Berbati’ s Pan; Portland, OR

When listening to the music of Jason Pierce, the British songwriter behind Spiritualized, his moniker could be considered in two ways: spiritualized by the cosmic interstellar rock and spiritualized by the ghost of the Holy Spirit. But in this case, it is used as one entity, space rock combined with gospel, a Wall of Sound against the thrumming of the sounds of church. It is spiritual redemption at a rock show. As we all know, Pierce was stricken by serious pneumonia that almost killed him in 2005. We also know that Spiritualized has returned this year with Songs in A&E, an amazing collection of songs that deal with love, God, and mortality. Though Pierce claims that the bulk of the songs were written before his illness, it is impossible not to hear sweet relief in his cracked voice. Playing them live is the culmination of this cycle.

Pierce and Spiritualized took the cramped stage before a crowd of 400 people. Bubblegum-scented smoke filtered over us, drenching the room in an eerie fog. Dressed in dark wraparound glasses and a Roky Erickson t-shirt, flanked by two gospel singers in white, a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and drums, Pierce picked up his red Fender and launched into a feedback-laden version of “Amazing Grace.” It was a mixture of grit and sublime. Waves of bass and drum shook the floor and rattled in our chests. The angelic voices of the backup singers wafted above the noise, ghostly tones floating somewhere between our world and somewhere else. Then the band burst into “You Lie You Cheat.”

After more than decade of shows, you'd think Spiritualized could play to a bigger crowd in a bigger venue, but Portland's Berbati’s Pan felt somewhat empty that evening. Didn’t Pitchfork’s coronation of A&E as "Best New Music" guarantee sold-out shows? But this audience seemed to be more than fly-by-night hipster fans. The guy next to me wore a Nick Cave shirt, a woman in front of me knew every lyric. These were music fans, and as the feedback pummeled down on us, there was no pushing, no jockeying for the front of the stage.

The first part of the set relied heavily on new material. Pierce played “Soul on Fire,” “Sitting on Fire,” and “Sweet Talk” at a much quicker velocity than the album. When the band launched into “Walkin’ With Jesus,” an old chestnut from Pierce’s Spacemen 3 days, the crowd shouted and sang along. Pierce remained stoic behind his glasses, never smiling and never addressing the crowd during the first set. Another highlight was “Death Take Your Fiddle” from the new album. In a truly haunting performance that included the sounds of someone breathing on a respirator, Pierce welcomed the arrival of Death with open ears. It was a song both chilling and life-affirming.

Next came some tracks from 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, which included an amazing performance of the title track that bled into “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Finally, Pierce busted out another Spacemen 3 gem, “Take Me to the Other Side,” to end the set. Unleashing a torrent of sound, the band played until it seemed it would spontaneously combust. Then they walked off the stage. A languor hung over the audience. Could there possibly be more?

The band returned for one more song. Pierce uttered “thank you” before strapping on his acoustic guitar and picking the introduction of “Lord Can You Hear Me,” an emotional stunner. The crowd remained silent for a moment after it ended. Pierce said nothing else, applauded along with the audience, and then vanished. We had been Spiritualized.

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