Spiritualized Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, April 12

Spiritualized Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, April 12
Photo: Matt Forsythe
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Touring has never been about making money for Jason Pierce. In fact, while most musicians travel the world playing gigs to earn an income, Spiritualized have mostly put the man they call Spaceman in the red. Hell, even when he embarked on his "Acoustic Mainline" tour, Pierce insisted on bringing along a string quartet, some gospel singers and bandmate Doggen Foster on the Fender Rhodes, whereas he could just have easily have performed the gigs stripped-down and solo. But Pierce has always ensured that a Spiritualized be as close as it gets to a religious experience for fans.
 
The last time the band came to town, it was to play to a half-full Massey Hall during NXNE in 2014, however, this time they were facing a sold-out crowd. Touring last year's And Nothing Hurt, Pierce's band included six players and a gospel trio. Beginning with a brief introductory version of "Hold On" (which bookended the show), they segued into a strident yet brief run-through of the normally epic "Come Together." There was no such edit to "Shine A Light," which was guided by organ and slide guitar through a maze of crescendos.
 
The night belonged to the latest album, but that didn't stop them from playing some of the classics first. Astral projections gave the right aura to Ladies and Gentlemen's quixotic "Stay With Me," while flames rose up behind them for Songs in A&E's "Soul on Fire." They amped things up for Amazing Grace's "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)," but then slammed on the brakes for Pierce's gut-wrenching ballad, "Broken Heart." Featuring cascading synths and guitarist John Coxon's wailing harmonica, it was an interesting way to rework the song, though it did sacrifice some of devastation without strings to emphasize the heartbreak.
 
Without any introduction, Spiritualized then began to perform And Nothing Hurts in its entirety, flashing the Morse code signage and rhythmic S.O.S. noise throughout. Considering the album is less reliant on strings than normal, this move made complete sense. The ebb and flow nature of the album meant seismic transitions from quiet to loud. The sublime waltz of "A Perfect Miracle" and the tender ballad "I'm Your Man" morphed into extended blasts of noise with "On the Sunshine" and "The Morning After," which reduced itself to almost nothing, before they cranked it back up for the raucous coda. "Sail On Through" ended things on a glimmering, hopeful note before they exited for the inevitable encore.
 
Returning with Sweet Heart Sweet Light's closing ballad, "So Long You Pretty Thing," the band wrapped things up with a killer rendition of Let It Come Down's "Out of Sight" and their celebratory cover of "Oh Happy Day," which famously closed their legendary Royal Albert Hall concert. Of course one fan yelled out a request for Spacemen 3's "Walkin' With Jesus," but as he did for the entire night, Pierce failed to address the crowd with anything but a smile and handclaps.
 
The rumour surrounding And Nothing Hurt was that it could very well be Spiritualized's last hurrah. If this was the final time we see J. Spaceman in town, he at least gave us a night to remember. Even without the string and horn sections we've relied on to bolster his psychedelic hymns, he demonstrated once again that no matter how he presents it, Spiritualized have always been one of the more phenomenal live rock bands to exist.