Smile Politely

As J. Spaceman, we see the man within the man

I miss Kate Radley.

I miss Sean Cook. I miss Damon Reece. Thighpaulsandra. All of it. In 1997, when I ate a few caps and listened to Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, I wasn’t ready for it. I’d already fallen in love with Lazer Guided Melodies, and Pure Phase after that.

If you’ve ever listened to the live version of “Electric Mainline” broken hearted, and ready for anything to sweep you off the floor, you know what I am talking about.

Seriously, if you believe in anything, just click play and close your eyes for seven minutes. It will be worth it. Seriously, listen to the interplay between Reece and Cook (drums and bass, respectively) at 5:10 and 5:18. But, you know, play the whole song to get there first:

For me, this is the best live rock music that’s ever been committed to tape.

Disagree? Perfectly reasonable. Nevertheless, I highly suggest an appearance tonight at The Foellinger Great Hall to watch J. Spaceman loop guitars until you drift away at ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival.

Jason Pierce has a long history as a performer, and that goes without saying much else. His youth, filled with feedback and drugs and conceptual musical design with Spacemen 3 gave way to the project he is best known for now: Spiritualized.

This article can’t be about him alone. His music has affected me too deeply, and for too long for me to pretend that I’d be able to write about it from a purely journalistic perspective.

I know nothing of the man, outside of his penchant for sadness related to spiking his vein, longing for forgiveness, an aching for love.

Another gem, to hear now:

It has to simply be about his music, and the way he’s approached it has always been second to none in terms of bucking the system. If there’s ever been a cult rock band that’s perservered throughout the past twenty years, I’d give the award to him. He’s always done everything on his terms.

Example #1: Given the opening slot for Radiohead on their second U.S. tour after OK Computer changed music forever, Spaceman opened with a 17 minute version of “Cop Shoot Cop” at the Rosemont Theatre outside of Chicago with no apology in sight.

Given the chance to turn on countless teens and radio-hungry record buyers, Spaceman straight said “NO.” Here’s what we play. The essence. Just listen.

And honestly, most people didn’t. It was just too much, and too long.

Example #2: After Spaceman recognized that major labels would never, ever, give him the financial means to do what he wanted, he ducked out and signed with Fat Possum. They are based in Mississippi. Or Alabama. Somewhere down South.

Example #3: He dropped his baller agency in lieu of a tried and true indie outfit — Billions, Inc., a relatively small but powerful agency out of Chicago — and worked with Trey Many and David Viecelli, knowing damn well that they’d fight for him in ways that the “corporate” agents could never pretend to step to.

Evidently, Jason Pierce knows no bounds.

That he is performing in the Great Hall tonight at Krannert Center, doing guitar loops in the middle of a U.S. festival junket for Spiritulized should come as no surprise, if you’ve been listening all along.

But the performance will likely be filled with them.

Full disclosure: I spoke with David Spelman, the artistic director of ELLNORA, earlier this year about the idea of booking him for the festival this year. He asked me straight up: will this do the numbers?

I told him: Spiritualized? For sure. The band has never played the market, and if there’s no Chicago play, you’ll get people down without question on a Friday night.

He told me: “I don’t want Spiritualized. I want Spaceman. I want him to perform Guitar Loops. This is a Guitar Festival, and I want something unique and something that stands out. You can see Spiritualized most anywhere.”

And this is why ELLNORA succeeds, at least for me, on a basic level.

The festival is less concerned about moving tickets than they are about presenting artwork in its most impressive state. They could have very easily booked a Spiritualized show in the Festival Theater, and the crowd would likely be double, maybe even triple, than it will be tonight.

But that’s not the idea.

No, the idea is simply to engage us. To encourage us to explore and to make us wonder.

I’ve never heard the album Guitar Loops, honestly. It came out on a limited release, and at the time, I wasn’t feeling it, for whatever reason. I wanted more Spiritualized and so I ignored it.

A quick Google search tells me that he’s never performed it live. Perhaps he has, but certainly never in such a dynamic space and in front of such an attentive crowd, hungry for a taste of what might develop over the course of the set.

I miss Spiritualized from the 90s, when they were as tight as a drum, and uncompromising in their approach to audiences that were unfamiliar. After he fired the band and struck out with just Thighpaulsandra alone to create Let It Come Down, I was convinced that he was a genius.

Now that he will be here in my hometown tonight, working showmanship as if it were a sport, I am certain of it.

For me, and perhaps a few others, this might be the show that will simply close the book on this chapter, and pave the way for the future of live music performances in Champaign-Urbana.

I leave you with nothing more than this, and I ask you to simply listen to it when you have the chance, because if there is ever an album that affects me as much as Pure Phase does, then I am ready to swim into obsolesence, with all sense of history behind me:

Hey take it right down
Lay back in the sun
Gonna have me some good times babe
Good dope good fun
Hey honey y’know
Gonna slip on right down
Gonna have me some good times in town
Gonna have me some good friends around

Hey honey I feel
So good to be free
I’ve got a fever inside of my soul
I’ve got a fire in me


J. Spaceman will perform tonight, Friday, September 6 at 6:15 p.m. in Foellinger Great Hall in Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

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