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Review: Spiritualized embarks on a fantastic voyage in Dallas

Posted 8:41am on Wednesday, May. 16, 2012

Words were scarce Tuesday night at the Granada Theater.

More specifically, lyrics were in relative abundance, but it was clear Spiritualized, back in North Texas for its first show here in four years, wasn't interested in routine stage banter. Singer-songwriter Jason Pierce, who has anchored the acclaimed British rock band for more than two decades, kept his sunglasses on, his back more or less to the audience, and the songs flowing freely throughout the frequently hypnotizing two-hour set. The stage set-up was fairly spartan as well: eight naked lightbulbs, affixed to various mic stands, as video projections splashed across the performers and the Granada's screens.

Spiritualized's catalog walks a tightrope between spirituality and psychedelia (the more enlightened among us might question just how far apart those are to begin with), smearing gospel on its acid-tinged grooves or spiking galactic instrumentals with bits of organ, thieved from the front of a rundown church.

Pulling from all phases of Spiritualized's compact career (seven albums in roughly 20 years), including the just-released Sweet Heart Sweet Light, Pierce and his collaborators -- five bandmates, two back-up singers -- delivered muscular readings of fresh favorites like the nearly nine-minute opener Hey Jane and signature singles like Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (which provided a late high point, not unlike slipping into a warm bath).

And while Pierce did offer up lyrics, they are secondary to the sensations of sound. Much like My Bloody Valentine or the Jesus and Mary Chain, Spiritualized puts a premium on sonic chaos resolving itself into heartbreaking moments of melodic clarity. Surging guitars, crashing drums, trickling keyboards; faint, almost ghostly backing vocals floating above it all. Off to the right side of the stage, facing his band, Pierce stands, an enigmatic figure, checking the music stand before him, imperceptibly conducting the squall.

In a way, words were almost beside the point. Spiritualized knew where it was going, and the half-full room was willing to go wherever Pierce wanted to take them. And given the speechless looks many audience members bore as the set drew to a close, it seemed finding the right way to describe this mesmerizing experience would be difficult indeed.

Opener Nikki Lane seemed, at first glance, to be almost diametrically opposed to Spiritualized's brand of astral soundscapes, but turned out to be an ideal preface. Backed by some freshly acquired pedal steel, the endearing Lane ran through a 30-minute set heavy on lonesome, weary country and folk tunes. Full of dark undertones and mournful sentiments conveyed with a cigarettes-and-honey alto, it was an alluring auditory appetizer, priming the crowd for the dense excursions to come.

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