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Spiritualized Entranced Their Audience with Hallucinatory Sound and Visuals

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Carlos Ku King

English band Spiritualized have been making droning, Velvet Underground-esque music for almost 30 years, proving that their minimalist two- and three-chord progressions and improvised noise sessions have stood the test of time. The band performed live at Canton Hall on Tuesday, captivating fans in an effort to illustrate how their artistry stays relevant and successful in a time when Psychedelia and spacey atmospheres have garnered a new audience.

With the exception of lead man Jason Pierce, who previously fronted the experimental band Spacemen 3, the lineup of Spiritualized has constantly changed over the years — which is why the latest record they're touring for, And Nothing Hurt, is unique. This is the first time the band’s lineup has stayed the same from their previous album. So understandably, the chemistry between each band member looked as if it translated well onstage, giving each other cues for crescendos, decrescendos and noisy free-for-all sections.

By 8 p.m., a moderate number of fans had already filled the front half of Canton Hall’s main floor. Something worth noting was the motley group of fans Spiritualized drew in, some of the chic variety, others in general T-shirt/jeans attire that perhaps expressed younger days and psychedelic trips. The crowd was, for the most part, older than expected, but given that the band has been around since the '90s, it made sense.

After a few venue assistants placed set lists and sheet music on the chairs onstage and all instruments were tuned and checked, the band walked up to their places a little after 8:15 p.m. Without any sort of introduction or acknowledgment of the audience, Pierce sat down by a piano and began playing “Hold On.” He sang what would be the first of a small selection of songs from their older catalog before performing the entirety of And Nothing Hurt in order. The transition from the tender version of “Hold On” to the heavier “Come Together” created a tension between slow and fast tempos that would last throughout the whole concert.

While Pierce played guitar sitting down next to his piano on the right side of the stage, behind him were three female backup singers who harmonized with him powerfully through the song. Drummer and bassist were situated in the middle of the stage, while the keyboardist sat on the far left; in front of him, two guitarists who would add to Pierce’s playing more feedback and fuzz. Together, it felt like a circle of sound reverberating unto itself, echoing the dynamics that synchronized with the background visuals behind them.

The backdrop videos initially started off simple, looping patterns of symmetrical designs, but once a song would reach its peak, the video soon glitched quickly and, at times, flashed as fast as the guitar feedback would diffuse. There were many times that served as a reminder to always warn an audience about the use of strong strobe lights before the show. However, as the band turned to slower songs like “Shine a Light” and “Stay with Me,” moody lighting floored the stage in blues and greens while large waves, akin to old Windows Media Player visualizations, continued to move through the backdrop.

The band revealed when they were going to start performing songs from their new album by projecting orange Morse code on a black background behind them, possibly the same Morse code message that appears on the cover of the album. It soon clicked that every time they played a new song, Morse code would appear behind them but look slightly different from the last time it popped up — perhaps a little longer or shorter — suggesting that maybe it might’ve spelled out the name of the song being played, but that’s for Morse code readers to figure out.

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Through their set, Spiritualized showed off their prowess in controlling chaotic elements of sound, at times channeling the catharsis of gospel choruses or at least the influence they evidently have on the music. The repetitive chord progressions allowed for volume to take over in adding variety to the mix, which is how a song like “I’m Your Man” can get cheers and claps after an ear-buzzing solo overshadowed the same notes being played by the rhythm guitarists. It’s a technique explored and used by many noise musicians, and it is what drives a song’s energy when it’s structured in a simple manner.

What’s interesting about Spiritualized is the way they use noise to mix it with pleasant, seraphic melodies like in “On the Sunshine,” where Pierce’s vocals fade out as his guitar’s feedback and drum cymbals fade in and completely mold the melody into a disfigured form — only to go back to its original form after going through a long, abrasive noise jam. On top of that, the visuals behind the band distort quickly and turn into hypnotic illusions that securely entrance the audience member. This is what turns the show into a psychedelic experience and might justify why people might associate the band with trippy enhancements.

After going through the rest of the album — all the lows and highs and spiritual imagery — the band waved at the audience in gratitude of their cheers, Pierce giving a quiet thank you before likewise waving until he walked backstage. The crowd continued to cheer at the now vacant blue-lit stage, practically begging for an encore that was surely coming. At about 10 p.m., the band walked back to their positions to play the first of three songs, “So Long You Pretty Thing.”

At this point, there were a few heads that started bobbing and a few arms waving in the air, which was more than there had been earlier. Maybe it had been the hallucinatory visuals that gave these people energy, but in any case, the band did not stop driving their soft-then-loud formula that appeased the audience. Spiritualized gave their all to these last few songs, and in an ending that reprised the first song they started with, the entire set list seemed to have come full circle — like any journey that concludes with a new beginning.

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