Report: Spiritualized, Brisbane 2012

The Hi-Fi, Brisbane
Tuesday 4 December 2012

There was a strange ambivalence surrounding the release of Spiritualized’s latest album, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light. Those in favour hailed it as a return to form set against the backdrop of Jason Pierce’s interminable health struggles; those against kicked it to the curb for being yet another Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space retread. But for a band—or a man—that has always been known for its live show, you feel onstage is where Spiritualized should ultimately be judged. Will tonight be the type of transcendental experience Pierce built his name upon? Or has one Spiritualized performance finally blended into the next?

Brisbane tonight may be packing a weird, desiccated heat uncommon for these parts, but inside The Hi-Fi it’s blessedly cool. This is a good thing: there might be demented sport in watching Englishmen come to town during festival season and sweat their own weight in bodily fluids. But Pierce is a guy who’s dragged himself through hell on earth over the last five years, racking up two heart failures, a liver collapse, pneumonia and a course of chemotherapy. Looking around the venue tonight, you almost feel half the crowd turned up just to make sure he’s still alive.

Thankfully, Pierce is very much still alive, even if he continues to occupy his now customary stool to the side of the stage. Spiritualized in recent years have tended to tour as an extensive unit, packing choirs, horn and string sections. Tonight it’s a stripped down version of the band, with guitar, bass, keys, a couple of backing vocalists and what looks like Karl Pilkington on drums. Weirdly, nobody stands or sits forward on the stage – the band remaining for the most part in the shadows, or defined against a series of ginormous video projections.

Pared back this version of Spiritualized may be, but over the course of the night you begin to suspect you’ve hit upon something closer to the band’s true essence. They’re like a hotrod – whittled down to the basic parts, but muscular, responsive and barely restrained. Hit the accelerator and they instantly go, best exemplified early on by new cuts ‘Hey Jane’ and ‘Headin’ for the Top Now’, and particularly later in the set with ‘Electric Mainline’ and ‘Smiles’—both from the formative mid-90s days of Spiritualized—which take off on some phenomenal flights of noise.

The sound is something else. I can’t remember the last time music has swelled through the carpet, up my calves and into my chest, tickling my ribcage with its pure frequency. It’s an extraordinary sensation, and when combined with a pair of powerful strobes forces you to intermittently duck behind the person in front and reset your senses – afterwards, I won’t feel quite the same, like Spiritualized have rerouted my nervous system.

Pierce swings for this propulsive material more frequently tonight than he does on his album sets, but the band turn out to be just as good at mining those quieter moments. One of my pals for the night describes ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space’ as the perfect song, and presented live I have to agree -- its slow descent into madness washing over an unstirring crowd. There’s a similar reaction to ‘Perfect Miracle’, a brand new cut, which pays off promises of love with the stupefying inertia of addiction and indolence.

In the end, tonight illustrates a couple of things. Firstly, Sweet Heart, Sweet Light is perhaps closer to Pierce genius than its (mostly UK) critics have cared to admit. It translates beautifully live, and ends up a better LP for the experience. Secondly, Spiritualized, a band that have survived personnel changes and health problems and the turncoat nastiness of the British hype machine, are just as vital now as they’ve ever been. The infamously cantankerous Alan McGee once described Pierce as being “as important to British culture as Neil Young is to American culture.” It’s a big call, but one that seems a little less outrageous with each passing year. The Mayan calendar has the world ending in 16 days, and thankfully Spiritualized tonight were music to watch the world end by.

Matt Shea (@mrmatches)
profile of MattShea

2 comments so far..

  • GramParsons's avatar
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Dec 2012 - 6:18 AM
    A fine review. They opened the show so strongly and christ they finished with the wind in their sails. The last song before the encore (Electric Mainline?) and the final song of the encore (Smiles?) were so fucking powerful and intense that whole body was rattling and i was genuinely worried my nose was going to start bleeding. Well worth leaving the comfort of an air conditioned bedroom for.
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  • MattShea's avatar
    Date and time
    Thursday 06 Dec 2012 - 11:59 AM

    Yeah, exactly re: Electric Mainline and Smiles. Phenomenal stuff.

    I was thankful we were in the only decently air-conditioned mid-sized venue in town.
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