Spiritualized: Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space at the Vivid Sydney festival

Vivid Sydney is this city’s annual festival of “light, music and ideas”. I can agree with the first two, at least, as I was down at the Opera House last night. There are coloured, moving projections of light all around Circular Quay. Lit installations and warm glows are everywhere you look down there at the moment. It’s very pretty, very cool.

Inside an Opera House covered in huge, moving patterns of luminescence, though, was the music I’d come to see: Spiritualized. The UK cosmic-rock act led by J Spaceman is one of my favourite bands anyway, so I’d have gone to see them (for the fourth time) in any case. But last night – and repeated again tonight – they were playing the entirety of their perfect 1997 album,Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space.

Not only was there a six-piece rock band that took the stage, there was also a 9-person choir and a substantial orchestra behind. If you know Ladies And Gentlemen… you know those are essential to reproducing it live.

The Spaceman was in sitting-down mode tonight. I was in the third row, right next to him. God, he’s thin and pale. His ever-present sunglasses kept him from us. Not that he looked out into the audience anyway: he always faces across the stage when he sits like that. He looked weak and shaky, a vulnerable man in a white T-shirt, separate from the black-garbed band, almost like he’d rather slip back with the ivory-robed choir.

With no prelude, the album began. If you know Spiritualized, you know their drug-hymns, their space-rock noise-dirges to love. This album is a perfect combination of sounds about love, in fact: love that makes you weak, and drugs that you love that make you weak, all wrapped up in the sounds of gospel and choirs, but that eventually must descend into sonic chaos. On this album, Spiritualized were Punk Floyd.

The reproduction on-stage was perfect. There’s zero antics. Apart from frequent strobing lights, it was all sonic waves, song after song of loss, crashing over us. J’s voice was as plaintive and mournful as on the albums. Every throbbing bass note, muted trumpet blare, choir keen, and guitar scream was delivered as it is when you’re listening to Ladies And Gentlemen… on your own, in the dark of your bedroom, with headphones.

“Come Together”, “I Think I’m In Love”, and “Cop Shoot Cop” (all seventeen minutes of it) were amazing highlights. J got up to say thanks at the end, as did the assembled Opera House. They came back for just one more, Let It Come Down‘s “Out Of Sight”, which was equally powerful. I’m glad they didn’t overdo it, and – apart from that one encore song – let the album stand on its own.

I’ve seen many of these songs performed before. But seeing them all performed together, in order, in the dying format that is the album, was pretty powerful. Pretty vivid.