Jason Pierce has been a pioneer of ambient sound-collages since the 1980s when his first band, the legendary Spacemen 3, rose from the post-punk ranks to spearhead an aural aesthetic that would eventually spawn the shoegazing movement. Under the nom du rock of “J. Spaceman,” Pierce and his Spacemen 3 co-pilot Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember drew on such diverse influences as the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the MC5, and the Sun Ra Arkestra to unleash a new wave of psychedelic sound experiments. The band-whose motto was “Taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”-released several albums full of feedback, droning guitars, softly uttered vocals, and trance-inducing percussion before creative differences caused a breakup and Pierce moved on to Spiritualized.
Although Pierce has remained the only consistent member of the group from 1992’s Lazer Guided Melodies through 2008’s soon-to-be-released Songs in A & E, his second band has seen him expand eclectically on Spacemen 3’s space-rocker tunes. Pierce’s Santa Barbara fans had a rare opportunity to catch the visionary artist at play when he brought a special Acoustic Mainlines performance of songs by Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, and others to the Lobero Theatre. Although no overtly psychedelic renderings of his songs took place, Pierce, on acoustic guitar, was accompanied by a string quartet and a trio of gospel singers as well as his longtime keyboardist “Thighpaulsandra” (Tim Lewis), who also doubled on harmonica. The result was a sublime if deeply melancholic set that stretched over Spiritualized’s back-catalogue, offered up the odd Spacemen 3 tune, and also included traditional gospel songs. As if living up to the band’s name, the music had the overall impact of a transcendental experience. The audience was transfixed and murmurs of delight could be heard when Pierce played “Walking with Jesus”-from his Spacemen 3 days-and “Broken Heart” and “Cool Waves” from Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. The traditional gospel tunes “Amen” and “Oh Happy Day” were particularly inspirational due to the beautifully rendered backing vocals by Pierce’s female gospel singers. However, the overall highlight was “I Think I’m in Love,” which Pierce and company stretched out and bluesified to perfection. Although the performance was fearless, flawless, and fluid, it would have been nice had Pierce taken the time to introduce his supporting players and given them their kudos.