Monday, November 19th, 2007

Going Down Slow

I figure there are three types of Spiritualized fans out there in the world these days. The faithful, whose zeal for the works of J Spaceman haven’t wavered after all these years. The agnostics (like myself) who would certainly call themselves fans but would have to agree that he’s now some ten years past his best work though are not prepared to write him off yet. And the apostates who, all things being equal, would probably rather listen to Spacemen 3 and angrily dismiss everything Jason Pierce has done post-Ladies & Gentleman, We Are Floating In Space. And, I suppose, you could put everyone else in the world under the category of atheist though they’re not really relevant to this discussion.

Spiritualized has been quiet since 2003’s disappointing (I think all categories of fans can agree on this) Amazing Grace, save a couple of career-spanning compilations. Work had been ongoing on a new record as far back as 2005 but when Jason Pierce nearly died that July, that threw a bit of a spanner in the works. Pierce recovered, thankfully, but the album was delayed – a 2007 release has now become a 2008 release – and until it comes out we can only speculate what sort of effect his illness had on the writing. After all, at least musically and lyrically Pierce has always nursed a deep religious streak and almost being taken to the other side? Well that’s got to leave a mark. But if anyone needed a hint as to where his headspace was at, they needed look any further than his Acoustic Mainlines tour, started in the UK last year and wrapping up a short North American run with the penultimate show in Toronto on Saturday night (it finishes in Boston tonight).

For many/most bands, a tour billed as “accompanied by strings and gospel singers” would be indisputable, physical evidence that they had gone over the top in pretentiousness with casino gigs just around the corner. This would be the apostate point of view. But for Spiritualized, it makes sense. Pierce’s entire career has arguably been dedicated to fusing rock, blues and gospel styles together and so to focus on rearranging his catalog for this sort of show seemed like a logical step. Spiritualized compositions typically come in two flavours – stripped down, electrified blues-rockers and grandiosely orchestrated, well, spirituals. Neither of these really translate to the “unplugged” format and so while the strings and gospel singers worked really well, it was actually the acoustic portion of the arrangements that proved to be the weak spot.

The stage was arranged with Pierce seated with an acoustic guitar, facing an electric pianist and surrounded by a four-piece string section and three-piece gospel choir. Pierce’s voice and guitar were turned way up in the mix and on occasion made the rest of the band sound incidental and gave the songs in almost a folk-like delivery. Whether this was deliberate or circumstantial is hard to say but the overall vibe of the show was extremely chilled out, serene and almost zen-like in its placidity. Any sense of dynamics were muted, particularly without the percussion, horns and electric guitar that typically create the hypnotic energy and punctuation in Spiritualized songs, and instead Pierce was content to just let it flow.

This was the pace for most of the set – beautiful, slow and hazy renditions of Spiritualized songs new and old, Spacemen 3 selections and a Daniel Johnston cover – until “Anything More” from Let It Come Down segued into the title track from their magnum opus, Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. With hit utterance of “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away”, the crowd came alive, the gospel choir came alive and though Pierce remained utterly stoic on the exterior, maybe he dug in just a little harder. This was followed up by “Broken Heart” and probably the most gut-wrenching harmonica solo I’ve ever heard before finally easing up a bit for “I Think I’m In Love”. Through most of the show I had been thinking that Pierce had forgotten or abandoned the drama, the crescendos but no, he was just saving it all for the end and in doing so, elevated the show from simply pretty to deeply, devastatingly beautiful.

The disciples would have gone home on Saturday night their faith renewed in the Spaceman, the apostates (also known as the hecklers) perhaps with more evidence that Pierce has lost whatever fire fueled his earlier works and was happily headed down the road to easy listening (and probably left early) and the agnostic, well I’m still going to wait to hear the new album before passing judgment on Spiritualized’s long-term artistic prospects. But of course I’d say that.

