Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spiritualized - Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 - 1998

Jason Pierce is a weird guy. Originally he was half of Spacemen 3, a neo-psychedelic trance rock band that put out a handful of great albums before basically imploding in a disastrous fight between Pierce and Pete Kember, the band's other half. Out of the ashes, Pierce formed Spiritualized, which bore a lot of similarities to Spacemen 3, but added more instrumentation, more variety, more optimistic tones and even gospel/blues elements. There'd been hints of that in Spacemen 3, but here it seemed like Pierce was planning on going all out with it. And it's a good thing that he did, because Spiritualized has emerged as the better of the two bands that rose from the ashes of Spacemen 3, the other being Kember's Spectrum, which has done the occasional interesting thing, but on the whole has failed to be as relevant.

Spiritualized is a very heady blend of gospel and psychedelic space rock, and the band has certainly had its ups and downs. The best album they put out is "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" in 1997, and the last handful of albums have been sort of scattershot, with a few good songs but so-so on the whole. (It also doesn't help that the band went 5 years between albums, from 2003's "Amazing Grace" to 2008's far superior "Songs In A&E," but that's to be excused since Pierce nearly died from double pneumonia.) "Songs In A&E" is the best stuff they've done in the last decade or so, with the most recent, "Sweet Heart, Sweet Light" being pretty disappointing, but if you really want to know where I think the best stuff they ever did is, you'll find it in a live recording called "Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997," which see Spiritualized playing with a choir, a string section and a four-piece brass section, to give them a glorious transcendence never quite captured on a studio album.

 "Royal Albert Hall" functions as both a "best of" of the band's output up to that point, and a reinterpreting of everything they do right and how they can make it better. It's a 2-disc release, so for $15 or so, you get the band in their prime, with all of the big numbers at their biggest. You even get to hear the Spacemen 3 classic "Walking With Jesus," which Spiritualized has played live for most of their time as a band (which is fair, since it's Pierce's song anyway). But the best parts are the two sweeping epics that nearly close the show out, the build-build-build-build of "I Think I'm In Love" and the back-and-forth of "Cop Shoot Cop," before the show closes out with the lighter than air version of "Oh Happy Day."

Keep in mind, Pierce sacked most of this band not long after this show, so you won't hear this lineup again. The band said they weren't being paid enough. Contracts were drawn and signed, and shortly after he used those same contracts to dismiss the band. Apparently there was quite the fuss about it in the British music press. Between the constant lineup changes and the health problems that seem to spring up (their drummer had acute leukemia, apparently...), it's something of a wonder that the band is still going, but it's worth picking up "Royal Hall" to hear the band at the peak of their powers, and if that interests you, listen to some of their other stuff and see what catches your fancy.

(Normally I'd have a video here, but they didn't have video recording going at the show, so you just get a YouTube video with music play, the stellar "I Think I'm In Love" from that show.)

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