On Thursday night I trekked up to Baltimore to see Spectrum perform on the side stage at SONAR. After witnessing their transcendent show at the Velvet Lounge last year, how could I resist this opportunity to see them again? Based on the strength of their previous show (and my soul-crushing fear of being alone), I talked a friend into coming along for the ride. To get him to tag along, I really talked this show up; an easy task considering how impressive Spectrum was last year. Unfortunately due to problems both technical and olfactory, this experience was very different than last year. Instead of seeing an easy contender for show of the year, we watched as the band plowed through a glitch-riddled set while pinching our noses and breathing through our shirt collars.
From the minute we arrived at SONAR something smelled fishy. Not in the colorful idiomatic sense, but in the literal use of of the phrase. The club smelled awful. Our entire time spent there was like being trapped in some horrible scratch-n-sniff romper room; in which every surface you brushed against released some foul odor. Various areas of the club reeked of garbage, skunky ganja, and raw sewage. No matter where we re-positioned ourselves, the air quality just got worse and worse. To the point where I began to question how healthy it was for the audience and more importantly the regular employees to breathe. How often does the club smell like that? It was absolutely rank.
As if that unpleasantness wasn’t enough to sour things, add in the early technical difficulties that killed Spectrum’s theremin and indifference to the room’s shitty sound by the club’s sound guy and things were not shaking out in Spectrum’s favor. Everything that worked at last year’s Specturm show at Velvet Lounge seemed to be doing the opposite at this show at SONAR. Where the show last year was an awe-inspiring display of sonic invention and raw psyche-power, this show was a muddy-sounding mess. I credit the band for slugging it out with their gear limitations and the room’s crap sound system.
Peter Kember aka Sonic Boom is a sonic explorer and a perfectionist. It is obvious that he cares a great deal about how things sound, even the tiniest detail. It is also obvious that he loves his daisy-chains of arcane sonic devices and he loves using them to dazzle the audience. It was obvious on Thursday night that he was sort of pissed that neither of those two elements of the show seemed to be working. The Theremin was dead-on-arrival, then he had to re-wire some of his circuitry to work around it. Nothing sounded quite right after that. The guitars were all out of whack and continued to sound bad despite some mid-set adjustments. At a certain point Kember sort of gave-up on trying to fix everything and the band plowed through the set with a sort of “fuck it” attitude.
What followed was a set of Spectrum and Spacemen 3 songs that was certainly enjoyable but could have been so much more satisfying. Based on last year’s perfectly engineered show, I know the full potential of what Kember and Spectrum are doing live these days. I could not help but be disappointed on Thursday once the technical problems (most of which I blame on the club’s sound technician and shitty system) handicapped Spectrum’s sound. After that, the smell in the club became unbearable; to the point where I was sort of praying for their set to end, so I could get out into the relatively “fresh” downtown Baltimore air. It is sort of hard to enjoy a show when you are listening to a band playing through technical difficulties and a limiting sound system while holding your breath.
Despite all of this, I still love this band. I will definitely see them again next time they come through the area, I just hope they end up in a better venue.