Spiritualized – Barbican Hall, London (7th Nov 2016)

Photo by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark AllanPhoto by Mark Allan

In many ways, the Barbican Centre is the perfect setting for Spiritualized to perform their seminal album ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space’. The cavernous hall, with faultless sound, is an entirely seated venue. In many instances, an entirely seated venue would detract from the atmosphere of an event, but in this instance it is a distinct advantage for the music. ‘Ladies and Gentleman…’ is a vast, intricate and grandiose record that can only truly be enjoyed with total, uninterrupted concentration. Equally, the Barbican, the band and the album seems to attract the perfect kind of concert-goer… the silent type. At no point is there any distraction from the music. What a joy that is.

Taking to the stage shortly after 9pm, Jason Pierce adopts his usual spot, seated to the right of the stage facing across the audience. Pierce is, in essence, a man with absolutely no charisma or stage presence. Much like the all seated venue though, this is a blessing as he knowingly lets his remarkable compositions take the spotlight. Accompanied tonight by a fifteen piece orchestra and gospel choir, as well as his usual six piece band, the vast ensemble proceed to take us on an otherworldly journey through one of the best and most influential albums of the 90s.

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The opening duo of the title track and ‘Come Together’ instantly provide numerous spine tingling moments. The melancholy beauty of the former is a perfect juxtaposition to the invigorating garage gospel of the latter. Together they form the blueprint of what Spiritualized do best. ‘Come Together’ in particular is a highlight of the evening. As the gospel choir reach fever pitch during the song’s crescendo, it’s a truly thrilling, breathless spectacle.

As the album twists and turns through rock, gospel, free-jazz, blues, prog and everything in between, it never loses its key identity. Pierce’s ability to fuse fuzz laden rock, gospel, beautiful orchestration and heartbreaking songwriting into something that has become his musical identity, is something that none of his contemporaries have ever managed. ‘Cool Waves’, the most touching song of the evening, draws the biggest reaction from the crowd. Once again, the addition of the orchestra and gospel choir make tonight’s renditions the best that Spiritualized has ever put together. As the epic blues rock wig-out that is ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ brings the album to a close, it’s evident that we’ve witnessed a very special performance.

Just shy of the twentieth anniversary of its release (their new album is being released next year on the actual anniversary), what we have in ‘Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space’ is a timeless record. Timeless is a word that is often thrown around rather too casually, but when you compare this particular LP to many others released at the same time, it’s well up there with OK Computer as one that is still more creative and relevant than many that have followed.

As if we needed any more, the band return for a two song encore. Their traditional closing rendition of the traditional gospel arrangement ‘Oh Happy Day’ is as joyous and life affirming as ever. However, it’s ‘Out Of Sight’ which is quite possibly the song of the night. In this writer’s humble opinion, it is the best thing the band have ever recorded. To hear it performed with the orchestra in particular is a real treat. The soaring horns and harmonica are even more powerful when performed live and it is a faultless rendition.

In a nutshell, Spiritualized are a very special band and Jason Pierce is a very special musician. Although he may have found a formula that he likes and has never veered away from it, it will always be ambitious and powerful enough to justify his loyalty to it. ‘Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating In Space’ remains his finest work and his choice to revisit again is not lazy, but fully justified when performed so remarkably to celebrate its (not quite) twentieth birthday.

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