Spiritualized and its leader Jason Pierce have spent the past 22 years exploring an epic brand of guitar-based rock music, which fuses straightforward Britpop with gospel, orchestral and psychedelic flourishes. Released in mid-April, the group’s 7th full-length “Sweet Heart Sweet Light” essentially continues that trend without any grandiose departures or stylistic updates. Pierce is still singing about Jesus, still pondering his own mortality and still stomping on his tremolo and distortion pedals. He is either incredibly focused or simply knows no other way of expressing his distinct musical vision.
After taking the stage at the Wiltern Tuesday night, Spiritualized slowly built a cacophony of screeching guitars and free jazz drumming that lasted nearly five minutes. The undulating waves of sound were punctuated by moments of dissonance and high-pitched feedback. This freeform, spacious approach to soloing was a more concise harbinger of the extended jamming that would characterize most of the evening’s performance.
Recent single “Hey Jane” emerged from the din, steamrolling towards its blissful coda: a blend of lightly-echoed guitars matched with a gospel vocal melody that added depth to the seemingly-straightforward rocker. Pierce’s current band is tight, proficient and effortlessly cool in its delivery. Drummer Kevin Bales’s jazz-influenced approach perfectly compliments the group’s frequent improvised detours. At moments he is sturdy and relentless, at other junctures he is sensitive and impressionistic.
A majority of the evening’s material was drawn from the past decade’s album releases. “Lord Let It Rain On Me” was an early highlight and the first of many space waltzes that found Pierce painfully begging for release over an ambient, reverberant backdrop in 3/4 time. Another of these effective waltzes was “Oh Baby,” which allowed Pierce and guitarist Anthony Foster the chance to open up and exhibit some excellent guitar work. Foster leaned heavily on his wah wah effects, while Pierce launched a stereophonic phasing pedal that ping-ponged wildly between the speakers on the right and left sides of the stage.
The visuals were effective if incredibly predictable, projecting a melange of psychedelic imagery over the entirety of the stage to create an Exploding Plastic Inevitable redux that affirmed the group’s overtly retro-leanings. A sterling instrumental reading of Laurie Anderson’s “Born, Never Asked” and a triumphant “Ladies and Gentleman We are Floating In Space” stood out from the increasingly improvised, increasingly-meandering jams that consumed many of the later song-choices.
After a snarling and lengthy rendition of “Come Together” the group left the stage, returning five minutes later for a two song encore, which culminated with a boring, seemingly-endless version of “Cop Shoot Cop.” The aimless track, devoid of melody and steeped in a sort of lame approximation of free jazz, carried on for nearly twenty minutes. It cast a shadow over what had been an excellent evening that delicately balanced mood and melody.
Always the unsung heroes of live performance, it should be noted that Spiritualized’s front of house sound engineer was exemplary, with overall audio fidelity far above the Wiltern’s usual standard.