By Jonathan Gang
Spiritualized’s music is an intricate, highly-layered construction on record. Singer and guitarist Jason Pierce, the band’s only constant member, has spent the past 23 years crafting simple pop songs that are often built up to epic proportions. Songs can include layers and layers of horns, organs, gospel choruses, strings and electronics.
It’s always interesting to see how a band that relies so heavily on the artifice of the studio will bring its sound to the stage in a small group setting. For Thursday’s show at the Bluebird Theater, Pierce appeared with only a second guitarist, drums, bass, keys and two backup singers. It was a small crew with a tall order, recreating the psychedelic bombast that has defined Spiritualized’s music in a career-spanning set that drew from seven albums.
They made a valiant effort, but an atrocious sound mix marred much of the first half of the show. Pierce’s treble heavy rhythm guitar was mixed way up front, drowning out just about everything except for the drums and overdriven bass. The result was a barely audible din of piercing treble and punishing low end with little definition in the middle.
This issue took nearly 45 minutes to correct. By that time it felt as if the audience had been robbed of what could have been solid performances of some of the band’s best rockers, including “Hey Jane” from 2012’s “Sweet Love, Sweet Light” and “Electricity” from their 1997 masterpiece “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are Floating in Space.”
By the midway point, with the levels finally reaching a solid equilibrium, the band locked into a spare, yet tight, groove. Songs like “Freedom,” “So Long you Pretty Thing,” “Let it Flow” and “Rated X” struck a fine balance between the band’s sweeter pop tendencies and penchant for mixing atonal, psychedelic freak-outs with big gospel refrains.
By the set-ending one-two punch of the raucous “I Think I’m in Love” and slow-building “Take your Time,” all was nearly forgiven. The encore, “Walking with Jesus” by Pierce’s classic former band Spacemen 3, was icing on the cake. It was good enough to make you wonder how sweet the show’s first half might have sounded if it had been audible.
Jonathan Gang is a new contributor to Reverb.