Review: Spiritualized reaches the outer limits at the new Ace Hotel
There was a perverse sort of logic at work in the cultish U.K. band Spiritualized opening the reborn United Artists Theatre, now the lavish centerpiece of downtown’s new Ace Hotel.
The band never made the same impact on American pop culture as countrymen Oasis or Radiohead, but Spiritualized’s 1997 album, “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,” is still considered a musical high-water mark from that era. A blend of soaring psychedelic rock and symphonic grandeur, the album chronicles devastating heartbreak, obsessiveness and the need to self-medicate.
In short, it contains all the proper ingredients for a happy Valentine’s Day.
Backed by a nine-member choir and an orchestra for the first of two sold-out nights on Friday, Spiritualized christened the holiday and the venue with an end-to-end performance of the album. As a companion for the return of one of downtown Los Angeles’ most eye-popping movie palaces, the album is a sympathetic fit. Built in 1927, the theater practically wallows in opulence with archways, murals and metalwork more consistent with a Renaissance-era cathedral than anything so pedestrian as a theater.
More recently, the venue was homebase for the ministry of evangelical pastor Dr. Gene Scott. Like Spiritualized’s landmark album, it’s a place that can make you feel dwarfed by its ambition.
Full album concerts became something of a phenomenon among aging alternative and indie acts, with bands such as the Breeders, the Pixies and Weezer rolling out performances dedicated to signature works. It’s a move fraught with a perilous acknowledgment of the creep of nostalgia and a temporary, unspoken agreement between artist and fans that says, “You’re right, we never did reach these heights again.”
But to be fair, in Spiritualized’s case, few bands of the past 20 years have. And frankly, if you’re going to cash in on a musical legacy, there are far more lucrative ways to do it. Bandleader Jason Pierce first attempted to capture the album’s in-studio scope with a backing orchestra in 2010, but the effort only made it as far as New York City on these shores.
Amid the theater’s revamped opulence, Friday’s concert felt like less of a tribute to “Ladies and Gentlemen” than a welcome reminder of its power, a night-long acknowledgment of a recording that remains peerless.
With the front of the stage lined with long-stemmed white roses, Pierce sat dressed all in white with glittery sneakers. Despite health problems that shadowed his most recent albums, including 2012’s “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light,” he was in strong voice as the band soared through the record’s intricate title track, which glided atop a bed of strings and a backing choir, who briefly referenced the line “only fools rush in” from Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to goosebump-raising effect.
Some songs such as the powerful “Come Together” and “Electricity” churned with a feral howl of guitars pushed ahead by horns, particularly the latter, which exploded amid a storm of lights and sound that reflected Pierce’s past with the noisy psychedelia of Spacemen 3. Others came into a wider focus with the lush backdrop, such as “All of My Thoughts,” whose refrain carried a prayer-like grace, and “Stay With Me,” which took on a renewed desperation as Pierce hoarsely pleaded “Don’t go” as the song swelled to a close.
“Broken Heart” remained the album’s show-stopper, with Pierce capturing an almost uncomfortable level of vulnerability as he describes a breakup’s lowest point framed by a booming timpani and a bluesy harmonica. All the while, the light from a massive disco ball transformed the theater into the city’s saddest, spaciest prom.
“No God, Only Religion” was a howling plunge into skronky free jazz, and set closer “Cop Shoot Cop,” with its unapologetic nod to the “hole in my arm where all the money goes,” alternated between wall-of-sound fury and angelic grace as the white-clad choir gradually overcame a serrated, feedback-drenched catharsis.
The band returned after the album’s finish with the churning, French horn-accented “Out of Sight,” a song from the “Ladies and Gentlemen” follow-up “Let It Come Down” that acted as a sort of brassy epilogue to the album’s wrecked romance with a shift from one addiction to another. The band’s traditional set closer, a devout cover of “Oh Happy Day,” acted as a palate cleanser, drawing a bold-faced line under the night’s gospel underpinnings.
Like much of the evening, the song echoed with salvation, a glittering tent revival fit for a temple reborn.
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