COSMO GODFREE has his soul healed by the gospel-rock of Spiritualized.

gig review Gospel J Spaceman Jason Pierce Live rock Spiritualized Sweet Heart Sweet Light symphony orchestra The Junction

The Junction, 2nd November, £19.50

“So long you pretty thing, God save your little soul/ The music that you played so hard ain’t on your radio”

So goes one part of the blissful and strangely triumphant refrain in ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’, the clear watershed moment of Spiritualized’s most recent album (‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’) and one of many highlights during tonight’s show.

Spiritualized were never a true mainstream concern, but with each fine release, their chances of dominating the airwaves grow even slimmer. Their legacy rests on a two-decade long string of albums; never less than great, some of them truly outstanding. ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’, played almost in full tonight at the expense of many of their more well-known ‘hits’, is no exception. Indeed, it may in fact be one of the best albums that frontman Jason Pierce (aka J Spaceman) has ever recorded.

For one thing, it contains a couple of their most instant pop thrills. ‘Little Girl’ is the best thing that the band play tonight, with Pierce nailing its wonderful melodies and then unexpectedly taking things to another level as the chorus repeats itself.  This is a reoccurring theme – throughout the evening, the band are constantly rearranging these songs, adding new textures and breaking down into extended feedback codas.

‘Hey Jane’ powers ahead on rock ‘n’ soul adrenaline, breaking down halfway through like the wheels have fallen off, only to right itself for a sprint to the finish line. ‘Too Late’ and ‘Freedom’ are both piano-led tracks that showcase a softer side, with Pierce expressing both dejection and yearning in a disarmingly visceral manner.

It’s amazing what a difference a keyboard player and two backing singers can make to a band’s palette, and these touches are key to the overall impact, with the beautiful female gospel vocals being funnelled forward from the back of the room. Still, this actually represents a more stripped-down version of Spiritualized – after all, Pierce has played gigs with full symphony orchestras in the past.

Less instant, but perhaps more astounding, are the songs that give the band room to stretch out and embrace their more out-there tendencies. See: ‘Heading for the Top Now’, which chugs along on decidedly chipper keyboard stabs and ominous drones, while the guitars make spiralling patterns around a core that builds to one of those brilliant climaxes that makes you shake your head at how on earth they managed to get there.


The setup is rather odd, with the band arranged in horseshoe formation leaving a void in the middle of the stage. Pierce, wearing shades and with a stand of sheet music in front of him, sits on a stool to the far left, playing guitar and occasionally twisting round to bash out some dissonant keyboard parts. He speaks just two words to the crowd: “Thank you”, just before the encore. Cool as you like. Usually, music this cacophonous might be accompanied by flailing limbs, but it is to the band’s credit that they avoid such empty signifiers and focus on making the noise.

I could name a whole bunch of tracks that I desperately missed, but despite recently showing a few concessions to the nostalgia circuit, Pierce is clearly not here to lean on the past. Luckily, we do get a few older songs thrown in, including a storming rendition of ‘Electricity’ (maybe their greatest rock song) and a welcome end-section that takes in songs from Spiritualized’s 1992 debut, ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’.

Having fallen asleep and then woken up to J Spaceman’s voice coming out of my speakers, a day’s hindsight has left me in no doubt – best gig I’ve seen in Cambridge. Spiritualized set the bar at the highest level, and in the most casual manner.