Fixed Focus – Broken Spectacles return with their first live show in two years, a new album, and a new vision
By Greg Baker
Originally Published in New Times Magzine: July 28, 1993
“I will not give up the music.”
— Ed Hale, New Times, November 1, 1989
He has changed his name — back then he usually called himself Eddie Darling — but the members of Broken Spectacles never used their given names anyway. That’s changed, too. In fact, it seems like everything in the world has changed, except maybe that the sun still rises every morning.
For those not around four or five years ago, the Spectacles were just another local rock band, young bucks with a four-song cassette (One) rich in memorable, melodic songwriting set apart by the group’s unusual configuration — essentially three front men and a drummer. They tore up the clubs, receiving raves across the board. They came to be recognized as one of the area’s best outfits. And then they disintegrated.
Today they recall being “stuck in a rut” — of being just another local rock band. At Washington Square’s Thon ’91 they violated the club’s sacred “no cover songs” rule by spewing a Replacements tune — “Unsatisfied,” a venomous, angst-laden rage that spoke volumes about the band’s internal situation: “Look me in the eye and tell me I’m satisfied/Are you satisfied?/I’m so, I’m so, I’m unsatisfied.”
For that misdeed they were banned from the club.
Just after that they played their final show, at the now-defunct Island Club in early spring 1991. And they vanished, never to be heard from again. Until now.
In an upstairs rehearsal studio at Jeeters in Hollywood, the Broken Spectacles are setting up to practice. It’s summer, 1993. Ed Hale and David Rubinstein (nee Ruby Dave Haddonfield) tune their guitars. Bassist Matthew Sabatella (nee “Geppetto,” but always called “Matt” no matter what) is calculating time constraints — the band must cut its two-hour-plus live set down to 45 minutes, a task not unlike trimming the fat from a veggie salad. Longtime off-and-on drummer Don Jacobson (nee Donny J.) and new, second drummer Andrew Fellerman are syncing up their dual attack. New keyboardist Lisa “Noodles” Hayden sips from a tall glass of coffee.
Downstairs in another studio a band is practicing covers of Rolling Stones songs. Or maybe it’s actually the Stones themselves. Someone closes the door and shuts out the strains of “Satisfaction.” Noodles taps a key and the synthesized sound of an arena audience cheering wildly fills the room. Matt Sabatella looks toward the mirrored wall in front of him and thrusts his fists in the air, like Springsteen after the second encore. Rock star! Everyone in the room laughs out loud.
This gathering, after all, is not about rock stardom. It’s about changing the world.
Those who knew and loved the Specs of old can forget everything. The chances of them dredging up wonderful nuggets such as “Cawood” or “Twentyone and Seventeen” are slim. “I don’t hate those old songs,” Sabatella says as he fiddles with a stopwatch. “We just have too many new ones. We have enough material for three good sets, so we can do a different show every time out. And we’re ready to move on to the new shit.”
Ah yes, the new shit. During their two-year hiatus the band recorded a dozen songs (plus incidental music sandwiched in, so that’s a rough track count) for release as an album. (They need funding to press and distribute the project, but then again they also need money for rent and the phone bill.) They need money, but that is not what they sing about. In “Kaleidoscope” — which features some of the most intricate guitar exchanges you will ever hear anywhere — they emphatically repeat the lyric “All we need is the rising sun” until you believe it, not just about them, but about yourself. It’s called reaching an audience, and it’s what makes great rock and roll so potentially cathartic, so viscerally powerful. Like a shot of whiskey or a dose of narcotics, it can change you.
The entire album is thickly webbed with complex sonic structures. Bass lines slide and dart in and out of the double drum patterns — Jacobson specializes in the jazzier side, the colors and fills, while Fellerman slams harder — as the guitars do their snake dance and keyboard-generated effects add even more depth. Naturally it takes many listens before I can begin to grasp everything that’s going on at once. That’s not to say it’s muddled or cluttered. Just highly sophisticated.
Hearing the album you might think Pink Floyd. The songs have nothing to do with Roger Waters’s old band, but the multidimensional aspects are similar. If I weren’t watching them play the tunes at rehearsal I would not believe that the sounds could be re-created outside of a high-tech studio. During their long break from the local grind, the members built a studio A Jeeters. “We couldn’t afford to pay a studio to do this,” Dave Rubinstein says, “because we knew we had to use the studio itself as an instrument.”
