Spiritualized fail to lift up Boston

A review of Spiritualized at the Roxy on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

, Staff

The journey Spiritualized frontman/songwriter/pretty much everything-man Jason Pierce took in completing his deeply affecting 2008 album Songs in A&E is a harrowing one. Pierce contracted a serious form of pneumonia in 2005 and it took him until this year to finish the album – which is named after the Accident and Emergency ward.

Pierce and his band stopped in Boston Wednesday night – just one stop on a fairly large tour across the U.S. and U.K. While it’s almost undeniable that A&E is a very good record, this night’s performance was lacking.

Pierce and his previous band, Spacemen 3, were among the pioneers of the shoegaze/noise movement in the late 80s, and those tendencies reared their heads early on. An extended ambient/drone squeal served to warm up the crowd before the band appeared on stage. The crowd was exposed to the hypnotic light show during this, so there was that going for it.

Pierce – in a plain white T-shirt and big sunglasses – and his band took the stage and performed opener and album highlight “You Lie You Cheat”. This, coupled with the droning intro, set the tone for the evening – a top-loaded set interrupted by random jam sessions.

The crowd got what they came for as A&E single and standout track “Soul on Fire” was brought out in the first third of the set. Here is where I would normally commend an artist for playing what the fans want, but in this case the song lost much of its punch and feeling when played so early. One of my favorite tracks off the album and of this year overall, “Soul on Fire” seemed like an afterthought when the show wrapped a full hour and a half later.

One way to trim that roughly two-hour show to a more manageable hour-and-a-half would have been to cut some of the Sonic Youth-esque guitar wailing – at one point late in the show pushing the ten-minute mark. I understand Pierce’s prerogative to play whatever he wants and appreciate his noise roots, but that is so divergent from all of the high points of A&E that it bordered on a disservice to the fans.

The tracks from A&E sounded good, including “Death Take Your Fiddle”, who’s opening line (“I think I’ll drink myself into a coma”) drew a hearty cheer from the crowd. But with little to no animation or interaction from Pierce, patrons may have been better served at home with headphones. His back-up singers/dancers were far more entertaining the whole night through.

About that light show; it was right out of the 60’s or a Pink Floyd laser show – featuring tons of bright colors and the occasional strobe, all in all enhancing the experience. Whether Pierce was bathed in a pink light while the rest of the band was in yellow or under a red spot surrounded by complete darkness, the lighting was superb.

After pushing past the hour and a half mark and into 1:45, Spiritualized came on and played a two-song encore. Starting at 9:00 p.m. and ending a little before 11:00, the show would have been much better if 30 minutes were shaved off.

Listening to Songs in A&E can be a spiritual experience. The feelings of death, the celebration of life and the wide range of emotion expressed in between can speak to almost anyone. I am sad to say that in person Spiritualized made me question my faith in them a bit.

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