Spiritualized, Royal Festival Hall, London
Thursday 15 October 2009
The first edition of Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space came in a mock-up packet of pills: the slim cardboard box contained a leaflet of instructions and a plastic tray covered in foil that you had to break open to reveal the CD itself, which looked like a giant aspirin. It was a beautiful piece of design, but for the fact that, once you returned it to the box after its first few plays, the CD rattled around so freely in there that it quickly became scratched, rendering around half of the tracks unplayable.
Spiritualized's third LP was famously named as NME's album of the year in 1997, a vintage year of high-Britpop that also gave us The Verve's Urban Hymns and Radiohead's OK Computer. Since then, like my scratchy original copy of Ladies and Gentlemen, the very idea of the long player has become somewhat careworn. In a world where music is categorised instead into tracks and playlists, what's the future of the album? Heritage performances in subsidised arts venues? Already other acts – whose continuing existence seems equally surprising – have pulled the same trick as Spiritualized: Brian Wilson performed Pet Sounds in full on his 2002 tour; The Pixies played Doolittle for its 20th anniversary; and Idlewild last year recreated each of their studio albums over five nights in Glasgow.
On the evidence of this show, such endeavours are well worth the effort. Before a backdrop of glittering stars, Jason Pierce – frontman, songwriter and sole remaining original member – sits stage left, emotionless in his sunglasses, accompanied by three other guitarists, two drummers, a string section, a brass section, and a gospel choir. Every one of them is employed for the album's opening, title track. It's a space-rock epic and heralds a near-flawless first half to the set, including "Come Together", "I Think I'm in Love" and "Electricity" – which descends finally into a raging electrical storm of white light and guitar feedback.
Ladies and Gentlemen was the high watermark of Jason Pierce's critical and commercial success, a defining concoction of drug haze and gospel-tinged spirituality that connected emotional and physical euphoria with such inspired lines as "I think I'm in love... probably just hungry". But since then he's become a bit of a parody of himself, forever returning to familiar lyrical and musical conceits. There's only so many gospel-tinged, two-chord tunes you can write before they all start to sound the same. Similarly, the remainder of this show contains one too many lengthy wig-outs to hold the interest.
That said, the second side of the album contains at least two more mini-masterpieces in "Cool Waves" and "Broken Heart" – a reminder that Ladies and Gentlemen isn't just a drugs album, it's a break-up record too. The LP as physical artefact is probably doomed, but Ladies and Gentlemen is being re-released in its original pill-packet packaging to coincide with these shows. Buy two: one to play, and one to keep.
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