Brings listeners closer to Spiritualized’s first tour.
When talented singer-songwriters act as frontmen, the rest of the band tends to become shadowy figures, pushed off album covers and silhouetted rather than spotlighted on stage. Nevertheless, the backing lineup often merits attention as much as the showier presence who, for most fans, becomes the band. A perfect example emerges from the career of Jason Pierce. Around the age of 17, he and Peter Kember paired up to helm Spacemen 3. They pursued a manic spin on English space-rock with a growing tendency from Pierce to dabble in African-American music and roots-oriented traditions.
The two leaders divided. Kember followed the electronic muse as Sonic Boom. Pierce dropped his J. Spaceman moniker, but he hastened his drift into music which sought to combine indie-rock assault with loftier ambitions. Pierce then formed the well-named Spiritualized in the U.K. town of Rugby in 1990. They adapted their new title from the copy on the back of a bottle of Pernod, appropriately. Most of them had worked with Spacemen 3, and at first, their productions did not differ greatly from that previous band. Live album Fucked Up Inside brings listeners closer to the first tour of a band who brought their studio recordings to a polite American audience, amidst those who likely had not had the chance to catch Spacemen 3 live.
Pierce takes credit, but without a band capable of rendering his grand visions through forceful or filigreed songs, Spiritualized could not have thrived as a Pierce solo effort. Released in a limited run of a thousand CDs available by mail order in 1993, this reissue introduces the band to far more fans than the few hundred able to fit into the original two venues. Many of these inclusions had appeared on the previous year’s debut studio album, Lazer Guided Melodies, in similar form.
“Take Good Care of It” (which would not be set down in the studio until Pure Phase in 1995) begins gently, rising gradually. Saxophones seem more organic within this ambiance, but as on all the tracks, they do not differ markedly in duration or approach. What distinguishes these live tracks rests on their slightly looser feel, within the heightened room these arrangements invite. These songs beckon toward expansive landscapes, and may spark visions within, depending on one’s medication.
“I Want You” barely gets going before it ends rather abruptly, and it sounds as if the crowd may not have expected it. “Medication” (also delayed in the studio until Pure Phase; it’s the source of the lyrical phrase which titles this live document) teeters between bombast and delicacy, given its generous span of seven-plus minutes. Jonny Mattock’s percussion complements the tambourine shimmers, until midway when the song detours into a few free-form sax runs. But such experiments remain rare, and this album documents a lineup able to transfer the dense studio textures into concert equivalents. This fidelity to what is already familiar may therefore please or frustrate fans.
“Angel Sigh” finds its groove, trading horns and guitar, before fading, as so many Spiritualized songs, without much fanfare, as if a melody heard within a dream ends neatly and efficiently. This becomes a trademark of Pierce as Spiritualized continues. It threatens to dull the melody, and to lull the listener.
The pace picks up, wisely. “Walking with Jesus” begins as the peppiest track so far. Kate Radley’s organ centers this cover of a hymn within Pierce and Mark Refoy’s guitars filtered through effects. Accelerating into distortion, and then dropping out for only the keyboard, with a slight tap of that tambourine again, this adapts the dynamics of the Velvet Underground. Pierce and his bandmates deliver the meandering, woozy chords forcefully, as had Pierce himself in 1987 as part of Spacemen 3. Pierce’s 1992 version integrates a grittier set of riffs, in a song which gains traction over 14 minutes. These interruptions to the harmony once more settle down into a sparer delivery, one last time, before soaring into the spacier textures which drive drums, under Sean Cook’s steady bassline.
Although it’s half the length of the fifth song, “Shine a Light” and “Smile” smartly gallop as the closing entries. The former prefers to wander an astral plane, nosing about its simple chord progression, while the latter dashes rather than saunters, foaming and bubbling as all musicians lock into a swirling grand finale. The sax squeals, the rhythm section rushes and the guitars bury themselves under keyboard surf. Both tracks complement each other, displaying well a team of musicians, rather than supporting ones anonymously backing up the preening singer. This may be a lesson for Pierce.
Spiritualized works best as an ensemble in these longer pieces, where their orchestral ambitions leaned. The band’s unstable devolution was on display with the double-disc Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997 set, and that was the last record before Pierce broke up what had been the band’s core for the previous seven-odd years. Post-millennium, Pierce has taken total control of his project. Spiritualized’s discography attests to its success, depending on which moment in the band one may prefer.
Inevitably, the bare-bones Fucked Up Inside lacks the heft of the line-up when augmented with the London Community Gospel Choir at the Hall. Rather than Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (1997) with its dozens of contributors, engineers and technicians, this first live record captures Spiritualized emerging from Spacemen 3 more humbly. It may send those who admire the band’s near-contemporary guise to appreciate Pierce and his mates pursuing direct aim, and a blunter target.
Pierce integrates gospel music, Phil Spector-inspired arrangements and progressive influences over a core structure part dream pop, part drone. 1992’s tour proved more modest, from the evidence compiled on Fucked Up Inside, but it’s true to the tighter feel of the mid-‘90s approach, before budgets and venues ballooned. The ambiance of Spiritualized yearns for spatial release, and even the Crest Theatre in San Diego and the Hollywood Palladium, restrained as they compare to the Royal Albert, commemorate the band in their more straitened, yet less symphonic, formative years.