Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"I'm playing with fire if you know what I mean, I need someone to help me turn it on" - Spiritualized, Sydney Opera House, 27/05/2010

Sydney's Vivid Live festival hasn't been running all that long (I think this is the third), but it's quickly developed a reputation for delivering a whole lot of exciting international performers from a variety of different genres. Unfortunately for us folks on the other side of the Murray, most of the festival's performances are usually exclusive to Sydney, but for one particular act this year I treated this as a minor inconvenience, as my heart was setting on seeing this performance. The performance of course was British psychedelic collective Spiritualized, who were bringing a full 30 musician ensemble into our country to fully render the entire tracklisting of their 1997 masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space in all its cosmic glory. This is an album that's delighted pretty much every ear that's ever come across it, with near-universal critical acclaim since its release about fifteen years ago. In fact, the legendary music magazine NME awarded Ladies and Gentlemen... the title of "album of the year" in 1997 - quite an achievement when you consider that in that year, two other releases were Radiohead's OK Computer and The Verve's Urban Hymns, which were absolutely massive in Britain at the time and still have a big impact on music today. It's only in the past couple of years that Spiritualized visionary Jason Pierce (or J Spaceman if you prefer) has undertaken some special shows with his band to perform the album in its entirety, and after a well-received set at 2009's Australian edition of the ATP festival, Spiritualized returned to our shores to bring this amazing set of songs to life in the biggest way possible.

With no support act on the bill (and what band, especially an Australian one, could possibly be justified in opening such a magnificent event?), punters were through the Opera Theatre's doors and in their seats for a 9:00pm start. And start it did; the lights flickered off gradually and all 30 musicians made their way out onto the stage - first the strings and brass section (who unfortunately were hidden up the back pretty much entirely out of my view for the whole evening), then a white-robed choir, and finally the "main" Spiritualized band, comprised of two guitarists, one bassist, one keyboardist, one drummer and one percussionist. The loudest cheers were reserved for the eventual emergence of the Spaceman himself, donned in white and wearing sunglasses. As he took his position at the right of the stage, sitting down with guitar in hand and lyric sheets and mics in front of him, spontaneous appreciative shouts broke out amongst the crowd.

After a few tenuous seconds and some undesired feedback, a familiar disembodied voice announced "Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space" over the PA, and the show began, with a simplistic yet effective backdrop of shining star-like lights illuminating the stage. The title track from the album got things off to a nice slow steady start, with the audience's heads bobbing slightly and mouthing the words to the song. With the "whole album in order" format of the show, nobody was suprised at what song came next - some might see this as a bit of a downfall in that the usual element of unpredictability of a band's live setlist was lost. However, Come Together has long been held as a highlight of the band's career and seeing this modern classic in all its splendour got the crowd suitably revved up. Naturally, there was some pretty intense lighting accompanying the dizzying "wall of sound" approach to the band's music; hopefully there were no epilepsy sufferers in the audience!

The knowledge of the precise order of what songs would be played didn't take away from the magic of the show at all - if anything the familiarity was enjoyed by most punters as the band worked their way through some truly stunning renditions of the material. The more laidback numbers such as I Think I'm in Love and Stay With Me were accompanied with suitable slow moving lighting that provided the perfect accompaniment to Pierce's dreamy vocals. Somewhat ironically, it was while Pierce was singing "Stay with me... don't go", and during some other slower songs, that some members of the audience ducked out of the room briefly. I get it, slow songs are a good time to leave if you have to at all, but really, what the hell was the excuse? Drank a bit too much before the show? Ahh. The distractions of people leaving aside, there were many highlights in the show. The extra musicians onstage really made a difference in recreating the very full sound that was present on the studio recordings - after all, how could you have Come Together without brass, or Broken Heart without strings, or Cool Waves without a choir? The band faithfully recreated every moment that we all expected, and in the live setting, the amazing dynamic range of Spiritualized was really emphasised even more - blinding strobe lights accompanying the full band jamming freak-outs of Electricity and No God Only Religion, while the choir and gentle lights set the tone perfectly for the likes of Broken Heart and Cool Waves. Pierce is known for being a bit of an atypical frontman - he never once stood up from his chair, faced the audience or even acknowledged them at all with a "thank you" or any banter whatsoever. Yet somehow, this didn't even matter, as his musicianship spoke for itself and somehow his lack of stage presence drew even more attention to him - but also served to make sure the rest of the talented musicians got their moment in the sun.

As the band scaled some amazing musical heights with the dizzying 17-minute epic Cop Shoot Cop..., it was clear to all the punters in the room that this, being the last track on Ladies and Gentlemen..., would probably signify something close to the end of the night. As the final notes rang out, there was a surprising repeat of the familiar "Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space" announcement, but that served to be a definitive end to the set, and was the cue for the entire audience to rise to their feet, giving the band a much-deserved standing ovation. The musicians left the stage slowly, taking the time to soak in the audience appreciation, until finally only Pierce was left. He rose from his chair and actually spoke the words "Thank you" quite audibly, clearly happy with the reception he'd received. It even looked like he was smiling! However, as the band left the stage and a few roadies came on, the applause kept on going, and with the lights staying down, and the roadies seemingly just doing another quick sound check, it was clear that there would be an encore. Eventually Spiritualized returned to the stage, and treated the audience to a great rendition of Out of Sight, from their Let it Come Down album. Perhaps the only surprise of the evening, it was certainly well-appreciated by everyone, and as the band left the stage for good, there was no mistaking - Pierce was definitely grinning this time, and for good reason.

Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (Can't Help Falling In Love)
Come Together
I Think I'm In Love
All of My Thoughts
Stay With Me
Home of the Brave
The Individual
Broken Heart
No God Only Religion
Cool Waves
Cop Shoot Cop...
Out of Sight

Monday, May 9, 2011

"And I want to know... did you all enjoy the show?" - Kyuss, Palace Theatre, 08/05/2011

Last year, John Garcia, frontman of the desert rock gods Kyuss, decided to revisit the band that he was most known for and went on a small European tour with a bunch of musicians from around that area, under the bill Garcia Plays Kyuss. Funnily enough, the sets consisted entirely of material from the amazing yet oh-so-brief discography of that band. There were some interested murmurs when the lineups were announced of certain festivals that noted that while Garcia was in town, so too would be his former bandmates Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork, playing with other bands of theirs. The dream jam did indeed eventuate, with Oliveri and Bjork first joining Garcia onstage at Hellfest in France, an event that was repeated numerous times throughout the course of the tour. The seeds were sown, and in November 2010, there came the official announcement that this lineup of the band were reuniting for a full world tour. Everyone understandably weighed in with their two cents about the absence of founding axeman Josh Homme, and it was due to his absence that the tour has gone ahead under the banner of Kyuss Lives! His replacement has been the very capable Bruno Fevery, of Belgian band Arsenal and who also played on the GPK shows. With or without Homme, the tour has been a massive success, selling out just about every show and earning rave reviews across the board. I'd be lying if I said the news that Kyuss Lives were coming to Australia didn't excite me in the pants region, and on a pretty wet Sunday evening, Garcia, Oliveri, Bjork and Fevery tore Melbourne a new one with a fantastic set, spanning the best part of the Kyuss career. Byron Bay's Fort had the honours of opening the show, and put on a pretty capable set with a sound that was quite an appropriate match to the headliners. However, everyone was just waiting for the main event!

10:30 rolled around, the lights went down and a typical symphonic introduction blared over the PA. The tension in the crowd was absolutely electric, and when the silhouettes of the band made their way to their instruments, the crowd roared appreciatively. Brant Bjork raised his hands and with that immense pounding rhythm, the crowd was in the band's pocket as they recognised the familiar intro of Spaceship Landing. The sceptics among us would like to ask questions such as, "Well, why are they really doing this? Why not Josh? Isn't this all just a big cash-in/nostalgia trip?" Well, undoubtedly they are going to earn quite a bit of money from this, but from the way they were playing onstage, it was obvious that a far more important motive for doing this tour is because they're having a good fucking time. There were smiles all around onstage, and plenty of enthusiasm evident in the way they were playing and roaming around the stage. As for the setlist, there was a great mix of tunes from all of their studio albums except for debut Wretch, and they even threw in a few relative rarities, Fatso Forgotso and Un Sandpiper, in the middle of the set. But for pretty much the entire set, the crowd was in awe of this classic material getting an airing in this country for the first time in about 18 years (Kyuss last toured Australia in 1993, as support for Metallica incidentally). Garcia even mentioned that at one point, stating, "It's nice to be back," before correcting himself. "No, it's not nice to be back, it's fucking GREAT to be back!" he exclaimed, to suitable crowd approval. Homme or no Homme, the band sounded absolutely amazing, with just the right level of each instrument present in the mix - it was understandably quite loud, but not unbearably so, and the trademark rumble and groove of the low-end based riffs was maintained with surprising clarity. The band made up for lost time with an impressive 19-song setlist, including TWO encores, and just about everything you'd want to hear from them - Whitewater, Hurricane, Gardenia, they were all in there! What was also great is the jamming nature of the band doesn't seem to have died, as they faithfully replicated some of the more long-winded passages in some songs. Fevery seems to be fitting into the band very well too, replicating the old Homme solos faithfully but with just enough of his own take on things thrown into the mix. The crowd's enthusiasm never died, as they sung along to every word and of course, smoked a few cheeky jazz cigarettes. One even made its way onto the stage, where it was picked up and enjoyed by Garcia! After a blistering rendition of 100°, the band finally made their way offstage. The three instrumentalists returned first for a blistering rendition of instrumental favourite Molten Universe, before Garcia returned to finish off the encore with the extremely awesome 50 Million Year Trip and Allen's Wrench. But there was one more track missing, and they returned for one final time to blast out Green Machine. Garcia was far from the only one bellowing out "I've got a war inside my head!" as the sold-out Palace crowd joined in for one last singalong, before it was finally over and the long-haired and bearded masses spilled out onto Bourke St, absolutely in rapture at witnessing this momentous occasion. One can only hope this isn't the last we see of them.

Spaceship Landing
One Inch Man
Conan Troutman
Freedom Run
Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop
Fatso Forgotso
Un Sandpiper
El Rodeo
----Encore 1----
Molten Universe
50 Million Year Trip (Downside Up)
Allen's Wrench
Encore 2(!)----
Green Machine