Spiritualized Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON November 17

Spiritualized Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON November 17
Making his first appearance on these shores since he recovered from his near-fatal bout with periorbital cellulitis with bilateral pneumonia two years ago, J. Spaceman landed in Toronto without his usual mesmeric pedal-driven psychedelia in tow. Dubbed the "Acoustic Mainline” tour, in reference to his usual "Electric Mainline” wall of noise, Jason Pierce brought not a band, but a trio of gospel singers, a string quartet and lone band-mate Doggen (also of Julian Cope’s Brain Donor) manning organs – both electric and mouth – to present his music in another light. Often one to conceal his thin skin behind deafening wah-wah, commanding keys and unruly harmonica solos, Pierce had nowhere to hide, baring his heart and soul through a selection of stripped down songs by both of his bands, Spiritualized and Spacemen 3, as well as some traditional hymns. Beginning with a new song, "Sitting On Fire,” expected on the forthcoming Spiritualized album (due early 2008), Pierce assumed a humble position leaning over his acoustic to read his handwritten lyrics propped up on a stand through his effortlessly cool shades. An uplifting cover of Daniel Johnston’s "True Love Will Find You” was added early on, but was quickly overshadowed by the triumphant back-to-back gospel powerhouse submission of "Cool Waves” and Spacemen 3’s "Amen,” which utilised the warmth oozing from both strings and the singers. The response to the stripped down rendition of S3’s "Walkin’ With Jesus” was justly elated, as Pierce magnified the song’s heart and soul without the usual noise. But it was his current band’s catalogue that was mostly on show here; "Shine A Light” from Lazer Guided Melodies and Pure Phase’s wistful "All Of My Tears” lived up to their names for many. As expected though, it was career highlight Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space that produced the night’s true highlights. The revered title track closed out Let it Come Down’s "Anything More” with an uplifting play on its lyrics by the choir, who squeezed the inspirational "Can’t Help Falling in Love” into the background, and the desperate "Broken Heart” was repaired with a mightier tempo and some unexpected life in Pierce’s strumming. The brightest moment all night though belonged to "I Think I’m In Love,” which found the oft-diffident front-man instigating a playful call-and-response-game with his hearty choir, who weren’t afraid to shoot down his assertive thoughts with disapproving hand gestures. It’s not often you see such a delighted Spaceman, but among many other things it was a site to remember on this magical night.