A cacophony of noise encompasses you for a full ninety seconds, maybe more. You know the band is creating it, but you can’t identify any sounds. It is pitch black, save for the ever-present strobes. Lou Reed’s notorious Metal Machine Music starts to sound relatively appealing and you wonder how in God’s name Jason Pierce will lead you out of this maelstrom.
Thus begins a Spiritualized show.
Somehow, in a matter of just seconds, the assault morphs into “Hey Jane,” 2012′s song of the year. In the first five minutes Pierce has defined the musical perimeter of your evening (and perhaps this writer’s life), and for the next ninety he will implore God and drugs to sonically sedate you.
This particular aural baptism took place in Portland a couple Fridays ago. An unlikely venue from the outside, located in a near-suburban neighborhood on the north side of downtown, the sold out Wonder Ballroom was aptly named for the occasion, and the entranced crowd by and large knew the scripture.
Although any Jason Pierce experience is a thorough amalgamation of drugs, religion and rock, his early career heavily emphasized the drugs. His previous band, aptly named Spacemen 3, embraced their influences with titles such as Transparent Radiation, The Perfect Prescription and Translucent Flashbacks.
He is prone to ambling around in an Apollo-era spacesuit. Hardly more subtle in the beginning, Spiritualized delivered classics such as Electric Mainline and Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space in the mid-90s. He played Floating In Space from the top of the CN Tower in Toronto… literally and figuratively in the clouds with his audience.
For many the pinnacle of the Spiritualized experience arrived with a live Royal Albert Hall show in 1998, touring the Floating in Space album. This was his most explicit use of religion to date. It opens and closes with “Oh Happy Day,” the gospel classic popularized by The Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1968. In between he delivers a hundred minute flowing medley that peaks with the trio of “Walking With Jesus,” “Take your Time” (with the classic rock & roll line “You know I’ve been thinking ’bout not coming down”) and “No God Only Religion.”
But those who’ve joined the Spiritualized trip for the past decade have certainly enjoyed the ride. Every release is solid or great, and Pierce continues to deliver timeless tracks that once inside your psyche never seem to escape. True to his vision, he has delivered Let It Come Down, Amazing Grace and other worthy CDs. This can certainly be said of his latest recorded effort, Sweet Heart Sweet Light. Bookended with the aforementioned “Hey Jane” and the epic “So Long You Pretty Thing,,” Pierce revisits familiar territory (“Jesus won’t you be my radio?”) while keeping your undivided attention.
But back to the show…
After seizing the crowd with their power intro, the five piece, plus two hypnotic backup vocalists, led us through a few more from the latest release and even two songs I’d never heard in their catalogue. Inevitably at this point the two aloof but gorgeous accompaniments behind Pierce began to garner more of my attention.
But that changed instantly when the band wired into “Electric Mainline,” perhaps the most appropriate name for an instrumental ever. A psychedelic assault, accompanied by those trademark strobes, “Mainline” breaks back and forth between 4/4 and 6/4 time at will. Weaving circles in your head, it is the ultimate confirmation that Pierce knows his drugs. I highly encourage it.
There’s no comedown from “Mainline.” “Come Together…” “Floating in Space…” “Soul On Fire…” A relentless assault on your psychedelic pop and rock senses. The lengthy encore brought us back to planet earth gently, wrapping up with a gloriously extended “Cop Shoot Cop.”
The next evening Spiritualized were slated to play the Sasquatch Festival in George, Washington. I am not certain how their show translates in a daytime festival environment, but I can only hope that the Spiritualized agnostics jumped on board. I do know that I thank God for Jason Pierce – he has taken his believers to places few have visited before. And I’m lucky to have followed him.
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