Melody Maker | Live | 13 October 1990 | Photo: Piers Allardyce
University Of London Union
One of the guys on the floor at the back politely asks for those gathered at the front to sit down, while his friend repeatedly calls for the band to play louder. There's a young couple snuggled up in the corner, seemingly asleep, and another taking turns to give each other a gentle neck massage. Behind them, a girl is spinning round and round and round, so slowly you hardly notice.
This is, by no stretch of the imagination, an ordinary gig. But then Spiritualized are not exactly an ordinary band.
Jason Pierce sings and picks at the strings of his guitar while seated on a chair to one side of the stage, just as he used to in Spacemen 3. The other guitarist and the bass player stand shoulder to shoulder under the hottest lights, and the two percussionists squat down to shake, rattle and roll. Apart from the colourful images projected onto the screen at the rear – blobs dissolving into nothing, suddenly exploding triangles, a flash of straight lines – there's no movement to speak of.
Although Spiritualized's songs sometimes seem to be similarly lacking in animation, nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn't matter that Jason's voice ranges from a mumble to a whisper and only the odd phrase can be heard. Nor that he plays his guitar as if it's made of the thinnest glass – coaxing, cajoling, literally loving every sound. Notes are suspended in mid-air for long periods, before fluttering to the floor or gradually spiralling, coalescing into a glorious psychedelic drone. Once in a while, Jason plays plays a little harder, cutting himself on the sharp edges in the process, and at other times he and the rhythm guitarist lock behind the beat, melting away and allowing the bass to take the melodic lead.
"Feel So Sad", "Run" and "Anyway That You Want Me" are some of the songs performed, but titles are of no real consequence since they're all part of the same vision, the same vibe. Most of the lyrics that are audible have a religious connotation and the atmosphere of the music, if not the presentation, is best described as a new type of blues. As such, any suggestion that Spiritualized are wallowing in misery would be as misleading as the idea that there is little musical action. They're celebrating and exorcising their troubles and offering a spiritual alleviation of physical pain.
The problem with all this is it requires what amounts to a degree of audience participation. To simply stand and watch Spiritualized is not only tedious, it also defeats the object of the band. The trick is to shut your eyes, block out all exterior influences and, undistracted, bathe in the intricasies of the sound. Even if that may sound like hippy claptrap, it works.
Going a step further, perhaps the people sitting down at the back, people who under other circumstances I'd lambast as lifeless dullards, have the right idea. Jason Pierce, completely lost in his own music, has been doing it for years and he obviously knows more about it than most. After all, Jesus wants him for a sunbeam.