Early on they intended to record at another facility but the deal fell through. “I told them I was going to build my own studio and they laughed,” Ed Hale says. “But we did it. People started bringing us equipment and we just kept at it till it was done. We cut an album. It’s been great. It’s like, ‘Build it and they will come.’ They have.”
Even so, audio alone cannot contain what Broken Spectacles are doing. The warehouse that is Jeeters happens to be situated next to railroad tracks. When Rubinstein sings about going down to the trestle and catching that train out of town, I expect a locomotive to come crashing through the carpeted walls. The music itself is so multilayered the band decided that the live show must be presented in more tha one medium.
When the Broken Spectacles take the stage at Washington Square this Friday, they’ll be joined by several television sets and big-screen projections. Just like U2’s “Zoo TV” tour A except, of course, the Specs thought of it first. “I think U2 bugs our studio,” Ed Hale says with a smile. “Every time we come up with something, they do it just before us, because they have the money to do it.” The Specs and their associates — working under the aegis of visual co-ordinator Loree Werder — have been shooting and compiling original video footage for more than a year. “And when somebody loves us enough and has lots of money,” says Don Jacobson, “we’ll add lasers and holograms.”
None of this should suggest that the band is copping or hyping. During a break in rehearsal, Hale walks over to the couch where I’m sitting with my jaw dropped in awe. He wants to talk. Not about his band or the songs they’ve just finished playing. He wants to lobby on behalf of the local-music show recently canceled by WSHE-FM (103.5).
Later that night I’m permitted to see the first demonstration of the multimedia presentation planned for the live show. In the sprawling living room of a house a few miles from the studio, TV sets are stacked and channel-switched into multiple VCRs. Sabatella and Hale tinker with the electronics. A sheet is draped on a wall for video projection. And two women A Kerri Boyle and Ali Greenberg — sit on the blue carpet with piles of propaganda. This is another dimension — the band will set up a table with information about various activist organizations. “I know it sounds crazy,” jokes Fellerman, “but clean water is a good thing.” He goes on at length about the importance of not poisoning the Everglades any more. “This isn’t about proselytizing or preaching,” Hale says of the information table. “It’s about having the information available.”
Somehow the topic of vegetable juicers comes up. Someone says that it’d be really cool to have juicers at a show, so people could order their favorite organic concoctions. “But if we decide to ever do that,” Hale says, “we’ll find out U2 already has them.”
In their music the band brilliantly addresses the very technology they’re employing. “Last Song” begins with a cybervocal intro: “It’s a new age, a new dawn, a New World Order carries on/We’ve got digital audio, video, CD- ROM, computers, cable TV/We’re able to call anywhere in the world for eleven cents a minute and then watch it on our video phones/The power of our ideas is endless/It can take us anywhere….” Instruments scream into an explosive cacophony, the song begins to unfold, a Beatlesque brainfry that bands like U2 can only dream about creating. The guitar-drenched chorus cuts through like a psychological knife: “Get off your ass, get off your ass, get off your ass….”
And you do.
I’ve seen the band play two rehearsal sets and I’ve seen a demonstration of the multimedia accompaniment to the live show. I’ve heard the final mix of the album a few dozen times. It’s three or four in the morning and I’m driving south on a deserted I-95 with the Broken Spectacles tape blaring. I’m wondering, maybe worrying, about the impossibility of fairly representing this music in print. It’s too much for words.
In the next lane I catch a passing glimpse of what looks like a mutilated dalmatian, or some other black-and-white dog, twisted into the asphalt. Up ahead on the highway a million red lights are twinkling, and some blue strobes flicker into view — Highway Patrol cars, flares, and then a mangled beyond model-recognition automobile. I assume from the carnage that this was a fatal wreck.
The night is black as the pavement — the new moon has just come in. As I turn onto 836 the impossible light show that is Miami International Airport causes me to hallucinate. The tape blares.
I haven’t had a shot of whiskey or a dose of narcotics all night. But I’m tripping now, my body is trembling and I feel as if I’ve left the planet. I grip the steering wheel hard and try to concentrate. I turn off at my exit and drive into the incandescent kaleidoscope of the billion-bulb cosmos created by the runway lights, Shakespeare’s “burning tapers of the sky” set against Le Jeune Road.
The tape blares.
The music of Broken Spectacles has changed me. And soon, I think, it will change the world.
In a few minutes the sun will rise.
Broken Spectacles perform at 11:00 p.m. Friday at Washington Square, 645 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 534-1403. Admission costs $5.