"What if that was actually just the encore?" the stony dude at the urinal next to me mumbled to no one in particular. "Think about that."
And so I did. The thing was, the dude was sort of right: What had happened nearly two-hours earlier — Spiritualized's massive Radio City Music Hall performance of their watershed 1997 album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space — was basically the encore. After all, at the beginning of the show, after the house lights dimmed, Radio City's stage manager had erroneously raised the curtain, revealing a glimpse of not only a smashed disco ball (which had apparently fallen from the rafters) but the band's set-up, too. The audience whistled their approval, and the curtain was quickly dropped, but if you wanted to be particular about it, well, then that minute constituted a performance, and everything that followed after — more than an hour of symphonic, slow-diving, majestic misery — was the encore.
And if that was the case, well, then it was pretty much the greatest encore in music history.
Yes, Spirtualized's Friday (July 30) night Radio City set was the kind of thing that practically required hyperbole: Flanked by nearly 30 additional musicians — a full gospel choir, string and horn sections, a mallet-wielding percussionist — Jason Piece (better known by his nom-de-stage J. Spaceman) presented Ladies And Gentlemen ... in its entirety for what was reportedly the last time, taking a rapt audience on an epic ride of trilling, chilling highs and equally crushing lows.
Make no mistake about it, Ladies And Gentlemen is one of the all-time great dope-and-despair albums (right up there with Bowie's Low), a throwback to a time when record labels were willing to give huge advances to guys with — to put it mildly — rather huge personal problems (Pierce had a well-documented substance abuse problem back in the day). And Pierce took full advantage, packing the thing with gasping choirs, thundering timpani, charging horns and stirring strings. And that cacophony, when coupled with the album's chilling moments of silence, extended noise-terror freakouts and Pierce's own ruminations on death, drug abuse and Spiritualized keyboard player Kate Radley (with whom he'd just split), make it not only one of music's most discombobulatingly bombastic listens, but one of the most harrowing, too. It's a great tragedy, the kind of thing that deserves to be played out on the largest of stages.
And Pierce and Co. did it justice — not just re-playing the album, but breathing new life into it. They tacked the legally-contentious final verse onto the title track (the one that incorporated the lyrics and melody from Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love"), turned "Broken Heart" into an even more dire dirge, made the instrumental "No God Only Religion" even more titanically overwrought and gave the extended rave-ups in "Cop Shoot Cop" even more haywire punch. The choir sang for the rafters on "Come Together," the full ensemble gave "I Think I'm In Love " extra pulse and Pierce's staggering, gut-shot guitar playing on "Electricity" was, literally, electric.
The louds were incredibly loud. The soft moments were tangibly soothing. It really was something. At the conclusion of the set, the band returned to play an encore, featuring "Out of Sight" and the standard "Oh Happy Day," and then the notoriously shy Pierce even managed to croak out a "thank you." You could tell he was spent, emotionally and physically, even if he had spent the entire set seated in a chair stage left. And the audience, minds blown, eyes glassed (thanks to the music, or the chemicals, or probably both), spilled out of Radio City's art-deco hallways and onto the streets. Or down to the elegantly retro bathrooms. No one spoke much, mostly because they didn't have to. It was the kind of show you maybe get to see twice in your life: expertly rehearsed, air-tight, massive, chaotic, uplifting. It was one epic encore, after all. Think about it, man.