Spiritualized @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 2nd May 2022

The spatial and dynamical responsiveness of the great Symphony Hall makes the prospect of housing a deluge of shimmering symphonic space rock from Spiritualized, one of the more mouth-watering propositions on the venue’s calendar.

Despite the best endeavours of all things ‘internety’, there has been no joy in sourcing any further detail about the individual that made their way to the Symphony Hall centre stage armed with two instruments – to this philistine at least – a regular looking saxophone, and then one that dwarfed its bearer by some way. After a slightly mumbled introduction that relays an apology on behalf of the original support who is not available due to illness, the intriguing saxophonist does not introduce themselves or communicate any other information, and just launches into one of the most rock ‘n’ roll, non, rock ‘n’ roll experiences I have witnessed for some time.

Our nonchalant performer descends into a vortex of growling and hissing experimental sounds that at times teeter on the point of ear-piercing. There is some laughter from a minority, and there are those for whom the experience is just too much, and they make their way to the exit within the first few minutes, whilst looking genuinely angry. The vast majority are content to let the intensity of the experience wash over them as it is clear that such conjurings are reserved for those with a mastery of their tools. The unwavering performer barely registers the audience throughout, remaining physically engaged in their grapple with mining the very limits of what can be produced by those wanting to venture into the unknown. Though the support for the evening failed to introduce themselves, it could not be denied that they certainly made a lasting impression on the vast hall…well, those that stayed.

Fans have barely had time to digest Spiritualized’s ninth studio album ‘Everything Was Beautiful’ – released just ten days prior to tonight’s show – and it has been noted that the setlists for recent Spiritualized shows heavily lean on their most recent output, a prospect that can sometimes disappoint those pining for the old favourites. The enthusiasm that greets the band as they make their way on stage is an assured indicator that the audience are relishing an evening with J Spaceman and co, no matter what period the set will focus upon.

The nine members of the group take up their positions in a large semi-circle that is bookended by Pierce one side and his longstanding collaborator and lead guitarist Tony ‘Doggen’ Foster at the helm over stage right. Pierce takes a sedentary position on a chair nestled amongst an assortment of guitars, a stoic presence that will remain focused on the job at hand, with almost no words or audience interaction until the final moments of the encore.

The band is ready to go, there is a noticeable pause that, whilst only a matter of seconds, creates a moment to savour, as we anticipate what is imminently about to descend. The rollicking intro to ‘Hey Jane’ pierces the silence with Kevin Bales (drums) and Starsailor’s James Stelfox (bass) providing a thunderous union. Pierce’s voice is strong, clear, and sounding fantastic, as are the familiar open guitar voicings he loves to use to such great effect. It’s quite an emphatic start. A rousing opener that offers each band member a chance to shine; the renowned Lena and Bianca White make up two thirds of the backing singers and they are a sensational driving force throughout.

A bewildering barrage of the brightest white light flickers across the stage, greeting the climactic midpoint of the opener, before the briefest respite is broken by Foster’s searing sliding riff, with all members converging on a momentous build to yet another exhilarating climax.

This forms the blueprint for the evening. Each song is played as if it’s the exhilarating finale, adorned by a truly spectacular light show. Whilst each song is faithful to the original recording for the most part, Pierce and the band recast each number, subjecting them to varying shifts in momentum. There is a constant and masterful expansion and contraction of the trademark sound of Spiritualized which see’s the songs truly come to life in a live setting. ‘She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)’ is soaked in Iggy and The Stooges and the band are fully into the groove following that epic ten minute beginning to warm them up.

‘Shine a Light’ offers Foster the first of many opportunities to demonstrate a phenomenal array of tasteful guitar parts, which swirl around Pierce’s fantastic vocals which appear to have acquired an air of vulnerability to them of late, whilst still managing to reference the 60’s garage rock influence that first brought him to music.

Whilst we are in the splendour of the Symphony Hall, let us not forget, this is the end of a bank holiday weekend and there is a good level of booziness amongst the audience towards the latter part of the set. For one patron, things just got a little too much, as during ‘Best Thing You Never Had (The D Song)’, after their third tentative boogie down the aisle, the moment took the clearly inebriated fan, and they mount the stage, hovering over J Spaceman, who as it would happen, doesn’t offer the slightest acknowledgement. Thankfully, the powers that be intervene
and the worse for wear fan is removed from the stage to the soundtrack of Pierce singing “Honey, best sit down, You’re going out here in a van”. An irony that is no doubt not lost on the crowd.

It bodes well for the future that Spiritualized are so focused upon their latest material during tonight’s set. It suggests a fire in the belly to create and continue to develop. This was my first time seeing Spiritualized live and it was emphatically brilliant. It is always a marvel to witness those on stage that create such a tour de force without seemingly transitioning gears. Pierce is clearly in the ascension creatively and having assembled such an accomplished band, it’s with great anticipation that I hope for their return to Birmingham.

Review Chris Curtis

Feature photograph of spiritualized courtesy of PR. Credit Jim Bennett/Getty Images

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