the Vista Theater November 12

By John Payne

Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate. No, no, no, that’s bitter, I know. But then, the Spiritualized event at the Vista Theater on Wednesday night did leave one scratching one’s head a bit – about the very question of sincerity, and: Why are we (why am I?) so hidebound with irony and cynicism? The answer, I thought, is because the times call for it, and no use pretending they don’t.

Well, then, Spiritualized – on this trip accompanied by a five-piece string ensemble and three backing vocalists and nuffin else except mainman guitarist-singer Jason Pierce and electric keyboardist mate Thighpaulsandra — brought their current vision of something akin to catharsis, atonement and prayer to Los Angeles, assuming correctly that this place if any could use a little of the aforementioned healing stuff. It was a night of pretty straightforward and even serious reflection by Pierce’s brood, a night that segued gently into varied modest moods of celebration, the Spiritualized crew and the crowd itself quickly agreeing that an attitude of something like gratitude for simple pleasures such as peace of mind or loving connections or perhaps hopeful dreams of peace on Earth were the order of the day. And it worked brilliantly, judging by how my own leathery pigskin was eventually pulled off to expose my – yes, my heart to the genuine, well-intentioned niceness of it all, the dignified, tempered grace of it all.

Pierce in his sunglasses and dowdy everydude clothes was all tersely plainspoken intros and hard-strumming earnestness in these relatively unadorned settings of his songs, which seemed a refinement and crystallization of the blatantly religious path Pierce has trod these past ten or so years. Warming things up with “Lord Let It Rain on Me” from the Amazing Grace album, Pierce seemed determined to make that song’s message of willful surrender (to God?) guide the emotional tone of the evening, which pervaded in a longish set taken from the last few Spiritualized records plus a couple from Pierce’s old Spacemen 3 days. Initially, it was a bit nerve-wracking to get past my misgivings about the sound balance, where on the opening tunes Pierce’s acoustic guitar and rather workaday singing voice totally drowned out the hard-working string section and backing singers – and it always looks a bit funny when players are sawing away with all their might onstage and you can’t hear a bloody thing. Those mix problems were quickly ironed out, though, and in fact I was ultimately highly impressed by how the engineers managed to make this old movie barn sound better than Disney Hall.

Good god, Pierce even closed with “Amazing Grace.” Well, the thing I want to emphasize is that Pierce’s Spiritualized saga became relevant, quite powerful and ultimately very moving, this in spite of my small qualms about his rudimentary singing style, his rather standard-issue harmonic sensibility and whether or not his string section was really all that imaginatively arranged and matched with his and Thighpaulsandra’s stolid front-stage stuff. That it broke me down and opened me up, and so definitively, in the end was a highly welcome revelation. Peace/peace of mind, I thought, yes, the times call for that, too.

The opener was a hugely enjoyable young hippie chap from Ireland calls himself Simple Kid; he accompanied himself on a very raggedy-ass, Neil Young-like overdriven acoustic guitar and sundry beats and backing harmonic bits off his Mac laptop. He was totally unpretentious and made a shameless grab for our hearts with his duet with Kermit the Frog (on the video screen) on “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” His material ranges from the laid back and wistful to the glitchy and noisy, and he did both a wicked slide guitar on “Trekkin’ Back Home, ” I think it was called, and got us gripped on a closing “Seratonin,” where all his woolly ‘60s vibe coalesced in a sound both very catchy and very, very weighty.

– John Payne

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