On Sept. 26, the Sinclair in Cambridge hosts the Legendary Pink Dots, the Amsterdam-based experimental rock group. Formed in London in 1980 by songwriter/vocalist Edward Ka-Spel and keyboardist Phil Knight (two constants through three decades of shifting personnel), the Dots’ extraordinary prolificacy (36 albums so far, not including live recordings and compilations), indefatigable touring, and restlessly speculative psychedelic style have made them influential cult paragons.
Their music ranges far beyond psychedelic stylings, but the Dots keep faith with the psychedelic-rock penchant for invented mythologies — boasting a gritty, wryly apocalyptic, and unusually intricate example — and maintain a commitment to the genre’s ideal of performance as ritual, a communion between onstage celebrants and an audience of votaries. “Music is a ritualistic experience,” Ka-Spel has said. “A Legendary Pink Dots show is an amber mass.”
Psychedelic rock, in a way, updated the 19th-century sacralization of music, when Romantic effusions and exaltation of composers (beginning with Beethoven) elevated the expected experience of a concert from entertainment to quasi-sacred transcendence. Psychedelia and the sacred were entwined from the start; much of the earliest scholarly considerations of psychedelic drugs appeared in contexts of religion and theology.
Perhaps the most famous example was Walter Pahnke’s 1962 “Good Friday Experiment.” Under double-blind conditions, Pahnke (at the time, a doctoral student at Harvard) gave theology students either a dose of psilocybin or a placebo just before they listened to the Good Friday service at Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. Those who took the drug, Pahnke reported, “experienced phenomena that were apparently indistinguishable from, if not identical with, certain categories defined by the typology of mystical consciousness.” Further experiments, Pahnke surmised, “could illumine our understanding of the dynamics and significance of worship.”
The Legendary Pink Dots would probably eschew the organized-religion framework of Pahnke’s trials, but their own musical experiments pursue similar illumination. As Ka-Spel sings in the song “Scarlet Wish”: “As deserts bloom, despair retreats, and faith returns in crimson wreaths, plucked from the garden that is me expanding.”
The Legendary Pink Dots, with Orbit Service and Ruby Ridge, at The Sinclair, Sept. 26. Doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets $20. 617-547-5200; www.sinclaircambridge.com.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at email@example.com.