Pierce can certainly still make a concert feel like Communion, offering a universe of emotion, all from his quiet perch, seated on the right-hand side of the stage.
The Vic, Chicago, IL
It is hard to believe that Spiritualized has been together nearly 30 years and that, before then, Jason Pierce (who is only 53) had already spent much of the ‘80s co-fronting another seminal group, Spacemen 3. With last year’s arrival of the latest of the group’s offerings, eighth album And Nothing Hurt, Pierce has been on the road once more.
Spiritualized has been dubbed “space rock” over the years, and it has certainly not lost sight of its psychedelic origins. However, though there were a few extended guitar freak-outs during the evening, most of the concert consisted of what one might call the group’s “later” sound, a more soul-inspired aesthetic coupled with Pierce’s tender, wavering Lou Reed-like vocals and his capacity for writing simple, arresting melodies paired with heart-on-sleeve lyrics that range from the mournful to the sentimental and often seem to capture both registers at once.
Pierce was accompanied by five musicians—two on guitar, one on keyboard, one on bass and one on drums—along with three backup singers, who provided the blues and soul throughout the evening. Pierce himself sat on the right-hand side of the stage on what appeared to be a swivel chair, turned directly toward his band, facing in a direction perpendicular to the audience. He wore dark sunglasses throughout the show (which was augmented by an array of lights and video projections). What might seem like avoidance with a different performer instead just seemed like concentration—anyone watching him play could see how much focus he was putting into the performance, and there was no mistaking his gratitude toward the crowd when, at the end of the show, he clapped along with them before waving goodnight.
The show was divided into three sets. The first was a kind of “greatest hits” of the Spiritualized back catalog, reaching all the way back to the group’s first album Lazer Guided Melodies with “Shine a Light,” several cuts from the 1997 classic Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space, “She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)” from the especially gospel-inspired Amazing Grace album in 2003 and perhaps their biggest “hit,” “Soul on Fire,” from 2008’s Songs in A&E. It was sobering to recall that a song like “Come Together,” from Ladies and Gentlemen…, is over 20 years old, and can still send seismic ripples through a crowd as soon as the beat kicks in.
The second set consisted of a run-through of And Nothing Hurt in its entirety, starting with “A Perfect Miracle,” a beautiful, lullaby-like song reminiscent of the Ladies and Gentlemen… title track. Of these songs, especially satisfying were “Let’s Dance,” a song that seems to hearken to Pet Sounds-era Brian Wilson, the chugging rocker “The Morning After” and the grand, soulful closer “Sail on Through,” which gave way to an extended, free-form outro. In the middle of the set, another rocker, “On the Sunshine,” reminded the crowd that when he wants to, Pierce has one of the best snarls in British rock this side of Bobby Gillespie.
A four-song encore rounded out the evening, featuring a cut from 2012’s Sweet Heart Sweet Light, “So Long You Pretty Thing,” the heavy, dramatic “Out of Sight” from 2001’s Let It Come Down and a rousing rendition of live staple “Oh Happy Day” (yes, that one). After a brief reprise of “Hold On,” with which Pierce had opened the show, the show was over.
In press relating to his latest album, Pierce has said it might be his last. Whether or not that is true, entering his fifth decade as a musical artist, Pierce can certainly still make a concert feel like Communion, offering a universe of emotion, all from his quiet perch, seated on the right-hand side of the stage.