Show review: Spiritualized at Paradise Rock Club – 5/9

Veteran UK space rockers Spiritualized brought their Sweet Heart Sweet Light tour to the Paradise this month, with support from country songstress Nikki Lane.

Let it first be said that Spiritualized mastermind Jason Pierce is no showman. Barring lyrics, he couldn’t have spoken more than a total of ten words to the crowd through the band’s two hour-plus set. He also stood rooted behind his music stand, clad in all white save for a pair of dark sunglasses. Pierce seems well aware that he doesn’t need to be talkative or energetic when his songs and his band sound this good. Composed of seven members in all (Pierce, two sixties-style backup singers, a bassist, a keyboardist, a second guitarist and a drummer), Spiritualized is a sizable band making sizable music. Their live sound is massive in volume and in scope: a wall of euphoric shoegazing gospel from another planet. It’s a joyous thing to behold.

Opener Nikki Lane stood in sharp contrast to all of this with her straightforwardly earnest country. Lane took the stage alone with only her guitar and voice, performing songs of the heartbroken country music tropes. She may have been the sonic antithesis of her hosts, but her lyrics shared some of the frankness and sentiment of Pierce’s own. Her charming stage presence also had no trouble winning over the audience. An unexpected but not unwelcome change of pace for an opening act.

Spiritualized are currently touring their first new record in four years, and arguably their best since 2001’s Let It Come Down. Sweet Heart Sweet Light is a perfectly constructed hour of everything Pierce does well: gorgeous melodies, lush instrumentation, soul-searching lyrics and a sense of grandiosity that never feels pretentious. The majority of the new songs made the setlist, and held their own against the back catalog classics. The band hit the ground running with lead single ‘Hey Jane,’ whose second half locked into a refrain of “Sweet heart / Sweet light / Sweet heart and / Love of my life” which conceivably could’ve repeated a few hundred times more without overstaying its welcome. Stunning album-closer ‘So Long You Pretty Thing,’ another song with a distinctive element of repetition, also proved a highlight. Pierce has a thing for mantras.

For older songs, the group reached as far back as 1995’s Pure Phase, along with healthy doses of 2003’s Amazing Grace and 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. After a series of shows playing that particular magnum opus in its entirely, one might fear that Pierce had grown tired of those songs. Luckily that isn’t the case for this tour, and career highlights including the record’s heartbreakingly gorgeous title track and the raucous ‘Come Together’ still made appearances. Four selections from the so-so Amazing Grace was a more questionable decision, but the band knows what they’re doing with those songs, and they work better in the context of a live show than they do on record. ‘Come Together’ would close the main set with a roar, but the best was ultimately saved for last. With the entire stage glowing white, a twenty-minute encore of ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ proceeded to obliterate minds with its behemoth free-noise breakdown.

Despite being the band’s only songwriter and constant member, Pierce is keen to avoid being the star of his own show. He kept to the far right of the stage, opposite guitarist Tony Foster. Foster’s lead guitar, by turns melodic, bluesy, spacey and screechingly noisy, was consistently awe-inspiring. He, Pierce and the rest of the band did a remarkable job of bringing their complex and nuanced studio recordings to life in a live show. They may not have brought along their string and horn sections, but the songs didn’t suffer for it and everything sounded so lovely that it was difficult to notice. The band was on stage for well over two hours between the main set and encore, but they were so entrancing that one barely noticed the time pass. Spiritualized in their current incarnation are an utterly brilliant live act. Not a show to be missed.

Nikki Lane: