Fixed Focus

Broken Spectacles return with their first live show in two years, a new album, and a new vision

"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."

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