Although the sounds they craft are often lofty and cerebral, Spiritualized operate in the middle of traditional blues territory, a place where the debauched darkness of the roadhouse is inevitably followed by regretful supplication in the pew.
That dichotomy was explored again and again at the British band’s Gotham perf — mounted, appropriately enough, at the inter-denominational Riverside Church. Pierce and company set the tenor with remarkable power on “Cop Shoot Cop,” which opened the set with nearly 20 minutes of dope-sick pleading — alternately ecstatic and agonized — cleaved with a long, dissonant jam that recalled the Art Ensemble of Chicago more than, say, Sonic Youth.
For the next two hours, Pierce led his reconfigured ensemble –now fleshed out by a six-person horn section that waxed more orchestral than most rock brass sections — through a riveting set of songs that answered the seldom-asked question “what if Stockhausen was a garage-rocker?”
A handful of the set’s dozen tunes, which ran together, unbroken by more than a momentary pause, were out-and-out rockers. “Electricity” and “Take Me to the Other Side” (a throwback to Pierce’s former band, Spacemen 3) rained feedback from the stage, while “Electric Mainline” took a vaguely Zeppelin-esque path, one paved by Tom Edwards’ stoic tympani playing.
More often, though, the band’s extended, majestically building pieces recalled modern classical composers, especially in the LaMonte Young-styled panning and phasing that permeated “On Fire” and “No God, Only Religion.” The dynamic was decidedly regal — a sense that was emphasized by the beautiful light show, which played off every surface in the cathedral.
The setting was appropriate, given the number of songs in which Pierce looked to a higher power for help. Whispering, then wailing, through the strains of “Won’t Get to Heaven” and “Lord Can You Hear Me,” he wasn’t offering polite entreaties, he was portraying the pain of a man just barely hanging on to his tether.
Although Pierce stood stock-still at the stage’s far left wing throughout the set, barely making eye contact with the audience for a moment, his performance was far more draining than those of his more aerobic peers. Plenty of pop purveyors can provide a soundtrack to exercise by — but it’s hard to imagine one better suited for scoring one to exorcise by.
Spiritualized plays the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles Nov. 13.