Last year’s O+ Festival headliners, the Felice Brothers and Richard Buckner, were right at home in the mid-Hudson Valley milieu, literally and figuratively. The Felice Brothers, of course, are blood and soil natives, with a formidable Big Pink obsession apparent in their ramshackle grooves and the ratty surrealism of their poetry. Buckner, I have heard, is a recent transplant to the area, but his dark and tender, country-tinged acoustic balladry is a kind of music that has always played well in these parts.
This year the fine folks at O+ reeled in a big fish of an entirely different stripe. British space-rockers Spiritualized are essentially the alias of Jason Pierce, a/k/a J. Spaceman. Pierce was previously one-half of Spaceman 3, a prolific, noisy cult band made famous by an album title that was interpreted as a mission statement, a modus operandi and a motto fit for a coat of arms: “Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To.” That famous tagline has dogged Pierce long after he split from Spaceman 3 to form Spiritualized. Why, look: I am repeating it even now! But, while hard drugs seem very much a part of Spiritualized’s story as well, the music of Jason Pierce – the reams and reams of meticulous, maximalist space-rock that he has released in a career that is creeping up on 30 years – is very serious business and no mere hedonistic indulgence.
The standard critical line is that Spiritualized has produced one indisputable genre classic, 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space. In truth, Spiritualized’s output is quite consistent, both in character and in quality. But Ladies and Gentlemen… is the one, if you had to pick one. Pierce’s talent for almost laughably excessive layering and sonic augmentation is in full effect throughout. The miracle is that it never seems like too much, even though it clearly is too much. Somehow, Pierce maintains lucidity, an effective counterpoint and a separation of elements, even as the number of elements in a single mix approaches or exceeds three digits.
All bands of this ilk revere the monochromatic melodicism and the two-chord staple progressions of the Velvet Underground (as well as the VU’s realism and candor), and Spiritualized is no different. Where Pierce departs from the party line is the undercurrent of blues that can be detected within the maelstrom of droning, reverberant guitars, the borrowed gospel vocal arrangements and a touch of riffing rock that is (dare I say it?) downright Stonesy.
In recent years, Spiritualized has done a number of live performances of Ladies and Gentlemen… in its entirety. Pierce has characterized these shows as deeply satisfying and unsustainably expensive, requiring as many as 50 performers to produce a credible recreation of this legendary piece of studio art. One wonders what Pierce will bring to the Old Dutch Church in Kingston when Spiritualized headlines O+ on October 13.
Spiritualized, O+ Festival, Sunday, October 13, 9:30 p.m., Old Dutch Church, 727 Wall Street, Kingston; https://www.opositivefestival.org.