SPIRITUALIZED, 20TH MARCH 2012, OXFORD ACADEMY
Contrary to popular belief, the best thing to come out of Rugby is not rugby, a sport that's just a cheap excuse for brutish toffs to circle-jerk onto a cracker (as if they needed one). No, it's former Spaceman 3 member and Spiritualized founder Jason Pierce.
I'm currently deep in notorious rock journalist Nick Kent's book The Dark Stuff, which charts the seductive path assorted iconic musicians and bands have taken to depravity and self-destruction. A revised edition could have had a chapter dedicated to Pierce, had he continued along the road to oblivion that his heroin addiction was leading him down. But, thankfully, he somehow managed to pull a U-turn. Perhaps this explains his fixation with the concept of salvation - when you're cast down, scraping the barrel and plumbing the depths, you have no option but to cling to the hope that redemption might be possible.
To paraphrase Yazz, then, the only way was up for Pierce, even if he's suffered further health problems since his triumphal post-near-death-experience album, 2008's Songs In A&E. The release of its successor Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the band's seventh LP, had been scheduled to coincide with this tour but has now been delayed until mid April, Pierce (ever the perfectionist) intent on continuing to mix even after review copies had been distributed.
No matter - we still get a taster of the new record tonight. Opening track 'Hey Jane' kicks off proceedings and, while it's not quite as effective without AG Rojas' gritty video accompaniment (take a peek, though perhaps not at work), it nevertheless builds to a satisfying climax. Significantly less impressive, however, is the clumsy, pedestrian 'Mary', though set-closer 'So Long You Pretty Things' is an improvement, albeit an unnecessarily long-winded one. Maybe it's because I'm a fan of the more leftfield Pure Phase-era drones, or maybe it's because of the company in which these new songs find themselves ('Lord Let It Rain On Me' and 'Lay Back In The Sun' are particularly special), but they seem somewhat safe, reined-in, middle-of-the-road.
The four large naked lightbulbs adorning the stage are indicative of the fact that, by their own standards, this is a stripped-down version of Spiritualized: no brass or strings, no third guitarist, only two backing vocalists bringing the gospel. Facing across towards Doggen and his six-string pyrotechnics, Pierce plays the role of stoned preacher to perfection, hiding permanently behind his rock star shades and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Richard Ashcroft (little wonder Kate Radley could hardly tell them apart).
As ever, anyone not swept up by the band's stately electric hymns or mesmerised by the trademark keyboard tone that weaves its way through and beneath everything can amuse themselves by playing lyrical bingo. "Jesus", "love", "drugs", "death", "Lord", "soul" - you could probably shout out "Full house!" a couple of minutes in. Judging by his songs, Pierce "comes down" more often than a serial philanderer's trousers.
If 'She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)' is the best songtitle of the night (nothing new there, then), 'Electric Mainline' scoops the prize for the evening's finest ten minutes, its chiming instrumental majesty edging out an incandescent encore of much-celebrated Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space tracks 'Electricity' and 'Cop Shoot Cop'. The quieter passages of the latter are rudely punctuated by the insistent bawling of a lone pillhead: "Keep going! Keep playing!" As irritating as her noisy exhortations are, we're all silently echoing her sentiments.
The jury may be out on the new material, but in the end we've seen the light. We've been saved. Once again, we've been Spiritualized.