The way a band walks on stage says a lot about the band themselves. Some make an event out of it, dimming the lights, playing intro music and the whole shebang. Others cut the lights, give the crowd a minute or so to warm up, and then come out to an already crazed audience. A few tease the fans by cutting the lights way too early, which leads to excitement then ambivalence from just about everyone. Then there are those that just walk on stage to little or no fanfare, and this is the category that Spiritualized falls squarely in – at least if their Sunday evening performance at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse is any indication.
When J. Spaceman and crew made their way to their instruments, the lights were still on and the house music still playing. It took the venue a few seconds to realize they were even on stage and cut everything off. But by that point the band’s attitude was clear: they just couldn’t give a shit. They were going to come out and play their songs regardless of who was watching. In fact, it took J. Spaceman about an hour and a half to even glance the audience’s way or acknowledge them in any form – if it weren’t for the applause, for all he knew, they might not have even been there. Hidden behind a pair of dark shades, Spaceman positioned himself parallel to the stage, so that instead of facing the audience, he was facing his guitarist. Not a word was said to the audience until the end of the first set, where he let out a small “thank you”.
Not that I expected J. Spaceman to be happy or talkative, but he looked joyless on stage. Some people look like they genuinely enjoy themselves on stage, but Spaceman is not one of those people. In the end, it didn’t matter, because regardless of his attitude towards the audience and being on stage in general the band sounded fantastic. The sound at Variety Playhouse was perfect, which is a must for their style of music. From one fuzzy, spaced-out jam to another, they kept the music engaging so that they didn’t have to be. Stylistically, they also worked out something unique; Spacemen and his two lovely back up singers wore all white, while the rest of the band hid themselves in black garb. Whether intentional or not, it added a certain spotlight to the mastermind behind it all, as if anyone didn’t know that already.
The setlist remained unchanged from most of the stops on this tour. They opened with an epic rendition of “Hey Jane” that soared above the clouds, which conveniently provided the backing visuals. With a simple projector and a blank white backdrop, the visuals flowed with every song to great effect; fast-paced and flashy for the up-tempo songs, calm and serene for the slower numbers. The band reached all the way back to 1995’s Pure Phase for “Electric Mainline” and “Born, Never Asked”, but mainly stuck with their recent output for most of the show. The gospel influence of their 2003 album Amazing Grace was felt strongly; they played four songs from the album, in addition to “Walking with Jesus”. If you were simply counting the number of times Jesus/Lord was mentioned throughout the show, you may have thought you were at a bona fide gospel concert.
The biggest highlights of the night came from a number of tracks from their 1998 masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Unfortunately, the title track – their most well known track to date – was not one of them. They played a nice little version of it that picked up at the end, but it was lacking a certain oomph, and ended up being the most disappointing song of the night. On the other hand, “Stay With Me” and especially “Come Together” really elevated the show to another level. The pure sonic explosion of these songs, along with the high points of “Cop Shoot Cop”, were intensely satisfying. “Cop Shoot Cop” – the last song of the night in an encore that also included Sweet Heart, Sweet Light closer “So Long You Pretty Thing” – served as a good metaphor for the entire set. It started strong, got a little muddled in the middle, but then came to a thrilling conclusion.
In the end, it didn’t matter if J. Spaceman acknowledged the crowd or not – as long as the band sounded that tight, they could’ve been performing towards the wall. It was a rare treat to be able to catch Rugby, UK’s favorite sons in the American south, and I recommend not missing them on this tour.
Lord Let It Rain On Me
Headin’ for the Top Now
Walkin’ With Jesus
Born, Never Asked
Soul On Fire
I Am What I Am
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
Stay With Me
She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)
So Long You Pretty Thing
Cop Shoot Cop…