Friday, May 07, 2010

Spiritualized and Cocteau Twins, the early years

I found these four gigs on the always excellent Shoegazer Alive blog (no direct link because they've already been shut down and had to change their URL a couple of times, just go here These eras are underrepresented in terms of quality bootleg recordings, so if you're a fan, stop reading this and start downloading!

Cocteau Twins - Newcastle (England) (29.04.1983)

Very early Cocteau Twins has always left me a bit cold. One of the most fascinating things about them, for me, was how they were hatched almost fully formed. There were no humble and awkward new wave or synth-rock beginnings, gradually leading up to the sound we'd come to know and obsessively love. From the very start, it was all there -- the otherworldliness, the unintelligible, gauzy vocals, the strangled squalls of guitar. However, the songs from the early days were darker, heavier, and overall less melodically distinctive from what they'd accomplish just a couple of years later. If you liked the bludgeoning, raw style that was collected on the "BBC Sessions" discs, then this is the live recording for you. I have trouble getting through "BBC Sessions" ... it's uniformly good, but it's just too much for me. In that respect, I found this brief (11 songs, 40 minutes) gig to be the perfect fit for my early Cocteaus attention span. They're totally in the zone here, completely focused, barely pausing between songs.

Cocteau Twins - Tiffany's - Newcastle Upon Tyne - Newcastle (England) (19.04.1984)

Recorded just one year later than the above, this gig couldn't be more different. These tracks are among my all-time Cocteau Twins favourites. Compared to the songs in the set from '83, all their noisy and alien qualities are still present, but they'd perfected the art of writing these sensationally huge choruses to go along with them. "Hitherto", "Kookaburra", "Sugar Hiccup", "Pearly Dewdrops Drops" -- singing along to words you couldn't even remotely understand had never felt so powerful. But the gig itself is a bit of an oddity. It might be due to the sound quality (which isn't as good as the '83 show) but Liz Fraser's voice sounds much more upfront in the front, and she's throwing out strange vocal inflections into nearly every line, oversinging almost everything to the point of almost showing off. The gig isn't what it could have been, and not what I hoped it would be.

Spiritualized - Leadmill - Sheffield (England) (03.05.1992)

I have yet to hear a really solid, high quality sound recording of a complete gig from the "Lazer Guided Melodies" era (1990-1993, and that includes "Fucked Up Inside", which sounds weak and tinny to me). If you want to hear SPZ at their best during those years, you should pick up the Radio Sessions Volume 1 unofficial disc. The version of "If I Were With Her Now" from Mark Radcliffe's show in April 1992 is worth the price of the disc all by itself (although the sound quality, sourced from the radio, is far from perfect). At the time, they opened all their shows with "If I Were With Her Now", but would stop doing so very soon after this, to the detriment of nearly every gig they've played since that time. I have no clue why that song stopped making the cut once "LGM" was released, and why they've never brought it back since.

Whoever cut off the end of "200 Bars" should be shot.

Spiritualized - Roseland Theater - New York (USA) (28.04.1995)

This would have been recorded during their opening slot on tour with Siouxsie and the Banshees. I went to the Toronto stop on that tour, which was just a few days before this. It was the first time I ever saw SPZ.

These sets were fascinating, and they deserve to be more widely heard. They didn't simply pick out the highlights of their usual set, they restructured entire songs with the aim of compactifying the SPZ experience, showing the complete range of what they could do while still keeping the set cohesive. The "All of My Tears/Take Good Care of It/Shine a Light section" almost comes off like a medley. They still find time for going long ("Electric Mainline"), older rarities ("Things'll Never Be the Same", which later became a fixture on some tours but at the time Jason simply wasn't playing S3 songs other than "Walking With Jesus"), for playing "Let It Flow" every night (overrated on record, arguably their most underappreciated song when played live).

By the time of their fall tour, they'd fallen into the "Cop Shoot Cop"/"Shine A Light/Electric Mainline"/"Electricity" rut that seemed to open all of their sets for the next seven years. Those fall '95 gigs weren't nearly as unique and adrenaline-fueled as the stuff they were playing in the spring while opening for Siouxsie.

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