Donaufestival 2009, Day 3: Spiritualized

Not only the concert of this year’s Donaufestival, but the concert of the year so far. I used to follow Spiritualized religiously, but hadn’t seen them for several years – not from any loss of interest, but simply because I hadn’t been able to make any shows. This superb performance reminded me of what I’ve always loved about Spiritualized – the sweeping sense of drama, the sensory overload, and the unique and ecstatic blend of avant rock, gospel and systems music.

I’m always banging on in these pages about how important it is for the performer to communicate with the audience between songs, but this show was an illustration of a different kind of communication – less tangible, perhaps, but no less real. Jason Pierce said precisely nothing to the audience all evening, but I never wished he had done – indeed, to do so would have broken the spell. No words were required, since the whole experience is utterly overwhelming for the eyes, ears, heart and mind.

Most of the songs begin simply, with a modest chord sequence, vocal line or melody to draw the listener in. It’s never long, though, before the mantric repetitions, the guitars, the gospel singers and the drums kick in and burrow straight into your skull. The stage lighting, so often meretricious, is crucially important to the overall effect, the blazing strobe lights in particular forming a visual correlative to the crushing totality of sound.

Standing impassively at stage left, the director of these wonders is a deceptively nonchalant figure. His voice can seem colourless on occasion, yet it has a desperate quality to it that renders his texts unbearably moving and thrilling. And it only takes the merest nod or signal to his bandmates for this holiest of rackets to be unleashed – a shatteringly vivid and powerful live experience.

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