Spiritualized, Electric Ballroom, London
Tuesday 23 September 2003
It's nine dates into Spiritualized's stripped-back tour for their Amazing Grace® album, and their mainman, Jason Pierce, seems to be tired already. This is Pierce's much-heralded back-to-basics direction, after his richly orchestral Let it Come Down album, and the singer/guitarist has opted to - I mean, really - sit down for the show.
Sure, anyone who has seen Spiritualized live will know the rangy singer doesn't waste time blathering to the audience, preferring to let his sometimes tumultuous, often transcendental trance rock do the talking. But frankly, the stool look is not the stuff that rock'n'roll is made of.
With Pierce taking a pew, then, it's not surprising that Spiritualized struggle to hit a stride. Maybe expectations were too high, but with Pierce claiming that his new album was made to be played live, tonight's patchy set can't help but disappoint.
The squall of feedback that ushers in the opener, "This Little Life of Mine", is certainly strikingly heavy, and a stark contrast with the slow-burn fumes of "Cop Shoot Cop", which opened the band's last tour. Likewise, the seven-strong band ensure that "Never Going Back" and the Dylan-ish "Cheapster" crunch along nicely.
But it's not loud enough, for starters, and the elemental noise Pierce promised is scuppered on some of the slow songs. "Lay it Down Slow" is skin-teasingly gorgeous, but "Hold On" and "The Ballad of Richie Lee" - lush hymnals on Amazing Grace® - are desultorily delivered, while "Lord Let it Rain on Me" plods compared to its gracefully lolloping studio counterpart.
Maybe Pierce has curtailed his act too far. On their 2002 dates, Spiritualized's sets lasted for two and a half hours, over which the band built up a stunningly immersive head of sound. By contrast, tonight's 90-minute offering feels like watching a pan-and-scan film: you miss half the picture.
Instead of hitting the band's characteristic flow, the set comes on in a stop-start stutter of slow one, fast one, slow one... The problem is epitomised by the instrumental track "Electric Mainline": once a near force of nature in concert, it's stopped short after a slow introduction alone tonight. Reining things in is fine, but it almost feels as if Pierce is wilfully holding his band back.
Things pick up on a slew of set-closing old tracks, as the dazzling lights and fierce guitars work up a near-psychedelic frenzy for the Velvets-ish "Run", "Smiles" and - a telling title for the closer - "Things'll Never Be the Same".
Great stuff, but something wasn't clicking into gear on the whole.
There's grace notes and gravitas aplenty on the new album, but the band are limping a little live. Certainly that stool implied as much.
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