Buffalo saw a divine intervention this Saturday, when Spiritualized and opening act the Dirtbombs played at Town Ballroom. The occasion for Spiritualized's visit was the release of their new album, "Songs in A&E," and the Dirtbombs' most recent album, "We Have You Surrounded."
The Dirtbombs are a Detroit-based punk band best known for being among the forerunners of the garage rock revival led by the White Stripes in the early 2000s, and have opened for everyone from Blondie to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The Dirtbombs featured a rare musical arrangement: dual bass guitar, dual drum, and a single lead guitar, that craft diverse layers of rhythm. Mick Collins' moaning writhes against the band's blow-out-your-eardrums beat, giving the songs a soulful quality and guaranteeing chaotic, sweaty dancing. The Dirtbombs are great fun -- a band that defies standard categorization and obviously has a good time doing it.
The music of Spiritualized also embodies soul, but in an entirely different way. Before Spiritualized emerged, stray chords rocketed through the air, evoking a spaceship landing -- a fitting opening for the British space-rock band. The beginning number was a stunning interpretation of "Amazing Grace." Female gospel singers provided the sweetness of the song's vocals, which were pitched over a cacophonous assault of guitar and percussion.
Spiritualized's version of this song was a perfect encapsulation of the emotional and musical themes the band explores. Pierce's musical arrangements, at their best, capture human purity in the midst of a discordant fury of machines, or extract beauty from space's silent void.
The band's space rock is most effective when tender melodies are accompanied by spare lyrics, as in the hauntingly pure "Let it Flow," with the only music being the rushing sounds of a vacuum, the wails of the soul-women, and lyrics like, "All I wanted was a taste/ Just enough to make me sick ... /And it lays me back a while/Makes me feel like I'm a child/Let it flow/Let it flow."
However, some of their new songs performed in the space style, such as "Sitting on Fire," had a flimsy quality that was exposed by their grand instrumentation. These songs' dead-end melodies and trite lyrics were only amplified when performed on an epic musical scale.
Spiritualized also undercut the emotional impact of its music by never really connecting with its audience. Front man Jason Pierce faced sideways while singing for the majority of the performance, and the band appeared stiff throughout. This was a disappointment, because their recorded music provides a rousing emblem of salvation for listeners. If an audience-musician communication had been established, the songs could have taken on enhanced meaning for both.
When they work, Spiritualized's songs seem like the religious hymns of a future society. In their 1997 blockbuster album, "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space," they offered musical ecstasies to heal earthly troubles, but also take us outside ourselves and up into the mysteries of the universe. With such achievements, Spiritualized has no excuse to rely on lyrics and melodies, or to bury its elemental sound in instrumentation.
Galia Binder will be a junior at Amherst.