I have a poster from last year’s Desert Daze that is just a stark reminder of how I missed most of Spiritualized’s headline set Sunday night.
I stayed in a house with about a dozen people in Joshua Tree for the festival last year. Spiritualized was the No. 1 draw for me. But I couldn’t find a single soul who wanted to stay all day Sunday and drive the two-plus hours back to LA that late. I found a couple people who said they were sticking it out later, but I only got to see four songs of Spiritualized before they decided to dip. I, of course, bought the Spiritualized version of the Desert Daze poster Friday thinking I was gonna see a whole show.
But when Spiritualized announced a show a couple months ago for the Orpheum Theatre just days after this year’s Desert Daze took place, I knew I had to be there. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jason Pierce’s genius at work a couple times at festivals — including an FYF Fest 2015 set that I caught after working a 6 AM shift, getting there just in time to light my joint and hear “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”. Ironically, that song wouldn’t get a release until this year’s Spiritualized opus And Nothing Hurt — maybe Pierce’s best work since Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, which turned 20 years old last year.
When I got to the Orpheum, I was wowed by what I saw on stage. There was about a 20-piece orchestra setup. I later learned it was the Wordless Music Orchestra, who have done a number of live scores for films and backed up bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and Flying Lotus. A 10-person choir emerged, the DC6 singers out of LA. As Pierce joined them on stage, the quiet and respectful crowd whose average age was probably mid-thirties erupted in cheers.
Kicking things off with “Hold On”, most of the crowd enjoyed the show in their seats with one especially excited fan up front throwing her hands in the air in pure joy. I was blown away by the arrangements. It’s an odd setup for a rock show, because with orchestral arrangements every note has to be perfect, as does the timing — which seems like the antithesis to rock and roll. But Pierce and his large band made it work, and at the end of every song I heard some of the loudest cheering I’ve ever heard.
“Come Together” may have melted my face. “Shine a Light” was as close as my atheist ass will come to a religious experience. Pierce’s fragile voice always seemed to give way to this powerful chorus as he made loud psychedelic noises on his guitar. “Soul on Fire” followed as one of the heavier tracks of the evening.
The band followed with a track-by-track live recreation of And Nothing Hurt. When bands play their new material, you never know what to expect from the crowd. But this album is right up there with the best work Pierce has ever done. Pierce’s songwriting is beautiful.
“Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go” is one of the best songs I think Pierce has ever written. The way the orchestra brought things to life right as the chorus came around nearly brought tears to my eyes. Hearing the album performed live in sequence really nailed home just how much of a masterpiece And Nothing Hurt is.
By the end of the set, it had elevated to being one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. It only makes sense considering And Nothing Hurt is one of my frontrunners for Album of the Year. Here’s hoping Pierce and Co. come back around for another show in LA soon.