When it comes to rock'n'roll music, there's still no one who does it better...
There is such a thing as overambition, and recently Spiritualized seem to have been intent on proving it. Last year’s ‘Let It Come Down’ might have been an album of extraordinary scope, but there was also the sense that it lacked the rock’n’roll vitality that made them so exciting in the first place. This was certainly true of their last UK tour where a huge brass section only served to weight down and over-complicate music that should have been able to fly.
All of which leads us to tonight’s gig at the Rockerfeller venue in Oslo. Like everything else in this compact and wealthy city, it’s a functional and not particularly riotous place – creating a subdued atmosphere that’s mirrored by its 1,500 clientele. It’s a shame, because this evening Spiritualized are far edgier than they’ve been for a while.
A week ago in Athens, the band played their last gig for the foreseeable future with a brass section. Jason Pierce admits the idea was just “to shake things up a bit”. There’s also a sense that he realised that Spiritualized were slowly trundling away from the essense of what they really are. This, then, is his attempt to redress the balance.
At 10.45, the band mooch on stage in their new streamlined formation and there’s not a glint of brass in sight. Even long-serving saxophonist Ray Dickaty has been sent to Siberia (or to join Lupine Howl, whatever’s the most painful). But at first it’s difficult to tell the difference. They start with a swampy reading of ‘Cop Shoot Cop’. Twenty minutes later, they’re still doing it, and we begin to wonder whether they’ve really got to the heart of the problem.
Things immediately improve when they snap out of this into the altogether more engaging ‘Electricity’. Here we can finally hear the reasoning behind the latest reshuffle. It’s raw and garagey, and you can hear the crackle of static and feedback on every downstroke on the guitar. Rather than being perplexed about which component of the song to focus on, it’s suddenly obvious. It’s all about the guitars, in much the same way Spacemen 3 were when they first started.
Having set this template, SSpiritualized spend the rest of the set adhering to it. ‘Shine A Light’ really soars, while newer songs like ‘Out Of Sight’ and ‘On Fire’ reveal a directness that isn’t always apparent on their recorded counterparts. It’s the sheer volume of the band’s attack that really takes the breath away. ‘Walking With Jesus’ is dispatched in a howl of high-voltage hiss, while ‘Angel Sigh’ (a song they haven’t played since their first gigs at London’s LSE in 1990) just vibrates[/I] under the intensity of the assault. Not that you’d know it from the crowd’s polite but uninvolved response. At times, it’s as if all the band’s energy is being sucked into a huge black hole.
This lack of response only seems to inspire them still further. By the time – two and half hours in – that we get to the encore, the white light flooding from the stage is more than matched by the white heat of the music. The old Spacemen 3 classic ‘Take Me To The Other Side’ is whipped through at pace followed by a taut ‘Come Together’ and an extremely rare outing for ‘These Blues’ from the ‘Pure Phase’ LP. They end with a towering rendition of ‘Lord Can You Hear Me?’, before slipping imperceptibly back into the shadows.
For a group brought up on the visceral sounds of The Stooges and The Cramps, tonight is a reaffirmation of everything they stand for. Just when you thought the Spaceman might be plummeting back to earth, he’s restarted his ascent. When it comes to rock’n’roll music, there’s still no one who does it better.