Spiritualised will play their transcendental style of music in an acoustic form
There are few gig experiences more moving than a Spiritualized concert. In main man Jason Pierce's anguished incantations of heartache, faith and addiction, the British space rock behemoths straddle rock, theatre and especially spirituality in shows that are not so much rock performances as cultish gatherings.
Hong Kong will get to see at close quarters the mesmeric hold the band has over an audience when Pierce brings Spiritualized to the city for the first time on August 11.
Like a gaunt, sunglasses-clad high-priest of excess conducting psychedelic powerhouse arrangements that take in gospel, hard rock and blues, Pierce preaches a liturgy of indulgence while seeking salvation from whatever celestial force is willing to absolve him.
That he will be marking Spiritualized's debut here in intimate acoustic form with no more than a few gospel singers as backup holds the prospect of an intense night.
It will come as no surprise that the man who heralded his arrival on the rock scene in the late 1980s with the mantra "taking drugs to make music to take drugs to" is a complicated character for whom the word contradiction seems to have been created. "The slide's always the good bit," he told LA Record in 2008. "The climb back is the laborious bit."
Pierce's many conflicts and personal demons are plain to see in the seven albums the band has released since forming from the embers of drone pioneers Spacemen3 in 1990. His apparent embrace of drug addiction as a creative outlet is undercut by the pain of dependency expressed in songs such as Cop Shoot Cop.
His bitter and broken relationships, particularly with former band member Kate Radley, are at odds with the beautiful gospel of Walking With Jesus, the traditional hymn that has closed many a Spiritualized gig. His search for a spiritual guide and more recently his near-death experience through illness are cloaked in optimistic pop euphoria of the most recent album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light.
Experimental to the extreme, Spiritualized exist as a fluid arrangement of musicians with Pierce as the only constant.
Even the band's name has changed, with each album retaining only the Spiritualized moniker.
The debut Laser Guided Melodies was released by Spiritualized Laser Guided Melodies, Electric Mainline was recorded by Spiritualized Electric Mainline, and so on. The incarnation coming to Hong Kong, will be Spiritualized Acoustic Mainline.
Musically, they've been no less challenging. Pure Phase was released in 16 versions, each in a different key and to be played synchronically to produce the songs with different chords.
The band was booked to play CERN, the location of the Large Hadron Collider, and, more recently, recorded a track for the Space Project, a collaborative album using sounds and imagined concepts from each of the planets (they appear on that as Spiritualized Mississippi Space Project).
The band even released a CD, 1997's highly praised and hugely influential Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, in a tablet blister pack slipped inside a case designed to look like a prescription drug container.
In resurrecting the notion of the suffering artist, Pierce has provided a compelling backstory to one of rock history's most thrilling series of albums. "It's not as simple as reading it like you're reading my diary," he told the Perfect Sound Forever website in 2001 about his approach to music.
"Once you start writing things down, it becomes about poetry, it becomes about the way the words scan. What I love most about rock'n'roll is this way that you can say things that are trite or mundane, but when you put them to the music they become fantastic, like amazing, magical poetry," he says.
Through Pierce's trials and tribulations, Spiritualized's sound has ranged from soul-crushing drone rock to uplifting Baptist spirituals, the latter emerging as an important recent theme as Pierce's search for meaning has embraced devotional music.
"I like music that seems like it's honest," Pierce told Clash magazine four years ago. "I think if you're going to invest time in somebody's music, then they have to be telling the truth. When it comes to gospel, then it's obvious that those people are only singing those lyrics because they believe.
"It's hard to listen to that music and not be moved by that. It's devotional, the spirit of love. You can't possibly fake love," he says.
Pierce seems to be on a quest for relief from the agony of existence. That it has coincided with invocations of Jesus and appeals for salvation is incidental.
"It comes from gospel, blues and even doo-wop," he told GQ Magazine in 2012. "It's a shortcut to explaining what you're talking about. When I wrote Walking With Jesus, people knew that I was dealing with issues of mortality and what it means to be human. You don't have a conversation with Jesus about trivia."
Spiritualized, August 11, 8pm, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$595, Cityline. Inquiries: 2111 5333