Towards the end of Saturday's Spiritualized gig at Manchester's New Century Hall, the ceiling a mass of coloured lightbulbs and 1960s modernist moulding, the lights from the stage bouncing off the enormous mirrorball and the word Bar illuminated, the sold out venue's crowd were caught between staring at what was going on on stage and looking around the room at the lightshow. One of those moments where you realise you're watching something special take place.
I haven't seen Spiritualized play live for a long time. The current line up has Jason seated at the right hand side of the stage, Fender Jazzmaster in his lap and shades worn all night. Next to him three backing singers, the drummer, bassist, two guitarists and the keyboards/ organ/ synth/ pedal steel player whose contributions underpin a lot of what happens tonight. Most of the songs played are from the last two albums, 2018's And Nothing Hurt and last year's Everything Was Beautiful, a pair of albums that were recorded at the same time and released apart. There are long songs, songs stretching out for seven and more, gradually building, the instruments coming in in layers, reaching huge crescendos. There are moments of hushed, fragile beauty, Jason's weary voice sighing and quiet as pedal steel and bass surround him. At one point towards the end, for several minutes of intro, the loudest sound any of the nine musicians onstage are making is the synchronised fingersnaps of the three backing vocalists, the almost ambient backdrop punctuated at the end of each bar with a crisp click.
There are moments of loud, three guitar psychedelic/ showgaze rock, an explosive sound filling the room. The second song tonight, She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit), is a lurching blast of garage rock. Let It Bleed (Song For Iggy) was full on, Detroit rock transformed by the nine piece band. Jason deals in the classic lineage of underground rock, the sounds, the chords and the lyrics of those bands and songs. At times Spiritualized can play like a very well polished garage, expansive garage band or bar band. At times, when the sounds are swelling and all the musicians are all playing in unison, it's like an amped up Elvis in Vegas band, Jason's voice the human, vulnerable element at the centre as he whispers and croons about souls on fire, the best thing you never had, being your man and shining lights.
Always Together With You, currently sound tracking a national lottery advert, is a highlight. The thumping, gliding groove and triple guitar attack of Here It Comes (The Road ) Let's Go is countered by the spectral beauty of Sailing On Through, both songs showing Jason's four decade career of blending garage rock and The Velvet Underground with country, gospel and blues didn't necessarily peak with 1997's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. The Morning After, from And Nothing Hurt, opens with Velvets guitar, bumping driving bass and Jason's lines about Janey and her problem with the modern world, 1969 Lou Reed transported to 2023. It catches me unawares briefly, the instruments dropping out as Jason sings the line, 'Every mother wants to die before her children do', making me draw a sharp intake of breath. The band re- enter and plough on, everyone getting louder, the rhythm faster and then multiple strobe lights go off for, bright white lights against black space.
The set finishes with Sailing On Through, a short, desperate and delicate song. Jason applauds us and mutters the only words he says to us all night, 'thank you', twice. After a few minutes they return for So Long You Pretty Thing and then Come Together. Come Together is everything about them turned up to the max, a song that grinds into gear, three guitars sounding like thirty, and Jason singing about heroin addiction, Little Johnny, all fucked up, dulling pain and killing joy. It is immense, a garage rock song that sounds the size of a continent, the backing singers piling in on the chorus, 'come on, come together'. Exhilarating, powerful and transcendent music, Spiritualized at the limits.