Spiritualized, Union Chapel, London

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The Independent Culture

It's 10 years since Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, Spiritualized's soundtrack to the Britpop comedown, beat Radiohead's OK Computer to the top of the NME's albums of the year. Jason Pierce and the shifting group of collaborators who made up Spiritualized also produced a classic live album at the Albert Hall in 1997, shot through with his signature gospel-inspired spirituals.

The series of "acoustic mainline" sets he has been travelling the country with this year are stripped-down versions of the same, with a string quartet and a trio of gospel singers the sole accompaniment for Pierce and his keyboard player. After a long hiatus, Pierce, the sole remaining member of the band's original line-up, is trailing the imminent release of a new album in 2008.

Pierce takes to the stage wearing sunglasses, and spends the whole show sitting facing his piano-playing partner, presenting a third of the audience with a view of the back of his head. He eschews any banter, though there is the occasional friendly thank-you and some reciprocal applause for the crowd. But the audience response is reverent, nonetheless.

Pierce's lyrical preoccupations are the melancholy effects of drug use, and the redemptive power of love and spirituality. It would be interesting to know whether his devotionals use God simply as a metaphor, or whether some sort of real faith would have carried him through the serious illness that forced his long sabbatical.

In the Union Chapel, songs with titles like "Lord, Let It Rain On Me", "Amen", "Walking With Jesus" and "Oh, Happy Day" sound sincere and heartfelt. There's even a touching take on "Silent Night" featured in the encore.

The sound itself Pierce's strummed acoustic guitar and the electric piano supported by the strings and choir is as intoxicating as incense, yet it soon gets a bit monotonous. The tempo is unswervingly gentle, many songs are built on little more than a pair of chords, and the arrangements are satisfying but unimaginative, betraying little of the super sonic invention of Ladies and Gentlemen...

When Pierce brings out the big tunes, it doesn't matter so much. "Stop Your Crying", from 2001's Let It Come Down, is an epic delight, while a plaintive, echoing harmonica gives a whole new dimension to the magnificent "Broken Heart".

On first listen, the three songs from the upcoming album "Sitting On Fire", "Soul On Fire" and "Baby I'm Just a Fool" are slight by comparison, but there's rare dynamism in "Think I'm In Love" with its call-and-response vocal between Pierce and his gospel gals.

Among the nostalgic Nineties comebacks of the past year Dodgy, Shed Seven, the Spice Girls Spiritualized's is particularly welcome. And judging by the enthusiastic ovation Pierce receives, his disciples have no doubt that he's fully resurrected.

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