J. Spaceman and co. prove masters of dynamic, arthouse rock
It's a busy Monday, so I'm going to dispense with much of an actual lede other than to say: It's tempting to describe last night's Spiritualized show at The Wexner Center's Mershon Auditorium with any number of clichés relating to religion and drugs: Euphoric. Mesmerizing. Awe-inducing. Emotional. A particular headspace. It's all true, though, that's the kicker. At times it felt like such lofty terms were the only honest way to describe this transcendent performance. I'll try my best to avoid them, but, really, it's inescapable.
Here are some thoughts from last night's show:
1. I barely missed opener Guy Blakeslee, arriving at the Wex around 8:40. I slipped toward the back of the crowd, where I chatted with a friend for several minutes. Then several more. Then the conversation sort of just stopped. A low, droning bit of ambient noise played on a loop through the PA. From my spot back of the house, I watched similar progressions. Was it the music? Was this a purposeful bit of psychological calming, I joked. If so, it seemed to work wonderfully. You need to be in a certain headspace to stand through two hours of Spiritualized, without alcohol. The crowd was relaxed but expectant, its applause at the band's appearance foreshadowing the night's performance with a slow, steady build of clapping and whistling that rose with the grace of a church choir and the power of a locomotive.
2. Mr. Spaceman, Jason Pierce, acknowledged the crowd with a wave, sat down, guitar in his lap, sunglasses on his face, never saying a word. Flanked by his band, who stood throughout the night, the group proceeded into a slow number before transitioning, smoothly, into "Hey Jane," the second track off Sweet Heart Sweet Light, the band's latest LP. The song brought a noticeable change in tempo and energy, and it felt as if Pierce's seated presence added an anchor to the playing, which swayed from rollicking to frantic to sweet and assured and back to feverish. The nearly 9-minute song felt twice as long live - in a good way. The song had more climaxes than a roller coaster, each one rolling to its apex, then bursting through its valleys. Each time I expected it to end, it'd continue, reborn. Frenetic images of a city crashed about onscreen as the song built to its climatic, chaotic finish. The precedent was set for the rest of the night. Songs folded into others, sometimes folding in on themselves only to catch fire and begin anew, slightly different but fresh and recognizable, too.
3. Stage banter between songs was non-existent. The focus, it was clear, was on the music, but at times the paranoia-inducing, anxiety-heightening, awe-factory of a video presentation that accompanied the music felt like I was watching an art film with a live score. It was easy to get caught up in the endless visual loops, your eyes transfixed, the repeating snaking bass lines and guitar chord progressions locking you in until the drummer, the real star of the show, pounded you into oblivion.
4. Speaking of the supporting band, man were they great. I particularly loved the moments Jason and the bass player provided the rhythm, while the drummer and lead guitarist conjured chaos, reminiscent of free jazz. I have no idea how much of those freak-outs were improvised, nor do I really care. My wife has a special distaste for this type of music, especially on a recording. As it's often said with jazz, you need to experience this music live to really experience it. It does something to your head, lulling it into a safe place only to erupt, sometimes in bedlam, sometimes in bliss. It borders on the edge of collapse, but rises upward, triumphant, and you can feel it in your body if you let it take you over. The two backing singers, wearing white dresses, recalled a church choir and elevated songs to an even higher level. They were the classiest touch of the night, and recalled Pink Floyd's approach to epic-ness by using gospel touches for added height and grandeur.
5. My favorite point in the night came with Sweet Heart Sweet Light closer "So Long You Pretty Thing," which was accompanied by visuals of floating stars that seemed to drift off the projection's canvas screen and into the crowd. As Pierce leisurely sang, "So long you pretty thing, god save your little soul …" the visual and auditory effect was majestic. I've rarely felt so enraptured during a concert.
6. It was also exhausting. By the mid-point of the set, fans steadily streamed off the stage and either left or took solace in the auditorium's seats. Just prior to Spiritualized heading to its encore break, I looked around the crowd for the first time in a while. It appeared the audience had been halved. I sympathized, but also felt a twinge of sadness. Are you not entertained? What more could you want? The band started playing, "I Think I'm in Love," from Ladies & Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. Jason sang "I think I'm alive/ Probably just breathing," and I think I can fly/ Probably just falling," and "I think I'm in love …" and my notes simply say, "Me too." Soon, the band took a three-minute break, came out and played another 10 to 15 minutes, and then it was over. Jason said his first and last words of the night to the crowd - "Thank you" - and those of us who stuck around just sort of lingered, either not wanting the night to end or not knowing how to transition into its end. A man next to me said to his buddy, "Gotta wait for my brain to reconstitute." I nodded, and walked out into the night, toward my bike, buoyant. A slight drizzle fell on my ride home. I was tempted to stay out, to stay on my bike, pedaling the night away. I was converted, but I was tired, and by the time my body fell into bed I recalled a line from earlier in the night, "Come on now, people/ Get yourselves out of bed," and, I must say, I was tempted. Lord, I was tempted.