Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Yesterday I went to see Spectrum play. It was all very spontaneous – I read about the gig in Metro on the train into work and then in a flurry of e-mails made the arrangements. The club was in Elephant and Castle (on Elephant Road itself) and we stopped off for a couple of beers at The Hole in the Wall, a pub I somehow omitted from my list of favourite London pubs a while back. If you’ve ever got half an hour to wait for a train at Waterloo I recommend that you pop in – the back room is great. It clearly hasn’t been decorated since about 1956 and it’s tucked under a railway arch so it rumbles every time a train goes over, which is quite often. I’ve never eaten there but the food smells good.

I’ve mentioned before how highly I rate Pete Kember, mainly on account of Spacemen 3 but also the first Spectrum album is an occasional favourite. I haven’t kept up with his output to be honest and most of what I have heard really is (far more so than “Metal Machine Music”) music for people who like to listen to their fridge turn on and off. I missed out on the chance to see Spacemen 3 play live back in the day and for some reason it’s Kember and his various bands that I regard as the torch bearer of that sound following the split. And while I like some of what he’s done with Spectrum the main draw for me was the chance to hear a live version of “Transparent Radiation” and maybe a few other Spacemen 3 tracks.

We got to the venue in good time but walked past it once: the Apollo Theater it was not. The warm up acts were not conventional bands but instead a trio and then an individual who performed some furious knob twiddling. Not really my bag but one of them was wearing a poncho – so top marks for that. The man himself strode on stage (very tall and thin and, like Jason Pierce, a testament to the age defying properties of heroin) and opened with a jagged instrumental that quickly set them apart from the support acts. “Transparent Radiation” was the second track up and, perhaps inevitably, I was disappointed. It seemed hurried and all the beauty of the studio version was bludgeoned to death under some very heavy handed guitar. Where were the cellos and violins? Or failing those it would have been more apt to play it on an acoustic guitar. Oh well. The only other classic was “Revolution” - a track made for listening to at close quarters played on guitars turned up to 11. But what little sharpness the song had was again lost to the club sound.

The venue was a bit of a toilet really but that’s the kind of place I like to see bands. Probably a maximum capacity of two or three hundred. I find it baffling that Pete Kember can only command such crowds while down the road Spiritualized have packed out the Royal Festival Hall. I’ve always found Spiritualized a bit dull but at least Jason Pierce has the sense and ambition to make use of strings and a horn section and he isn’t afraid to do quiet. That’s what was needed last night, the occasional respite from the pounding drums and raging feedback.

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