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 didn’t.
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.
Read the original article

Fear and Loathing on South Beach

By Todd Anthony

Published: March 3, 1993
 

I don’t know whose idea it was to lock Doc Wiley (Washington Square), John Tovar (band manager), Sandra Schulman (Sun-Sentinel, XS), Lisa Cillo (WKPX-FM), Laura Regalado (WVUM-FM), Ariyah Okamoto (Snatch the Pebble), Curt McIntosh (Long Distance Entertainment), Glenn Richards (latent axe murderer), and me in a room without adult supervision, but whoever it was, I want to thank them. The pre-panel discussion was easily the most entertaining part of the whole Miami Rocks weekend. Here’s a behind-the-scenes peek:

Tovar (accusing): “So why doesn’t the Square book bands from Broward?”
Doc (defensive): “We do book bands from Broward.”
Tovar (angry): “No, you don’t!”
Doc (rebellious): “Yes, we do!”
Richards (conciliatory): “They book alternative bands, they just don’t book hair bands.”
Doc (defiant): “We have hair bands!”
Richards (flustered): “I’ve been there when you’ve made comments about poseurs and Broward County! When you’ve said, ‘This ain’t Broward County,’ like it was a bad thing!”
Doc (stubbornly): “We welcome bands from Broward County. What they don’t understand is that when they play a club in Dade, they don’t have a following. Nobody knows who they are. So they can’t come down here with this attitude like they’re established stars. Sometimes they don’t understand that and there are problems.”
Tovar (skeptical): “You just don’t like hair bands.”
Doc (more defensively):”We play hair bands. We don’t put up with shitty attitudes.”
Richards (disbelieving): “But I’ve heard you say …”
Doc (conciliatory): “Okay, hair bands suck. Some hair bands. Our audience is an alternative audience, not a hair band audience.”
And on and on. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Doc and Tovar lock horns. It grew really ugly when Tovar picked up Sandra Schulman and Doc grabbed Laura Regalado and they started beating each other using the two unsuspecting women as bludgeons. Luckily, I was packing my Glock. Tovar and Wiley are big guys A I’d have felt more secure with a .357 A but I fired two quick rounds over each of their heads and they came to their senses in time for everybody to wash off the blood, replace the torn clothing, and apply makeup over the claw marks. We went out there in front of the public and did our panel shtick without a hitch. The subject of hair bands never came up.
One that did come up, however, is a topic Doc Wiley and I are in complete agreement on: Glenn Richards looks demonic with a goatee. No, wait, that wasn’t it A it was that if Miami is going to make a name for itself as a hotbed of original rock, to have a healthy scene as it were, bands and fans alike are going to have to start getting off their asses and supporting each other. Think globally, buy locally. MiRox was a perfect example A the A&R people in attendence were getting so bored some of them even came up to me to start conversations. This was a perfect opportunity for original bands to get out there and schmooze, push the demo tapes, meet the press, network. Where the hell was everybody?
Oddly enough, the East Coast Music Forum panels and workshops were reasonably well-attended, though nothing like last year’s standing-room-only seminars. The bands deserve better. And Club Nu was so empty at times I felt like a night watchman taking a coffee break in an airplane hangar. It was especially disappointing considering that this edition of Miami Rocks featured the most diverse assembly of talent in the event’s five-year history. If a tree falls at Miami Rocks, does it make a sound?
Sparks began flying with the Miami Rocks Out gigs Thursday night. This was not just any Thursday night. It was DJ/promoter/local-music heroine Lydia Ojeda’s birthday (one of the big ones that end with a zero). In her honor Voidville laid waste to the Square, blowing away the zealous, hard-partying horde almost as completely as the half-dozen or so shots of tequila purchased for (and consumed by) Ms. Ojeda in less than an hour. Of course, I didn’t partake because I was working. Anyway, I went on the record as a huge Diane Ward fan years ago A you young whippersnappers out there, ask me about Bootleg some time A but this line-up positively frightens me. Awesome. Addictive. The scariest part is, Ward had a sore throat (bad enough to cause her to bow out of the following night’s opening set). Imagine what the dozens of fans who stood there screaming for an encore as the ‘Ville voided the stage would have done if she’d have been on. Can you say bedlam?
Dennis Britt has been around forever A you young whippersnappers out there, ask me about Watchdog some time A and he’s probably gone through more musical personas than anyone this side of David Bowie. Along the way he’s acquired a reputation as a temperamental genius. Britt has thrown away more good songs than most of his peers will write in their lifetimes. Where someone like Frank Falestra works hard to stay ahead of the pack, Britt does it intuitively. His latest band, the Beat Poets, flash back to the psychedelic rock of the late Sixties, filtering that through a Nineties cynicism. On Thursday night, they took a dissipated post-Voidville crowd on a magical mystery tour of their own. Somewhere out there Ziggy Stardust and Jack Kerouac were smiling.
Over at the Cactus Cantina, Little Nicky and the Slicks were doing a little nicking of their own. Originally a blues band A you young whippersnappers out there, ask me about Fat Chance some time A the Slicks have gone around the rock bend with encouraging results. It’s always a pleasure to watch pros at work, doubly so when they take a new musical direction and make it their own. My only fear is that one of these days, in the heat of the moment, Nicky will unwittingly break into “Margaritaville” in the middle of her set. (See, she’s been on tour with Jimmy Buffett, who wrote the song A oh, never mind.)
As for the “official” MiRox showcases, I’ll leave the reviews to my esteemed colleague, Ganja Baker. I was too busy filching chocolate-covered strawberries in the VIP lounge and searching for Leonard Pitts, Jr., to offer a complete assessment. I thought every band sounded fabulous, and I will soon be mortgaging my house to help Baker sign them all to contracts. Except Natural Causes, who will probably already be gone by the time this article appears. More entertaining than the music, however, was much of the on-stage patter. Perhaps emboldened by the spaciousness of the venue and the dearth of a crowd to fill it, song intros were refreshingly candid.
“This is dedicated to my aunt who was born without fallopian tubes,” said Michael Kennedy of Rooster Head at one point.
“Hi, we’re Miami Sucks, Too!” screamed Bobby Johnston, lead yelper for Loud. (What? It’s L-o-a-d? Are you sure?) “Shiver me timbers and blow the man down! Only on the weekends! For Christ’s sake! All you people are lame as fuck!” spumed Johnston, clearly shortcircuiting before my very eyes. The band made me feel like the doddering old fart that I am.
“Todd, I’m twenty-four, and they make me feel old,” said Eddie Darling/Ed Hale, lead singer of Broken Spectacles, in an attempt to comfort me that had the exact opposite effect. Twenty-four? I have concert T-shirts older than that. Thanks a hell of a lot, Eddie.
WMBM-AM talk-show superhost Jim DeFede brought to my attention one trend that distressed us both A the appearance of skirts and dresses on male musicians. Hey, I saw The Crying Game, and I’m not ashamed to admit I found Del (Dil? Dale?) quite attractive up to a point (a pretty important point, as points go), but I can’t say the same for Rooster Head drummer Mike Vullo. And while I Don’t Know frontman Ferny Coipel is a little shapelier and once tried to bribe me with a canary-yellow Twist Bozoon (you just don’t hear enough good rock kazoo these days), the moustache is a definite turn-off. As DeFede put it, “Whatever happened to the good old days when rock stars just wore their dresses around the house?”
I’m no arbiter of haute couture, but if I see XS music writer Jeffray Hirrall in a skirt, I’m movin’ back to Ohio.