Don’t Look Back (A Little Anger) – Spiritualized And The ‘Albums In Their Entirety’ Phenomenon

‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ in its entirety? At the Royal Festival Hall with a 12-piece gospel choir, a full string section and a full brass section? YES PLEASE. I’m a Spiritualized junkie: I’ve lost count of the number of shows I’ve seen over the last 15 years or so, but it’s definitely nearing triple figures.

I mean, the Acoustic Mainlines show Jason Pierce was doing during 2006 and 2008, I saw at least 20 times. And in my life, I’ve spent more time with his masterpiece than with any other album by any artist, ever: normally at six in the morning with a comatose close friend or two lying on the floor beside me. And always, always in its entirety.

Aside from ‘Smile’ and ‘Forever Changes’, I can’t think of an album better suited to the “played in full” treatment.
Spiritualized’s third album is, as you should be aware, a unique, dense, beautiful piece of music – an album to get lost in, an album to fall in love to, an album to fall out of love to, an album that is much more than a mere collection of songs. To see its every detail replicated, sat in reverential silence with a couple of thousand other devotees in the most perfectly suited venue imaginable was quite something. The rapturous applause at the end only affirmed that.

Still, when I nipped out to the toilet and heard two guys discussing whether or not there was time to stop at the bar, then get back to their seats before ‘Electricity’, I started to get annoyed. It made me think about this whole ‘Don’t Look Back’ phenomenon, and all the
“in its entirety” gigs that I’ve born witness to over the last few years, and how unsatisfying they have been.

Certainly, a scant few albums like ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Forever Changes’ – intricate, slaved over, expansive works of art – lend themselves to the concept. But there’s something soul-destroying about rock’n’roll music being played to a timetable.

Take the double bill of The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’ and Suicide’s first album coming next May. Now, I adore both of those bands (and those records), but the thing that I love about them is that they’re so unregimented, so full of fire, so uncontrolled, so fuckin’… spontaneous.
I mean, look at this clip of Suicide massacring ‘Cheree’, the most beautiful moment on that album.

Now, THAT to me is more what Suicide are about: uncompromising, unpredictable, slightly stupid madness. Chaos. I don’t want to hear the recorded version of ‘Frankie Teardrop’ replicated precisely.

Similarly, rather than seeing Iggy working in order through one of the most outrageous rock’n’roll records of all time (with the Vice President of Technology Standards for Sony on guitar), I’ll just take a great Stooges show.

I was at the performance of ‘Funhouse’ – again, an album I love – at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2005 and, great though it was, it only got really, REALLY exciting when they got to the encore and you didn’t know what was coming next. Same thing with ‘The Covers Record’ or ‘Daydream Nation’ or ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions…’. Making people like Chuck D or Cat Power stick to a script is to strip them of much of their charm, and almost reduces them to the status of cabaret acts.

You can see why bands do it, of course. Essentially, the Pixies doing ‘Doolittle’ in its entirety is an acceptable way of them saying, “OK, OK, we give up with the whole ‘challenging’ schtick. Now we’re just gonna play The Hits. In order.” It’s very marketable.

Plus, doing it this way, it’s an ‘art statement’ rather than a band compromising their artistic integrity. Gary Numan’s doing the same thing right now with ‘Replicas’ and ‘The Pleasure Principle’ – the only two albums of his that anyone outside of his scarily devoted fanbase actually likes. It gets new people through the door, with new wallets.

Anyway, maybe I’m being too cynical. But going back to Spiritualized, the moments I enjoyed most were the bits that evoked memories of shows past when I didn’t know what was going to happen. The countless times when I’ve heard Jason whisper the opening line to ‘Broken Heart’ and not been prepared for it; or when he introduced ‘Cool Waves’ into the Acoustic Mainlines set – then a decade-old song he’d never done live before – and you just thought, “Fuck, never in a million years was I expecting this one”; or when he started playing Spacemen 3’s ‘Take Me To The Other Side’ again; or when there weren’t people going for strategically timed piss/bar breaks when they started doing ‘a noisy bit’ or ‘one I’m not so keen on’.

The bottom line? Going to a gig when you have no idea what is going to happen is a LOT more fun than going to gigs where you do.