LIVE REVIEW: Spiritualized @ Sydney Opera House (28/05/11)

written by Chris Familton

If ever a band is going to successfully transition from playing clubs and theatres to the iconic surrounds of the Sydney Opera House, Spiritualized would be high on the list. The music of Jason Pierce (J. Spaceman) is perfectly suited for a a seated audience who can sit back and soak up the epic wash and dark psych bruises that populate his songs. Though Spiritualized is head music it is also physical in the way it works its way under your skin through repetition and drone and has you swaying and nodding in sonic agreement.

Spiritualized were playing their iconic 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space in full. Though full album concerts are commonplace these days, this particular record is ripe for live performance with its theme of a shattered relationship and the emotional turbulence of its aftermath. The overarching mood is one of someone struggling to come to terms with what has happened and live that perception was enhanced even more vividly.

With an impressive live setup that included close to 30 players we were treated to a gospel choir, horn and string sections and of course Spiritualized the band. The members looked rather low key, emotionally neutral and workmanlike in appearance but they were all well schooled in the music and their playing was well balanced between studious precision and free jazz wanderings.

Pierce presented as a thin, lanky figure dressed in white with sunglasses protecting himself from the lights and perhaps any direct contact with the audience. Seated side of stage he came across as part author, part conductor and both incidental and integral player. There was no communication with the audience save for a cursory thank you and returned applause at the conclusion of the show but it mattered little as the personal connection came via the songs and the exceptional playing and the venue’s quality of sound.

Ladies And Gentleman… consists of two types of songs; the slow and mournful pleading moments like Stay With Me, All Of My Thoughts and Broken Heart where it felt like the spotlight was more on Pierce and his aching paeans to lost love. Broken Heart in particular was dramatic with its swelling strings and laid bare lyrics like “I’m crying all the time” and “I’m wasted all the time, I’ve gotta drink you off my mind”. The near perfect sound mix in the theatre allowed for Pierce’s lyrics and voice to ring clear and loud while every other instrument (apart from the bass on a few occasions) sat in just the right place in the mix.

The flipside to the slow meandering songs was the rush and controlled chaos of songs like Electricity (the one song that felt a bit flat and without the oomph and crackle it needed), the deconstructive skronk of The Individual and the spy thriller drama via post rock clatter of No God, Only Religion. The peak of the show inevitably came with the album closer Cop Shoot Cop in all its epic glory. Its verses were like some late night Doors jam with bent notes and voodoo shadows. When the band hit their pedals for the amphetamine rush of the heavy passages it felt like the air in the room compressed, like a sugar rush at high altitude and it felt like it could have (and should have) kept going forever.

With a standing ovation Pierce and band left momentarily before returning with their one encore song – a wonderfully edgy take on Out Of Sight from Let It Come Down. The gospel choir was used to full effect, as were the horns and all the other instruments. Musically it felt like a perfect and uplifting footnote to a performance that exceeded expectations and delivered both sonically and emotionally at an iconic venue. You can’t ask for much more than that.

this review first appeared on FasterLouder

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