Rock: After this experience, you'll be Spiritualized too

Instead of being sold in the usual easy-crack Perspex box, the new CD by Spiritualized comes in a prescription medicine packet. The sleevenotes, on a folded piece of paper, list the possible side-effects, while the disc itself lodges aspirin-style in a dimpled white plastic tray, sealed in foil. Whether Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space (Dedicated) is deemed the Album of the Year remains to be seen, but as for Packaging of the Year - no contest.

If Spiritualized's drifting, droning music can sound as if the band were on medication while making it, the box gives an indication of how much attention Jason "Spaceman" Pierce, the band's singer/songwriter/producer, paid to every second of his 70-minute meisterwerk; and the show at the London Astoria on Monday had its share of loving care, too. It was opened by an a cappella quartet on a podium at the back of the stage, putting the spiritual into Spiritualized by chanting a gospel refrain, "Oh happy day," over and over again. An ironic contrast with the mood of Ladies and Gentlemen ... perhaps? A reminder that Spiritualized's taste for endless repetition has its provenance in the very roots of rock'n'roll? Or just some fantastic singing? I'd plump for all of the above.

The six-piece band then took the stage under cover of semi-darkness, and played "Cop Shoot Cop" - a song which lasts 17 minutes on the record. Pierce and his fellow guitarist bent notes to produce little moans not heard since the days of the Doors and the Velvet Underground (it's arguable that Pierce has based his entire career on "Heroin" by the Velvets) and the venue dissolved into a pulsing - but tuneful - haze.

Now and then Spiritualized exploded in a cacophony of harmonica squeals and deranged guitar noise, with accompanying retina-melting banks of white lights, before subsiding again into hypnotic, tidal rhythms. "Floating in space" didn't seem so hard a concept to imagine, all of a sudden, even for those of us who had partaken of nothing stronger than a can of Red Stripe. Spiritualized's omission from the Trainspotting soundtrack was unforgiveable, although one of their songs was used in a recent Toffee Crisp commercial, which is some compensation.

Somewhere in the middle of the concert, though, the "may cause drowsiness" warning on the prescription packet seemed more accurate than the album title. Spiritualized's liquefied swirl was worryingly close to "Jazz Odyssey" territory, and the audience was forced to amuse itself by spotting B-list Britpop celebrities (from where I was standing I could see guitarists from Elastica, Menswear, Lush, Echobelly and Kenickie).

But these periods didn't last. The punk jolt of "Electricity" proved that Spiritualized have more than one gear; and those lyrics which weren't about pharmaceuticals were direct and lovelorn enough to pull Spaceman's music back to a relatively nearby planet.

The gospel quartet returned for the last three songs, to particularly wonderful effect on "I Think I'm in Love". On the album, Pierce sings the whole track himself. In concert, he drawled the hopeful first line of each couplet ("Think I'm your friend") and the quartet chorused the cynical answer ("Probably just lonely"). The song then segued back to "Oh Happy Day", this time with the band playing along, before the quartet were left onstage alone for the exultant finale. Spiritualized spoilt it by returning for an encore, of course, but that always happens.

Speaking of rock concert rituals, the futile habit of calling out requests moved into a new era at Mark Eitzel's show on Wednesday, with the introduction of the Audience Debate and the Anti-Request. " 'Live or Die!' " yelled somebody in one shadowy corner of Islington's Union Chapel.

"No, none of that shit!" countered a voice from a pew round the corner.

Roughly translated, the exchange went as follows: "Play a track from your new album, West (Warner), which was co-written and co-produced by Peter Buck, the guitarist of REM."

"No, those songs sound too much like REM. I prefer the material you recorded when you were leader of American Music Club, the acclaimed cult band from San Francisco."

I'm with Fan No1. I'm glad to see Eitzel's sales being boosted by a few hundred thousand curious REM fans; and I'm happy for Buck to have the opportunity to work with a singer whose lyrics make some sort of sense. Besides, Eitzel has always had his similarities with REM's Michael Stipe: the way they stretch and arc their voices, as if yawning; the way they sometimes seem to be making up the tunes as they go along. Ironically, however, the melodies that are co-written with Buck are less tortuous than those which Eitzel writes on his own.

Still, they're a funny lot, Mark Eitzel fans. They adore him when he mumbles incoherently and tunes his guitar for five minutes at a stretch. They love him when he breaks off from a song because he's got the time signature wrong. And, because the concert took place in a church, he was able to elicit applause simply by burping and swearing. I'm not sure how the fans square this with their admiration of him as a profound, sensitive artist, but for me, his jokey name for his band, The Mark Eitzel Ordeal, was close to the truth.

The self-conscious amateurism is annoying not just because it's such a cheap way of establishing a rapport with the audience, but also because it's unnecessary. When he gets down to it, Eitzel is a startling showman. He doesn't have much of a voice, but he pushes what he does have to its limits, pouring on the anguish until he is half-roaring, half-sobbing; and falling to one knee, like a bull expecting the matador's coup de grace.

Peter Buck - who played for half of the set in a band that included the Screaming Trees' drummer and American Music Club's bassist - confined himself to slow-motion twisting and crouching, just as he does with REM. He played much the same riffs as he does with REM, too. More importantly, his presence got the guitar out of Eitzel's fumbling hands, so that the singer could spend less time tuning and more time performing. Every Eitzel fan should thank Buck for that.

Record reviews: page 15.

Suggested Topics
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home