Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Reviewing Spiritualized

There are some shows that I attend because I absolutely love the artist performing. I know that I'll be able to sing along to practically every word, and that there will be songs that provoke specific memories, and that I'll stand there clutching my arms and staring at the stage in open-mouthed awe. Then there are the shows by artists that I'm not too familiar with, but I attend because they have a legendary status and I want to see them while I have the chance, or because I've heard a lot of good things about them, or I feel like I should like them, even if I can only name one of their songs.

I was in the audience at the Spiritualized show at the TLA on Tuesday night because of the last reason. But more on that later. The first band to play was Philly's own War on Drugs. They treated the few earlygoers to a thunderous set, backed by two drummers. For the first couple of songs, I was enthralled by the propulsive percussion, until I noticed that the music playing on top of it was the sound of a bunch of guys in love with their sustain pedals.

There must have been a two-for-one sale on drum kits somewhere, since the Dirtbombs also had a double-percussionist setup (along with a pair of bassists; I don't think I've ever seen that particular configuration before). Aside from that, though, it was an entirely different experience. The band played a set of grimy garage rock, frequently sounding like a larger version of their fellow Detroiters the White Stripes (what exactly is in the water up there?). Singer/guitarist Mick Collins used almost every trick in the frontman book, from the high kick to the playing-guitar-behind-the-head. But the strangest and best moment may have been at the end, when the rest of the band started packing up their gear while Drummer #1 kept right on playing the beat from the last song for about five minutes, eventually joined by Drummer #2, who stood atop the kick drum and savagely attacked the tom-tom. I'd never heard of these guys before, but they make a hell of a first impression.

Spiritualized certainly seems like a band I should enjoy. I mean, they play "space rock," and if there is a genre that I should love based on name alone, that would be it. As J. Spaceman led his ensemble through the first few songs, I started picking up on some spacey influences here and there: bits from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, an organ that sounded like Deep Purple (they sang about Space Truckers, right?), and the fog machine and spotlights that served as the band's backdrop had a planetarium laser-show quality to them. Then I lost interest in that line of criticism and noticed that Spaceman's voice sounded like a cross between Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and whichever Gallagher brother sings for Oasis. Then I started thinking of some pretentious phrase like, "Spiritualized incorporates the best bits of prog and album rock of the 60s and 70s, then recontextualizes it in a distinctly 90s alt-rock milieu." Then I realized that I didn't know what I was talking about and tried to focus on the band that I had paid money to see.

My point here is that a Spiritualized concert gives your mind ample opportunities to wander. There are plenty of shapeless intros and codas, and a few of the quieter or more upbeat songs seemed flat. There were, to be sure, lovely moments of grandiose crescendoes, which were what I came for, but unfortunately I would have to say that my lofty expectations of this group were not met. Then again, let me reiterate that I was mostly unfamiliar with them when I walked in the door, so maybe it's my expectations that were all wrong.

In Other News...
  • Here's my usual concertgoing strategy: as soon as I get to the venue, I head to the bar and order several drinks in a row. That way, I get my intoxication out of the way and don't have to worry about relinquishing my primo spot for a beer later in the evening. I did not stick to the strategy for Spiritualized, however, and learned that this is how it works if you try to order a drink after the opening act leaves the stage: you go to the bar, where you will spend a good five minutes leaning on the bar, twenty dollar bill in your hand, before being acknowledged by the bartender, who promises, "I'll be right with you." You will then spend another five minutes looking at yourself in the mirror behind the bar, thinking that in this light, your moustache does not look too ridiculous. Eventually, the bartender will finish waiting on the parties who are ordering 12 beers at a time and take your order, and upon finally receiving your vodka tonic, you will be so thrilled that you will stuff your change into your pocket and only realize later in the evening that said bartender only gave you change for a ten. This experience will, perhaps, taint your opinion of the headliner's set.
  • Note to rock bands: when the lights dim prior to your performance, please be courteous and take the stage as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more jerks in the audience will feel the need to shout "Whoo!", "Yeah!" and "Ow!"
  • Note to audience members: if a band's frontman has played his entire set without any kind of interaction with the audience (and went so far as to face the side of the stage, not the crowd, while he played), he is probably not going to be especially receptive to the requests you shout out during the encore.
  • Bonus note to audience members: if you're trying to avoid being caught smoking up during a show, you probably shouldn't exhale while a spotlight is sweeping right over your head.

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