[B]STEPHEN DALTON[/B] climbs up above the clouds to find the latest [a]Spiritualized[/a]-in-the-heavens


New York World Trade Centre

Ladies and gentlemen, we appear to be floating in space. Probably because a thick cloud blanket lies beneath our 105th floor vantage point, cutting us off from the twinkling sprawl of Manhattan below. This is probably what the VIP arrivals lounge in Heaven looks like. Free drinks too. Paradise. What a magical setting for a Spiritualized show, if only New York's beautiful people could shut up for a minute.

But this being a private party for US rock mag Spin, the schmoozing industry hordes don't halt their blather one jot for Jason Pierce's cracked choirboy sobs. Even the deafening white noise shudders and blinding purple strobe blasts can't silence them for long. Oh dear. English indie cool meets American showbiz swagger. Or maybe not. It only dawns halfway through that Spiritualized have never been more at home than here, on top of the highest building in the tallest city in the loudest country in the world. They may still be 'ours' in terms of modest sales and cultish attitude, but they remain steeped in star-spangled rock heritage.

It's no longer just the obvious Stooges/MC5/Velvets garage lineage either but everything from the beatific gospel swells of 'Oh Happy Day' to the deep-fried grits'n'boogie of 'Cop Shoot Cop': a mile-wide river of musical history from Miles Davis to The Beach Boys to Television, united only by nationality and exclusion from the approved catalogue of Britpop influences. Maybe Jason is soaking up America, consciously or not, the way America has been soaking up Spiritualized as touring guests of Radiohead recently. There's a definite softening of his minimalist art-rock edge at this show, with turbo-droning guitar attack replaced by warm sax and harmonica. The narcotic nursery rhymes are played down, the bluesy undertow cranked up, with each tune morphing unobtrusively into the next.

Deliberate strategy or not, the effects of this evolution are intriguing but not always successful. 'All Of My Thoughts' becomes a hazy, sax-driven serenade rather than the smacked-out heartbreaker it is on record. 'I Think I'm In Love' swaps its sleek heat-seeking missile of a riff for a pedal steel twang and a country-blues shuffle. Even 'Electricity' is more rollicking jam session than overdriven guitar snarl-up. At least 'Electric Mainline' and 'Come Together' exhibit more bite and belligerence, though, with wave upon wave of throbbing, rumbling riffola spilling over itself like molten lava.

But it's 'Cop Shoot Cop' and the old Spacemen 3 number 'Walking With Jesus' which define the prevailing mood of Spiritualized USA: swampy, sultry, sun-parched grooves fuelled by a medicine bag full of voodoo blues. Because blues is what Jason is now playing. Millennial blues, maybe, or avant-garde blues with its arty European mask momentarily removed. But still roots music at heart, the original soul music. With perhaps a little more showmanship and some smart marketing he could easily be the latest reverential Englishman to sell America back its own pop heritage. All the loudest country in the world needs to do now is shut up and listen.

Stephen Dalton

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