Jason Pierce returns to Manchester with his blissed out sonic explosions, Getintothis’ Luke Traynor has a near biblical experience.
It’s somehow fitting that Jason Pierce turned to space-rock at the start of the 1990s to fill his creative muse.
Fifteen years later, the Spriritualized front man was stunning medics by coming back from the brink after contracting almost-certainly fatal pneumonia when his lungs filled with water and the six-footer plunged in weight to a meagre seven stone.
Established fact, records he technically ‘died’ twice, and so, the ethereal, dreamlike quality that have laced most of his band’s songs seem all the more salient. A chord strikes, as Pierce implores ‘Stay With Me‘ to the Manchester Academy audience amid one of Spiritualized‘s most recognisable grooves, the personal resonance is keenly felt.
This is the undoubted high point of a transfixing night, the glazed quality of the tune, together with its searching slide guitar, giving way to full-on gospel proclamations.
‘Stay with me all of the time – don’t go!‘, Pierce accentuates.
Bearing in mind his 2005 near-death experience, it wouldn’t be surprising if he sings this with a tear in his eyes behind those impenetrable dark sunglasses. That it was recorded after his well-publicised split with former band member Kate Radley only adds to the pained drama.
Tonight, Spiritualized are seemingly keen to get underway and there’s more than a handful who are caught out by his early 8.15pm kick-off.
New single Hey Jane are followed by Lord Let It Rain On Me and She Kissed Me before Lay Back In The Sun – always a live favourite – raises the first real cheer given the advent of summer which has palpaby broken in Liverpool and Manchester.
Mary and So Long You Pretty Things are featured from new long player Sweet Heart Sweet Light, but it’s the seminal tracks, mostly from Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating In Space which really get the crowd fired up.
The title-track of the same name is all fragile vulnerability and is demanded from a gathering who want articulated what it really means to suffer. That said, suffering often turns from darkness to joy in life, and in Spiritualized‘s music with heart-rendering bleak soundscapes slowly giving way to rising crescendos and wailing female religious chanteuses, those subtle changes are all around.
Before you’ve realised, the narcissistic self-reflection has given way to celebratory Harlem singsongs, replete with beaming women in long white gowns, something akin to The Polyphonic Spree on a blisteringly hot day on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. Maybe that’s one of Pierce’s messages. From despair comes hope.
‘All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away,’ from Ladies and Gentlemen… segues into the self-embracing lilts of I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You and we’re all suddenly wondering if this excerpt sounds closer to the Elvis Presley version, or rather, the reggae-infused UB40.
The evening is one of mood and ambience, and the trippy images blasting out ever changing concentric circles on the stage screen transfix as Spiritualized feed through their traditional thematic diet of love, death, drugs and religion in their songs with obvious nods to Pink Floyd.
Pierce, as is his wont, stands at the right of the stage, side on, barely glancing at his fans, preferring to give the limelight to his musicians who take a central role. Mid-track chatter is predicatably nil as this live performance is clearly serious stuff.
Although, we do detect a frown when a particularly tender piano-intro moment is interspersed with Mancunian cries of ‘Come on Jason, lad!‘ – perhaps not the mood-setter Pierce is after. The tranquility is quickly dispelled, however, with a furious and exhalting version of Come Togetrher; the visuals, strobing and distortion knocking us for six, some less than hardly souls being forced to avert their gaze from the stage as the exhortations reach almost bibilical levels.
Disappearing temporarily, they return and dash headlong into Electricity, and after a typically high-octane start, the driving organ-focused mash-out gives way to an overly-exuberant feedback jam.
From controlled melodic chaos to unfettered, unpalatable, unpleasant noise, it’s a shame as Electricity is a great track, but there’s more than a handful of the audience who are looking away, and keen to be distracted as the excessive strobing and discordance heads into what must have been its fourth or fifth minute.
But they quickly redeem themselves, ending the night with Cop Shoot Cop, the sleazy main theme reminiscent of a gangster’s jazz den in a salubrious district of New York.
Glorious orange light bathes the Academy, and its the ideal blissed out conclusion this spaced out gathering has been calling for.