An endurance test
Spiritualized - Live At Hackney Empire, London

To begin this review I’d like to air a confession: I’m not the world’s biggest Spiritualized fan. In fact, I know next to nothing. It’s not that I have anything against Jason Pierce or the band that has been his main stream of output for the last twenty years (after Spaceman 3); it’s simply that I’ve never properly been exposed to them. It’s a situation I’ve long wanted to correct but never had the need or necessity to do so. Until now.

After hearing 2012’s ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’ – Spiritualized’s seventh studio album – my attention has been piqued. And now, with the band playing a tour of uncharacteristically intimate venues, it’s the perfect time to enter the fray – virtually stripped of context (or “knowledge” as some more “professional” journalists refer to it) – a blank slate ready to be taken in on the events of one night and not twenty years of blood, sweat and tears. For better or worse.

With no support act on the bill, the immediate focus is the main event – maybe no one could warm up a crowd as expectant as the one that has packed out the Hackney Empire on this night – but as we mill around outside (mingling with loose characters holding signs declaring their love for Spiritualized and trying to get their mitts on a ticket) and enter the queue, I can’t help feeling that this is going to be something approaching a life-changing experience – a lesson in the capabilities of sensorial majesty.

After taking our seats and watching the curtain rise, the atmosphere inside the little theatre is electric – and without addressing the crowd, dressed all in white, Pierce launches his band into the first proper track of the new album, and current single, ‘Hey Jane’. The noise that ensues is both mesmerising and fascinating – with repetitions verging on the mystic and a visual complement that accentuates the disorientating wall of noise that prevails. The band is set up so that Pierce is at house right (although facing away from the audience) Doggen left, with rhythm behind and two gospel singers completing the line up.

The set is launched at a frenetic pace and runs through tracks taking in a range of the Spiritualized back catalogue (the next three tracks are ‘Lord Let It Rain’, ‘Heading For The Top Now’ and ‘She Kissed Me’), however with each song taking the best part of ten minutes to run through, the set does begin to take its toll and wanes after the first four songs, which sees the clock tick well past the half hour stage – hammering home the painful transition from the aforementioned “lesson in capabilities” to a rather less attractive lecture in endurance. I’ve never been very good at sitting through lectures and this was no different.

Perhaps my chosen method for this event was wrong. It certainly isn’t going to be an experiment I’ll be repeating again. For all of the controlled conditions that surrounded my decontextualisation – it ignored one crucial factor: the blind faith of the fan. Whereas certain people can watch a band not even acknowledge a crowd and play ten-minute exploratory pieces – relentlessly – I can’t. Were my expectations too high? Did I have any at all? Sitting down, nursing a mind that has melted through sheer ambivalence, in all honesty, it’s hard to say.

Words by Samuel Ballard
Photo by Rachel Lipsitz

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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