Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
Headin' For The Top Now
Spiritualized and Nikki Lane at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangPeople will probably never stop referencing 1997’s Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space as the iconic Spiritualized album, and justifiably so. It was Jason Pierce’s grand breakup album with a soap opera-calibre backstory, it was the band’s marker in the Britpop era (though stylistically they never really fit), it raised the band’s profile immensely – I once heard “Cool Waves” coming over the PA at a Mongolian Grill restaurant – and was a gorgeous melange of psychedelia, gospel, jazz, and rock besides. It’s the sort of record that a band would be lucky to make once in their careers. And yet with each listen to their latest Sweet Heart Sweet Light, I feel the argument that this could well be the definitive Spiritualized record.
The talking points on Sweet Heart are that this is Pierce’s “pop” record, and indeed it’s as immediate and melodic as anything he’s ever done, but it hardly dilutes the Spiritualized formula for the sake of mass appeal. If anything, it’s as clear a picture of everything that Pierce has done since leaving Spaceman 3 in one hour’s running time – it rocks, it swoons, it jams, it drones, and it does it all with focus and purpose. While it certainly echoes everything that’s gone before, it’s also an exciting signpost to what’s yet to come – of all of his musical peers that came out of ’90s Britain, Pierce may yet be the most creatively vital among them, and that’s with certainly having had the most near-death experiences. All of which is to say that if the first Spiritualized show in Toronto in almost four years and the first plugged-in, headlining show since 2003 wasn’t enough reason to get excited about their appearance at The Phoenix last Saturday night, then the fact that hearing material their new record was to be highly anticipated rather than simply endured should have sealed the deal.
Support on the tour might have seemed an odd choice in Nashville-based, South Carolina-bred Nikki Lane though there were some stylistic threads between her dusty country sound and Spiritualized’s cosmic rock if you dug down to their shared gospel roots, but the fact was that she had been invited by the band to support so questions of appropriateness were really rather moot. And armed just with an acoustic guitar and a sweet, breathy twang of a voice and despite implying that she didn’t usually play band-less, she did just fine – having been gifted with a rowdy yet friendly crowd, she was able to get comfortable and sass back and needed. Having forgetten her set list, she ad libbed a set drawn from her debut album Walk Of Shame, the off-the-cuff-ness of it adding to her charm. Spiritualized followers might not make up her normal demographic, but it was pretty safe to say that she was winning over fans on every stop of the tour.
It’s hard to believe, but excepting their afternoon set at Virgin Festival 2008 and the “Acoustic Mainlines” tour in Fall 2007, the last time Toronto hosted a full and proper Spiritualized show was at the Opera House back in late 2003. That’s a long time, people. And yet thanks to their distinctive semi-circle stage setup with Jason Pierce positioned at far house right, it all felt immediately familiar – doubly so since the core of the lineup had remained intact since their V Fest appearance circa Songs In A+E (the two backing singers were new faces).
Their epic set – and that’s not an adjective I use lightly – pulled from all points in their discography but were still very specific about which records were represented. Sweet Heart was naturally prominently featured, but 2003’s Amazing Grace was also given a lot of attention – surprising because it wasn’t a record that was particularly well-received but perhaps not so surprising since its no-frills aesthetic matches Sweet Heart fairly well. And being forced to reevaluate the material, I must admit that it sounded great in this context – the guitar duel between Pierce and Doggen on “She Kissed Me”, in particular, was jaw-dropping.
While Sweet Heart is not short on the extra-long compositions – opener “Hey Jane” and second-last main set selection “So Long You Pretty Thing” did as much to affirm the new material as as good as the old – you couldn’t not feel a certain rush when the ascending riff to “Electric Mainline” from Pure Phase and a crackle of electricity up the spine when it the ensuing jam coalesced into the title track of Ladies & Gentleemen. It was curious to see Lazer Guided Melodies, Let It Come Down, and Songs In A+E get overlooked completely, but there really was no arguing with the resultant show.
Pierce didn’t say a word to the audience – or even the rest of his band – through the entire show until the final notes of “Come Together” faded out to close the main set, and then it was just a couple of quiet, “thank you’s” before leaving the stage. Following a serenely cacophonous “Cop Shoot Cop” for the encore, he said “thank you” twice more and was gone. Some might have wished that he’d interacted with the audience more, but he and his band had just given everything for two hours – what more was there to say?
Photos: Spiritualized, Nikki Lane @ The Phoenix – May 5, 2012
MP3: Nikki Lane – “Gone, Gone, Gone”
MP3: Nikki Lane – “Sleep For You”
Video: Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”
Video: Spiritualized – “Soul On Fire”
Video: Spiritualized – “Cheapster”
Video: Spiritualized – “You Lie You Cheat”
Video: Spiritualized – “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)”
Video: Spiritualized – “Do It All Over Again”
Video: Spiritualized – “Out Of Sight”
Video: Spiritualized – “Stop Your Crying”
Video: Spiritualized – “Come Together”
Video: Spiritualized – “Electricity”
Video: Spiritualized – “Let It Flow”
Video: Spiritualized – “Run”
Video: Spiritualized – “Any Way That You Want Me”
Video: Nikki Lane – “Lies”
Video: Nikki Lane – “Gone, Gone, Gone”
Video: Nikki Lane – “Sleep For You”