As close to genius as we get these days.
A few years ago, MTV Unplugged managed to create a new opportunity for bands to dig out the acoustic guitars and slow things down a bit. For every classic live performance like Nirvana or Neil Young's performances, there were many others which just seemed like jumping on the bandwagon and using it as an opportunity to shift some old records and songs.
Thankfully, that was never likely to be the case with Jason Pierce (J Spaceman) of Spiritualized fame, who was touring with a small orchestral section and some Gospel singers. With a back catalogue choc full of Krautrock amphetamine tinged classics or soul-wrenching paens to spirituality and holding out hope, it was always likely that the latter would fill the majority of the set, and so it turned out to be.
From the off the quality and sound were spot on but within three tracks, the bar had been set amazingly high with 'Lord Let It Rain On Me' from their most recent album 'Amazing Grace.' Not only proving that the Pierce has retained his ear for melody and mind for questioning and soul searching lyrics, but the track showed that the backing musicians were capable of reaching the heights. As the vocals soared and the audience were compelled to join in, any doubts about the night were banished.
And it was a set with the old as well as the new, reaching back to the Spacemen 3 days with 'Walking with Jesus.' The most pertinent thing about this song was that it's relatively upbeat and the version retained that emotion. Coupled with 'The Straight And The Narrow', it wasn't just a slowed down acoustic easy set from the band, there was still invention with the keyboard grabbing the limelight for once. With lyrics referring to the "devil makes good use of these hands of mine", it fitted with the sense of redemption and hope that carried throughout the night, of facing ones demons but realising that there are answers.
And to this extent, it was possibly the healthiest that the Spaceman has looked in many a year or tour. This writer makes no bones about his adoration for Pierce and it was fantastic to see him in fine form yet maintaining that sense of bedevilment about his performance. Between song chat may have been at a premium but the applause from band to crowd seemed warm and genuine and definitely heartfelt.
'Stop your crying' remains one of Spiritualized's biggest hits and its appearance was received excitedly and again, gave the Gospel singers a chance to shine, taking the chorus off into a world of their own. And this may have been a highlight for some but the version of 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' was so good that it merits a special mention. The opening track of the similarly named album, it's a short in length but what a punch it has. Truly heartbreaking when Pierce quietly intones "all I want in life is a little bit of love to take the pain away" there's not a heart or soul in the venue which doesn't know where he is coming from and as the track builds along it's close to perfection and then the Gospel singers join in with the refrain from 'I can't help falling in love with you.' This snippet may have been removed from the official release but in the live version it's an integral part of the song and brings it to a close that could bring tears to a glass eye.
With a Daniel Johnson cover up their sleeve, the band decided to end with 'Oh Happy Day' and a more apt ending probably could not have been conjured up. In the pub post gig, potential set lists of the songs that Pierce could have played were discussed and there were a lot of great tracks mentioned but it didn't seem to matter, the set that was played was spot on from start to finish and hopes are high for the new Spiritualized album, due next year. That said, hopes have never been low for a Spiritualized record but the Spaceman really is in a different stratosphere at times.