Guest Review - J. Spaceman - The Lowry

I was lucky enough to spend my 2006 Thanksgiving vacation in merry old England. I traveled over solo, but met up with three good friends from New York in Manchester. The following is a review by Phil of a show we attended together in that city. Enjoy!

Towards the end of November, I found myself at The Lowry - a cultural center in one of the greatest of all culture centers, Manchester, England. That night, the featured event (well, one of multiple events as it more of a culture complex with several theaters) was a performance by Jason "Spaceman" Pierce, general mastermind behind Spiritualized. The occasion was the penultimate show of a 10-gig tour dubbed "Acoustic Mainlines."

The following description featured in the press release announcing the tour: "the dates will showcase some of the songs from the forthcoming Spiritualized album as well as tracks from the ESpacemen 3 and Spiritualized catalogues and songs from other artists. He will be accompanied on all dates by a string quartet, gospel singers and Doggen on Fender Rhodes."

The live return of the Spaceman with a string section, gospel singers, and an electric organ - Spiritualized diehards collectively lost their shit when they read the announcement for a number of reasons. First, it is not often that the majority of the delicate Spiritualized songs get played live because usually the touring set up just weren't suitable. However, one of the most satisfying and overwhelming concerts I have ever experienced was in 2001 when Spiritualized played the ornate Riverside Church in New York with a large horn section while promoting the underrated and sumptuously produced (100 piece orchestra on several songs) Let It Come Down. The bombast and the beauty were both perfectly framed that night and the "Acoustic Mainlines" concept sounded like the latter would be the featured event.

Second, as you may have read on here last year, the Spaceman had serious health problems, so severe, in fact, that he was declared legally "dead" twice. (Note: here is a very interesting and revealing interview that the Spaceman did recently with The Guardian). That he has recovered to the point of creating new music and performing was very encouraging. That I was likely to be in England during the tour made it a no-brainer.

The Lowry is a large, "serious" music venue - think a more modern Kennedy Center. When we walked in, an older lady at a table asked us "Are you here for J. Spaceman? The Quays Theater is at the end of this hallway..." At 8:45, a dulcet announcement over the PA noted in the most proper of English-accented voices: "J. Spaceman will be on in 3 minutes." It would normally seem incongruous to have such a sophisticated location for a rock concert, but when you consider Spaceman's ambitious tendencies (the Riverside Church show was originally scheduled for Carnegie Hall), it is hard not to expect this sort of thing from the Spaceman.

Notwithstanding incredibly high expectations for this show, Acoustic Mainlines lived up to all of the build up. The Spaceman looked as healthy as ever and received a hero's welcome to the stage. The show started with a gentle ballad called "Sitting on Fire" and set the tone for the sound of the show. The setlist was a mix of a few new songs, covers of gospel songs, a Daniel Johnson cover, a couple of Spacemen 3 songs and obviously a nice chunk (if I could muster any objective criticism of the show, which I really can't, this chunk could have been chunkier) of Spiritualized. The Spiritualized songs that were played were all from the post-Pure Phase era, which I was a bit surprised by as Lazer Guided Melodies, a favorite album of mine as well as Rajeev is the perfect album for this setting, and it is hard to imagine that "Shine a Light" would have been anything but stunning in a stripped down form, but this omission did not even dent the overall experience. How could it after hearing "Cool Waves" or "Lord Can You Hear Me?"

Perhaps the most overwhelming moment of the show was the seamless blending of "Anything More" into "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space". While the Spaceman sang the lead on "Ladies and Gentlemen." his gospel backup singers beautifully layered in parts of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." (Note: this is how the song was originally recorded but not released because of the Presley estate not giving permission. However, The "Elvis Mix" is available on the internets)

As you may have expected from a venue that announces over the PA that the show will begin in 3 minutes, the sound in the room was immaculate. The combination of a seated theater and good acoustics were essential for a show like this - Brits are typically a ruckus bunch at concerts, prone to have loud conversations over the several lagers they just carried back from the bar (yeah, I said it!) and without this somewhat solemn context, clearly this could have been a problem as it was at other shows on the tour.

While there are rumors of Acoustic Mainlines having been recorded for an album release, if you want to hear an impressive audience recording of this magical show, you can find it on this Spiritualized message board post.

To whet your appetite, here are a couple of tracks from that recording:

J. Spaceman - "Amen" (MP3)

J. Spaceman - "Anything More" (MP3)

J. Spaceman - "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" (MP3)

(Yousef, whoever you are, you did an amazing job with this recording!)

Not to spread rumors or get hopes up but according to this fellow American that experienced Acoustic Mainlines, and even managed to go backstage and talk to the Spaceman himself, there was some intimation that the show would come to the US (well at least the 9:30 club in Washington DC). Needless to say, it will be worth seeing for if it does.

Setlist: Sitting on Fire / Devil Town / Lord Let it Rain on Me / True Love Will Find You in the End / The Straight and the Narrow / Cool Waves / Hold on / Amen / Soul on Fire / Walkin With Jesus / Going Down Slow / All of My Tears / Stop Your Crying / Anything More / Ladies and Gentlemen We are Floating in Space / Can't Help Falling in Love / Lay it Down Slow / Baby I'm Just a Fool / Coming Down / Funeral Home / Lord can you hear me?