I would like to preface this entry by saying that I absolutely loathe the Metro. I will only enter its doors to see my favourite bands. Since this show was sold out I made sure to show up early before the opening act so that I could snag a good view in the balcony. This turned out to be a dynamite decision which I’ll be repeating should I end up going back in August to see the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Considering the fact that the last time I’d seen Spiritualized at the Metro was in 2008 it seemed worth it to brave a place that I dislike. It struck me that a lot has occurred in their absence—their opening act at that show was Grand Ole Party, a band in which Kristin Gundred was the drummer and singer. In the four years that have passed since then Gundred quit Grand Ole Party and recorded and released an EP under the name Dum Dum Girls on a 4-track that instantly sold out its initial pressing leading to each subsequent 7” release selling out instantly prompting Gundred to assemble a live band (composed of gorgeous women in black dresses) to play the songs live and tour extensively. The band were signed to Sub Pop after a strong showing at SXSW and have released and toured behind two highly acclaimed albums. In that time Spiritualized have been fairly busy as well—the completion and release of ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ was delayed by the string of shows that the band embarked on where they would play 1997’s ‘Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space’ in its entirety with a full gospel choir, strings and horns. Then, of course, there was the degenerative liver failure treatment that Jason Pierce had to undergo while finishing the record.
When I arrived just after the doors opened, the setup onstage was one that seemed fit for a solo acoustic opener which ended up being the case with Nikki Lane. A solo acoustic performer as the opening act for Spiritualized?! I was petrified for this woman. Her set ended up going fairly smoothly, though, and she got a good response from the crowd (who talked through most of her songs unsurprisingly). She sang a lot of country-tinged songs with bright melodies about all manner of morbid subjects—in the first she talked about selling her soul to the devil, in another she bullied a cheating lover into owning up to his infidelity. The songs were all solid and the lyrics were engaging. I actually enjoyed her set far more than I have most other opening acts I’ve had to suffer through lately. I might even have to pick up her record at some point soon.
The bonus of the acoustic performer as opening act is that it means you won’t have to wait long for the main event and Spiritualized walked onstage right at 9 o’clock—the two new gospel singers in their white short-shorts and ridiculously high heels leading the way and Jason Pierce coming out last (as always). The band started ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ lead single ‘Hey Jane’ on shaky legs and the first half was a bit subdued but made a grand recovery for the second half during the entrancing and emotional chanting of the album’s title leading up to the explosive end. From there they went into the first surprise of the night—‘Lord Let it Rain on me’ from 2003’s ‘Amazing Grace,’ considered by many to be a song bordering on self-parody. When I saw them live on the ‘Amazing Grace’ tour I considered the song one of the highlights, but this version blew that one away—billowy and soft and then growing into a frothy, churning growl. Very nice. Despite the typically muddy sound at the Metro the band soldiered on and began kicking up quite a bit of steam in the most unexpected places. ‘Heading for the Top Now’ was played in a powerful arrangement that was vastly different from how it appears on the record—in fact it bore little resemblance to the live version from the Royal Albert Hall bootleg from last fall. It was built up slowly and hypnotically, stretched over time until it exploded at the end.
When I saw the band on their last stop at the Metro they pulled a surprising move midway through their set and played ‘Oh Baby’ and ‘Rated X’ together. It served as a nice mid-set breather then, but when they did it again tonight it had lost a bit of its luster. Both versions were heartfelt and striking, but I can’t help wondering why they didn’t use this mid-set breather to maybe play a few songs from 2008’s ‘Songs in A&E’ for a similar effect—i.e. they could’ve played ‘Sweet Talk’ and ‘Soul on Fire’ together. All in all they played four songs from ‘Amazing Grace’ (they played a rousing version of ‘She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)’ soon after) which seems a bit odd when they played absolutely nothing from ‘Songs in A&E’ (whose songs worked beautifully and just as effortlessly in a live context). The next unexpected surprise of the night came when they launched into a long version of the title track of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space.’ While I’ve seen them play it before, it’s the type of surprise that never gets old as it’s still not a song that’s been played live terribly often. When it is played every version is almost completely different. A slowed down version of ‘I am What I am’ somehow managed to make the song even swampier and sleazier-sounding than it already is on record.
One of the best sections of the night was finally getting to hear a live take of ‘Pure Phase’s droning instrumental centerpiece, ‘Electric Mainline.’ When I’d heard that they’d been playing it again I wasn’t that excited, but witnessing it tonight really made me understand what all the fuss was about. It was hypnotic and breathtaking—everyone onstage was so focused on what they were doing and the song almost began to take on a life of its own as the band were locked together in its naturally progressing ebb and flow. Wow. This is the point at which things really started to reach a transcendental lift-off that only Spiritualized are capable of live. The closing set of songs were all building upon whatever had come before—‘Mary’ was powerful and dramatic, ‘Stay With Me’ was extended and arrestingly beautiful (I’ve heard plenty of versions on bootlegs at this point, but none of them could prepare me for what it felt like to finally hear this song played live), ‘So Long You Pretty Things’ moved from plaintive and heartfelt to sweeping and anthemic all leading up to ‘Come Together,’ which is probably the most anthemic Spiritualized song in existence.
While I thought that the way that they had played ‘Come Together’ and transitioned into Spacemen 3’s ‘Take Me to the Other Side’ during their 2008 tour was a lot stronger and more effective, that tour was really lacking in the encore department. This time, though, they came back and played ‘Electricity’ and then ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’ bringing the total number of songs from ‘Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space’ to five. On the ‘Amazing Grace’ tour I saw them play ‘Cop Shoot Cop…’ and this version was definitely a lot grittier and more passionate. The band gains a lot from being pared down to a two-guitar arrangement—both Pierce and guitarist Tony Foster (aka Doggen) push themselves to new heights that there just isn’t room for when John Coxon is part of the party (which he was during the ‘Amazing Grace’ tour as well as the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ shows). Talk about a perfect song to end with—it’s a 17-minute long monster on record and here I was witnessing it being extended even longer as the gauzy buildup from the smoke machine filled the air. There are times when I’m recording guitar parts in my room and when they get loud and I’m able to wring textures out of the guitar that you can only get when it’s played really loud I often notice one of the most delightful smells—the smell of the tubes in my amp burning nice and hot and giving off the most distinctive aroma that gives me a sense of calm and satisfaction that I can’t get from anything else. To me, that smell lingered in the air at the Metro as the houselights came up. I don’t really care if it was wishful thinking or not—I just enjoyed the feeling. Complete satisfaction. Hopefully it won’t take another four years before they’re back as they remain one of the most powerful live bands around.