Just like Lazarus of Bethany, Jason Pierce of Rugby has developed a habit of coming back from the dead. In 2005 double pneumonia almost did for him, whilst last year it was the turn of a degenerative liver disease which had him knocking on heaven’s door. Pierce’s most recent flirtation with his own mortality, you suspect, owed much to his once prodigious appetite for all things illicitly pharmaceutical, drugs which, in turn, greatly informed and influenced the music of his band Spiritualized and their immediate predecessors Spacemen 3. Tonight on the Humber waterfront, though, he is very much alive and stood on the Pier Stage of this, Hull’s annual festival celebrating the arts. For seventy minutes during a set painfully cut short by the demands of the local licensing laws, he places himself in his customary position stage right, remains virtually motionless and at right angles to the crowd throughout and beyond articulating his familiar lyrical imagery of religion, life, love and death across Spiritualized’s epic blueprint of woozy narcolepsy and spaced out rock does not speak a single word. Despite being in the city of the great man’s birth and unlike Little Barrie who preceded Spiritualized’s performance (and who did an absolutely marvellous job of demonstrating just how wonderfully simple and effective rock n roll can be when it is stripped down to its basic components of guitar, bass and drums and is played with such wanton gusto) he did not even make mention of Mick Ronson. Instead he let the music of the band that he has fronted and led for the past 22 years do all of the talking.
And talk they did. Given the truncated nature of the set there was to be nothing from Pierce’s meisterwerk “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” and a relentless, nagging, contagious “Hey Jane” apart nothing either from the latest and by some very sadly neglected seventh studio album, the quietly magnificent “Sweet Heart Sweet Light”. Yet in their stead and for just over an hour we get a nigh on perfect distillation of Pierce’s musical influences and career from the Velvet Underground to Phil Spector captured between the milestones of Spacemen 3’s “So Hot (Wash Away All of My Tears)”and “Take Me to The Other Side”, the show’s respective opening and closing songs. This cosmic odyssey travels across Mr Spaceman’s universe taking in the escalating euphoria of “Walking With Jesus”, the blissed out wonder of “Going Down Slow” and its vengeful counterpoint “She Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”. Shorn of the sometime excess of the band’s white light white heat guitar freak outs, the more controlled and in control delivery of the music loses none of its passion yet now speaks of a man who is more at peace with himself and his place on this earth. We should therefore all rise as one and salute Jason Pierce for sharing with us those perfect sounds he has inside his mind and because on this evidence he will probably live forever.