Photo courtesy of Juliette Larthe.

Spiritualized Spellbinds Crystal Ballroom Crowd

THE FIRST THING that struck me was the crowd. For a show without an opening act, a surprising amount of people were there early. Sentimental older couples, middle-aged enthusiasts and younger folks sighed in communal expectation. Spiritualized, a British experimental rock group fronted by Jason Pierce, performed on April 5 at the Crystal Ballroom.

Spiritualized has long been associated with hypnotic rhythms, reflective lyrics and moving performances. Pierce was formerly a member of the alternative rock group Spacemen 3 along with frontman Peter Kember. After tensions between Pierce and Kember proved irreconcilable, Pierce enlisted the help of other Spacemen 3 members to establish Spiritualized in the early ’90s. Their music is heavily influenced by African-American gospel, blues and synth-pop, blending aspects of each into a unique synthesis. The band’s prolific discography is a testament not only to a ceaseless reworking and reimagining of their music but also to the unwavering support from their fanbase, which spans multiple generations, continents and cultures.

Opening with one of their more recent songs “Hold On,” Spiritualized quickly transitioned into playing some of their more classic material. The band flourished with “Come Together” and “Shine A Light” from the albums “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” and “Lazer Guided Melodies,” respectively, much to the approval of the frenzied crowd. “Shine A Light,” in particular, exemplifies Spiritualized’s imaginative style. Beginning with a tranquil chorus accompanied by the ethereal voices of background singers, the song traverses gospel, blues and soft rock over the course of nearly seven minutes, culminating in a crescendo of dissonance and distortion. This musical tendency to blend religious influences with extraordinary beats and rhythms defines much of Pierce’s work. But perhaps this is why Spiritualized has maintained such a robust following over the course of its existence. The band defies definition; their music challenges our expectations by reinventing itself just at the moment when it finally appears to have stabilized.   

A psychedelic visual projection of fractals, lights and codes was present throughout the show. In some cases projections can detract from the music at hand. But here they added an extra layer of stimulation. During some of the songs, lines of Morse code appeared behind the band without an accompanying English translation. Content like this, which is not readily decipherable,  is perhaps a fitting analogy for the band’s modus operandi: not everything that is beautiful has to make immediate sense. The emphasis that Spiritualized places on seeking truth in unexpected sources challenges its listeners to question their beliefs and to look beyond traditional sources for authenticity and beauty.

After concluding with some of their newer songs such as “The Prize” and “Sail on Through,” the band members issued a half-hearted farewell and departed from the stage. The crowd passionately demanded an encore. Strutting back on the stage after a few minutes of reprieve, Pierce briefly waved to the crowd and began the final songs of the set. While blue, mesmerizing lights suffused the stage, Spiritualized closed with a reprised version of “Hold On,” effectively looping the performance together.

Before exiting the stage for real this time, Pierce once again applauded the crowd and gave some friendly waves. Throughout the concert the air in the venue was one of subdued reverence as the band mystified the audience. At age 55, Pierce, the sole member to have stayed with the group since its inception, proved that he was still able to deliver a riveting performance that nearly matched the intensity and transcendental beauty of any religious service. All of that innovative, experimental energy that defined Pierce at the start of his artistic career has developed into a mature sensibility and awareness. It is difficult to say exactly how Spiritualized will continue to evolve over the coming years, but at this rate we can rest assured that the band’s music will remain original and decisively spellbinding.

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