Support on the tour came from Irish one-man band Simple Kid who shaggy, Badly Drawn folk was mildly endearing but mostly forgettable. It’s hard to think that someone who sings a duet with a video projection of Kermit The Frog is really striving to be taken seriously so I didn’t bother.

The Toronto Star also offers up a review of the show.

Photos: Spiritualized, Simple Kid @ The Phoenix – November 17, 2007
MP3: Simple Kid – “Lil King Kong”
Video: Spiritualized – “Stop Your Crying” (YouTube)
Video: Simple Kid – “Serotonin” (YouTube)
MySpace: Spiritualized
MySpace: Simple Kid

Two reasons to visit I Am Fuel You Are Friends – one, she’s giving away a copy of the The Brit Box boxed set, two, she’s got a good-sounding recording of one of The Verve’s reunion shows to download. It sounds… good. According to the The New Zealand Herald, they hope to release a new album by Christmas. That sounds over-optimistic and a recipe for half-baked, overly jammy songwriting.

Exclaim! reports that ATO are not distributing Radiohead’s In Rainbows in Canada. Instead, it will be sent to stores via Maple Music. All of which means… absolutely nothing. It’ll still be in stores January 2. NME has some quotes from Ed O’Brien about Radiohead’s position on the state of the music industry, if that wasn’t already abundantly clear.

Spinner interfaces with Stars. Westender, Vue and The Georgia Straight settle for interviews.

Jens Lekman explains to The Age why he, in actuality, is one of the sexiest men in Sweden.

Stereogum has the premiere of the first MP3 from the new Magnetic Fields album, Distortion. It’s out January 15.

James McNew explains the joy of a Yo La Tengo Hannakuk to Gothamist. Bradley’s Almanac has recordings of their recent freewheeling stop in Boston.

By : Frank Yang at 8:26 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. Andy says:

    I would probably, if pushed, have filed myself in your apostates category a while back but I saw the Acoustic Mainlines show in London at the tail end of last year (my first Spiritulized (related) gig for about 8 years) and it *was* truly astounding…I came back into the fold…

  2. brads says:

    A perfectly timed preview for the Boston show tonight. I’ll be there, and you probably know what that means…

  3. torr says:

    yeah, the recent Verve shows are kinda anit-climatic in that you could dig out a recording from the first Urban Hymns tour, label the tape REUNION TOUR 2007 and you’d pretty much have the same thing.

  4. Frank says:

    Andy – was this the same configuration as the UK acoustic gigs or were those a little fuller? I know that there were logistical challenges to the NA tour, like the gospel choir for the east coast joined up in NYC and this was just their second show with the band.

  5. Quinn says:

    I’m supremely jealous, because this tour isn’t coming anywhere near me. Thanks – as per usual – for the recap, Frank

  6. danieljosef says:

    I contemplated the Spiritualized show and after reading this regret not going. I’d love to see Jason do a tour featuring material from Ladies and Gentleman and previous albums. I’m gutted for missing "Ladies and Gentlemen/Broken Heat/I Think I’m In Love" in sucession.

  7. Andy says:

    Sounds like exactly the same set up I saw at the Royal Festival Hall in October last year (I wrote about that here –…). The gospel singers were Londoners who had clearly worked with Jason before – there was quite a funny moment when Jason broke a guitar string and one of singers said "Go on Jase" in such a lovely London accent – the kind of voice you don’t expect to make such a lovely sound when singing!

  8. Andy says:

    Oops – wrong link in my clipbopard!
    – that was a bit embarrassing but you can have a look at an ancient picture of my family as well!

  9. Jerad says:

    I just read this after seeing the Boston show last night. I probably fall somewhere between the Faithful and Agnostic, but only because I don’t expect anyone, including J Spaceman, to top Ladies and Gentlemen. Still, after seeing that beautiful three-song set-closing bit, I’d accuse anyone who’s not converted to the Faithful of having a cold, cold heart indeed.