Down down and away

Spectrum, Middle East Upstairs, August 28, 2007
By JIM SULLIVAN  |  October 2, 2007
Peter Kember

When the semi-legendary Spaceman 3 split, in 1991, Jason Pierce formed Spiritualized and took space rock to a powerful new level. Former partner Peter Kember (a/k/a Sonic Boom) went in another direction, indulging in the moodier and more experimental side of space rock; that included instrumental and mostly instrumental music under the rubrics of E.A.R. and Spectrum. (The 1996 Spectrum EP Songs for Owsley ranks as one of the saddest recordings of its decade.)

Kember was in town a week ago Tuesday as half of Spectrum — he and Fandall Nieman of Fuxa played upstairs at the Middle East with no new release to promote. (There’s an EP planned for late this year, and a full-length for next year.) Standing behind synths, they began the hour-long set with a new song, “Mary,” which started with a thumping beat and built on a repetitive droning chord, a page taken from Suicide, one of Kember’s favorite bands. They went on to play Laurie Anderson’s “Walking & Falling” and Kraftwerk’s “The Hall of Mirrors,” the latter a trenchant take on narcissism and how fame distorts and destroys. Nieman switched to guitar for “Let Me Down Gently,” a minimalist number in the vein of the Velvet Underground.

There was no point in waiting for an uplifting anthem — that’s just not Spectrum’s way. They evoked a sense of quiet despair and seductive sadness, an enveloping blanket of synthesized sound with muted climaxes — when there were any at all. But there was a nice spot of humor in the encore of “Girl,” with Kember in his best ironic robotic monotone singing “You turn me on” over and over. Perhaps androids dream of more than just electric sheep.

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