Friday, December 19, 2014

Spiritualized live at Worthington Pier, July 9, 1994 (20 years later)

The year in music criticism has been packed full of 20th and 25th anniversary retrospectives and the pace should continue to be high for the next couple of years at least (it's never too early to prepare yourself for the 25th anniversary "Nevermind" articles in '16).  Admittedly, 1994 was a massive year and is deserving of just about all the praise it gets for being a transformative year, regardless of how you feel about many of the usual touchstones (e.g. Britpop).

Up until now I've stayed clear of writing those kinds of articles myself.  Obviously I'm all in favour of digging up old memories, but I don't get sentimental about round numbered anniversaries as opposed to the same round number give or take a year or two.  If you want to reminisce about an event after eighteen years, then do it, don't wait another two years because you think it'll be more "meaningful".  It won't.

Still, it's fun to trot out these retrospectives from time to time so I thought I'd try a different take on the round numbered anniversary game.  Instead of reflecting back on a particular album or music scene, I thought I'd take the occasional look back at some of my favorite live recordings.  Let's see how far I can go with this, starting with this eye-opening and very unique Spiritualized concert from '94.

The date on the recording is July 11, but the actual date was July 9 according to posters on the official SPZ boards.  The band didn't play many shows in 1994, which partly explains the confusion with their gigography according to various websites.

I discovered this recording around 2001. It was the missing link recording of live SPZ that I'd been searching for for years without any success.  It captures them at a transitional point in their career between "Lazer Guided Melodies" and "Pure Phase".  They were still frequently described as "space rock" or "ambient rock" even though this recording clearly indicates that they didn't sound much like either.  Instead, they were well on their way to perfecting the noisy jazz freakouts they'd be more famous for after "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" dropped a few years later.

At the time of this concert, Jason was about half way through the post-recording/mixing period of "Pure Phase".  By the time the album was eventually released, it sounded nothing like their concerts from the summer of '94.  By spring of '95 they were somehow an ambient rock outfit again, at least on record.  Jason's voice is missing or distorted almost completely out of earshot on half of "Pure Phase".  The concert is a vision of "Pure Phase" that was never realized.  Every song is in the same key and the set comes off as one hour long blare of constant-toned noise.  Where "Pure Phase" purrs and relaxes your, this show sears them off.

This concert offers a glimpse into how "Pure Phase" might have sounded if Jason had went full steam ahead with the guitar-heavy sound he preserved in one of the channels in the final mix.  It features "Take Good Care of It" and its glorious coda before he transformed it into something else completely on the album and then ignored it for the rest of his career.  It includes incendiary live versions of "I Want You" and "Sway" that were also soon to be banished to hardly ever played again oblivion.  It has a jaw-dropping version of "The Slide Song" that incinerates the blissed out version that made it onto "Pure Phase".  As far as I can tell, this song was never played by SPZ at all outside of a few live shows in the summer of '94,

Finally, after spending more than a year mixing the album, they went out on tour and hardly played any songs from it.  And they still hardly ever play any songs from it, although songs like "Lay Back In the Sun" and "Medication" did finally creep back into live sets during the "Sweet Heart Sweet Light" tours.  Not coincidentally, post-2011 SPZ is more unpredictable than any version of the band since 1994 or so.  From 1995-2002 they were a powerful live outfit, but you could bet the farm on the "Cop Shoot Cop/Shine A Light/Electric Mainline/Electricity" section filling up half the concert, more often than not exactly in that order.  They'd improvise in parts and things would never sound the same way twice, but the set list was just about set in stone.  None of their live shows before or since resemble what they did in the summer of '94.

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