Spiritualized at Metro


November 2, 2001


"Come on, let me take you for a ride," Jason "Spaceman" Pierce sang during the first of two encores in a two-hour-plus set Halloween night at Metro. "Let me take you to the other side."

This has been Spiritualized's modus operandi for more than a decade now, since Pierce split from the influential British underground heroes Spacemen Three and formed his new group to explore the intersection of mid-period Pink Floyd raveups, John Coltrane's free jazz and American blues and gospel.

For reasons unknown (a post-Radiohead psychedelic resurgence? a dearth of worthwhile competition?), Spiritualized has never been more popular on the college-rock scene, despite the fact that it arrived at a sold-out Metro touring in support of the weakest of its four studio albums, "Let It Come Down."

Like Stereolab, the similarly revered British art-rockers who were simultaneously performing a few blocks away at the Vic Theatre, Spiritualized has really written only one song; its albums are essentially collections of subtle variations on a central theme. But a great theme it is--the "I saw God" search for spiritual transcendence--and the group did not fail to blow minds in concert.

As if to acknowledge the relative slightness of the new album, it was five songs and some 40 minutes into the set before the band played one of the recent tunes. Not that it mattered: As older epics like "Electricity," "Shine a Light," "Electric Mainline" and "Cop Shoot Cop" ebbed and flowed into one another, connected by the continuous drone of an electronic keyboard, the focus was on the waves of dynamic crescendos, entrancing rhythms and hypnotizing melodies more than on specific compositions.

Pierce is not an easy visionary to work with, and Spiritualized has been an almost completely different band every time it has come to America. The current version is a 13-piece combo that included a five-piece horn section that added a touch of "Atom Heart Mother" grandeur; a percussionist who played tympani and synthesized vibraphone; Julian Cope mainstay Thighpaulsandra on keyboards, and bassist Martin Schellard, who functioned as the ensemble's de facto conductor.

Through it all, gazing at his shoes on stage left and often shrouded in smoke and dark lighting, Pierce weaved his repetitive mantralike guitar patterns and soaring David Gilmour slide solos into the complicated mix, not only breaking on through to other side, but offering a guided tour.

Pierce has long played a coy game with the media about his source of inspiration: Spacemen Three titled an album "Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To," a limited edition of Spiritualized's last disc came in a giant pill box, and "Let It Come Down" is dedicated to "poppy."

But regardless of his chemical proclivities, Jason Spaceman proved once again that there is no more potent drug than music itself.

Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic