J Spaceman, aka Spiritualized's Jason Pierce, has long been known for his swirling, wall of sound epics that recall southern gospel music and Delta blues as much as they do psychedelia and Pierce's oft mentioned drug use. The expansive, Phil-Spector-meets-The-Velvet-Underground nature of his creations have made Spiritualized a much beloved and imitated band over the years, especially since 1997's masterpiece Ladies And Gentlemen We're Floating In Space, inspired by his longtime girlfriend at the time's leaving of both Pierce and Spiritualized (her voice opens the record by stating it's title).
Over the years Pierce has immersed himself in both the traditional music of the southern United States and drug culture, which may seem a strange pairing but seem to coexist perfectly under Pierce's immense talent. Spritualized's songs can be filled with sadness and self-loathing, but there is also the kind of hope and redemptiveness that many associate with going to church... or scoring another bag of smack, depending on your outlook. Both via chemicals and his self deprecation, Pierce seems to be making music that seeks forgiveness for how both he and the world surrounding him are.
Spiritualized's live show over years has at times included whole string sections and gospel choirs dramatically fleshing out Pierce's epics to their most opulent, but this tour Pierce changed the lineup almost completely. The show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver was the tour opener (the band played a secret warmup show in Brooklyn two nights before however) and featured an entirely new lineup of American players and two backup singers, minus J Spaceman's long time guitarist Doggen. Pierce's demeanor seemed to match the stripped down lineup as he silently picked up his guitar and took his seat for opener "Here It Comes (The Road, Let's Go)".
Pierce hardly looked up throughout the show, and didn't speak until mumbling a bit before the encore. He did, however, acknowledge the crowd's attentiveness throughout the night by applauding them as he walked off stage. Pierce's stoic, no non-sense demeanor was not reflected in the music however as the epic "Hey Jane" almost tore the roof off of the Bluebird two songs into the show. I myself got goosebumps a couple of times during the "Sweet liiight, sweet heart/Sweetheart and a love of miiinnneee" refrain, and I'm pretty sure the girl next to me was dancing as if she'd just found Jesus during the song's peak... or at least J Spaceman's version of Jesus.
This new, leaner version of Spiritualized carried on in such a fashion all night, one minute soulful and compassionate, the next a static-filled wall of distorted menace. Pierce's tunnel vision focus was matched by both his bandmates and the captivated audience who followed him through a set that was both concise and expansive, with the band and light show creating a combined visceral experience that recalled Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable shows of the late sixties.
By the time the band reemerged for their encore, a cover of Pierce's old band Spaceman 3's "Walking With Jesus", there were stunned smiles on the faces of many of the audience, while the others screamed joyously for more. I'd been waiting about ten years to see Spiritualized and left feeling as though I'd truly been through something, truly had an experience and been taken on a journey by an artist. The band cast an almost narcotic spell over those in attendance from the moment they hit the stage, and didn't relinquish their hold until the house lights came up. The aforementioned dancing-whilst-finding-religion young lady summed it all up pretty well as we headed for the door: "That was... wow."
Check out a crowd sourced video of the "Walking With Jesus" encore and full setlist below, and you can download an audience recording of the show here, I recommend you do so.
Bluebird Theater - 4/4/13
Here It Comes (The Road, Let's Go)
Shine A Light
Lord Let It Rain On Me
Let It Flow
So Long You Pretty Thing
I Think I'm In Love
Take Your Time
Walking With Jesus
Photos by Jen Gongorek