Jason Pierce has suffered enough for his art.
The Spiritualized founder and frontman, also known as J. Spaceman, has survived various diseases and infections that have brought him close to death, while also struggling through drug addiction and personal tragedy, and he’s emerged each time with a batch of songs that have helped him heal and document the experience.
Seeing Pierce perform live is a special, celebratory experience, not only because his Spiritualized material is brilliant, but it's ultimately reassuring just to see him upright, doing well, in his element, and most assuredly among the living.
During Spiritualized's two hour set at the Fitzgerald Theater on Monday night, Pierce and his ace band (featuring two guitarists, keyboardist, bassist, drummer, and a choir trio) worked through the love and loss captured in his music. Mini-sets of older songs highlighted Pierce's stellar catalog at the start and end of the show, bookending a complete run through of Spiritualized's new album, And Nothing Hurt.
The sit-down theater setting led to the set being a more visceral, congregational experience. This grand spectacle was a performance better suited for more stately surroundings than a dingy rock club, both musically and visually. And Spiritualized's textured, layered sound was totally dialed in straight from the start. The acoustics were perfect.
The first set of older material featured three songs from Spiritualized's masterpiece, Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, "Come Together," "Stay With Me," and the tender anguish of "Broken Heart." "Shine a Light," from Spiritualized's 1992 debut, Lazer Guided Melodies, gradually transformed from a funereal dirge to a sacred celebration of being found amidst the darkness of your soul.
There were cross-generational, worldly influences layered within Spiritualized songs, with echoes of gospel, northern soul, Delta blues, ’60s psych rock, experimental postpunk, and Britpop swagger. "She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)" had the ferocity of the Velvet Underground, as if Pierce had just come from a lengthy Screen Test at Warhol's Factory and he needed to unleash his pent up anxiety.
The And Nothing Hurt segment of the set was a search for something to live for, both within yourself and among those you hold dear. The name of each song was spelled out in Morse code on the screen behind the band, as images emphasized the material’s themes. "Here It Comes (The Road) Let's Go" was as catchy and innocent as a '50s radio hit, while the screen featured grainy black and white footage taken from a car window, capturing those long drives we've all taken to find a part of ourselves while leaving something behind.
The hushed, romantic elegance of "Let's Dance" was carried home by the warm, rich vocals of the choir, while "On the Sunshine" was a feisty, Stones-like stomp that grew into an ear-splitting shoegaze squall, reminding us that Pierce hasn't foresaken his noisy, experimental roots.
The swampy blues edge of "Damaged" warmed up the theater by bringing us down south (or to the gates of Hell), while the surf-rock swing"The Morning After" evoked the sun-splashed, acid-drenched days of the Summer of Love. The theater was stone silent during the breakdown at the end of the song, leaving Jason's lost and lonely voice booming throughout the 100-year-old theater.
Pierce remained seated on a swiveling office chair throughout the set, hidden behind his customary sunglasses and a messy shag haircut, with just a lit up music stand in front of him and amps behind him. Other than a few words of thanks, he only spoke through his music, sharing enough through his songs to not bother with anything as shameless as banter.
"Sail on Through" was a tender, cleansing end to the emotional and spiritual journey of And Nothing Hurt. The album is a mix of the pleasurable and the painful, both thematically and musically, with life's jagged edges laid bare alongside the affectionate, humane connections we make with others that make us feel less alone. The album, and this performance of it, did Vonnegut proud. "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt," indeed.
The encore was an absolute triumph. "So Long You Pretty Thing" was an impassioned ode to someone who didn't waste a moment of their life, yet never quite attained their lofty dreams. "Out of Sight" was a bluesy, Zeppelin-esque jam. But it was a glorious rendition of the Edwin Hawkins Singers gospel classic "Oh Happy Day" that really brought the house down.
The stage was bathed in blood-red hues with an angelic white light hanging over the choir and Pierce, before rapid swaths of geometric shapes and images (brilliant visuals for the show provided by Patrick Farr) lit up the screen as the song caught fire. It was a communal celebration that we were all alive in this moment together, able to collectively share in a night as grand as this.
Shine a Light
Stay With Me
Soul on Fire
She Kissed Me (It Felt Like a Hit)
A Perfect Miracle
I'm Your Man
Here It Comes (The Road) Let's Go
On the Sunshine
The Morning After
Sail on Through
So Long You Pretty Thing
Out of Sight
Oh Happy Day
Hold On (Reprise)