Spacemen 3's "Come Down Easy."

It was undoubtedly a performance for the hardcore - a notion reflected by the odd bemused voice on the way out - but even those less versed in the Spiritualized catalogue were left in no doubt as to its depth and merit. The new record in particular left with its reputation enhanced, even if most would have preferred a few established favourites as opposed to the entire thing. That said, with three decades of pioneering work behind him, Pierce has certainly earned the right to a little individualism, and although imperfect tonight was a case of soaring, triumphant vindication.



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