Jason Pierce has a handy knack of turning up when he is most needed. In 1997, amidst the detritus of a scene that was already dead but refused to believe it, Spiritualized's Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space dwarfed everything with its craft and scale. Four year's later, at a point when Britain was wetting itself over the promise of a New York invasion, he repeated the trick with Let It Come Down, an orchestrated rearguard against artifice.
So, here we are again: a decade, a near-fatal illness and a couple of so-so records later and, by God, are we in need of some inspiration right now. A handful of bright spots aside (The Horrors' last record and the insouciant rise of The Vaccines being two), the state of things on this side of the Atlantic is little short of parlous. Too little invention, too little courage and far, far too many bands who refuse to be killed off. When there is no money, faint heart never won fair-weather record company exec, far less a coveted support slot on the umpteenth Shed Seven Greatest Hits tour.
With a new record scheduled for a March release, the punters at Queen's Hall have turned out in the expectation of new material and Pierce doesn't disappoint. Sitting in his customary position stage left at a right-angle to the crowd and in a pair of oversized sunglasses, he opens with a menacing beast of a song called 'Hey Jane', which has a mammoth riff at the heart of its near ten minute duration before heading off into a mesmeric one-chord groove. As statements of intent go, it is not too far down from parking tanks on the lawn.
However, the tone of several other of the songs being debuted tonight is distinctly more sedate, with the slow, intricate 'Won't Get To Heaven' and the undulating sweep of 'Freedom' being characteristic of a more pensive, if no less intense, mood. Lyrically, Pierce is still thinking big: he is still worried about the time he has and the time he wastes; still concerned with metaphysical boundaries, heights and depths; still invoking Him Upstairs at every opportunity.
On the off-chance that He is listening, Pierce doesn't miss a chance to score brownie points. The new songs are filled with layered, exultant melodies and there are plenty of skyward riffs, courtesy of all-action guitarist Doggen. Pierce's much-improved voice still some way short of the power required to compete with the ambitions of his music, so he borrows depth and texture from a pair of gospel singers and has created half-a-dozen chord arrangements where the arrival of the organ sounds like daylight bursting through ceiling plaster.
It is either audacious or irresponsible to play an album of new material in its entirety, particularly when you decline to introduce any of the songs, but this is exactly what Pierce does. With impeccable symmetry, the set ends with another expansive tune – one that may or may not be called 'Dio C'e' (that's 'God Exists', translation fans.) Whatever it is called, it has an epic, all-encompassing chorus in the style of 'Soul on Fire' from their last album which is repeated almost to the point of self-parody and is a thing of rare beauty.
The night's objectives achieved, Pierce uses an extended encore to throw a slightly impatient crowd a few bones. 'Shine A Light' retains its vulnerability beneath more of Doggen's maverick touches, while 'Cheapster' and old Spacemen 3 number 'Take Me To The Other Side' are unrestrained and tinnitus inducing. Ending with a life-affirming take on 'Oh Happy Day', Pierce allows himself an unusually animated moment by applauding and waving to an audience that he is looking in the eye for the first time tonight. He doesn't smile, exactly, but he has the look of a man who has got something off his chest.
He might just have the look of a man who has already soundtracked next year. Thank heaven for that.