Sonic Boom and Jason Holt step onstage to a rapturous welcome and strum the opening chords to “Transparent Radiation”. Its cascading imagery and ethereal otherworldliness transport me back to the late 80’s when the Perfect Prescription span on turntables across the land and provided the backdrop to countless late-night conversations.
The song is particularly well suited to this current pared back incarnation of Spectrum; Sonic sits on a high stool strumming a guitar in front of his keyboard, and Jason sits lower down, side on to the audience, all shoegazing hair and intricate melodies. The lack of further instrumentation highlights the beauty of the song’s vocal and the fragility of the lead guitar.
The arrival of the second song, “All Night Long” sees any tension leave the room; the audience know they are in for a good night. Spectrum gigs can be frustrating at times, but tonight they are on fire. The cascading imagery of the opener contrasts with the rather bleak lyric of “All Night Long” which relates the experience of waiting for someone who never arrives. This serves as a metaphor for the inevitable heartbreak and disappointment, inherent in romance and love, and, its stark simplicity gives it a desolate beauty.
The lack of a record to promote gives the gig a sense of freedom. The band are left free to perform the music they love; the audience can relax knowing they won’t have to shout at the band like they were a faulty jukebox to hear something they like. Everyone is on the same side, and after a few songs a synergy emerges between the band and the audience which lasts for the rest of the evening.
This adoration is mirrored in the music. “Lord I don’t even know my name” is up next equating narcotic and spiritual enlightenment. Few artists inspire the level of devotion that Sonic Boom does, and there is more than a little of the feel of a religious cult to his fanbase. The song swings between belief and blasphemy, physical and religious ecstasy. In some ways, it is quite easy to see Sonic Boom here as the priest in a somewhat irreligious mass doling out wisdom and redemption to his fervent followers. As if to emphasize this, later in the gig, he appears bathed in white light, whilst the crowd stand rapt and entranced.
One of the reasons for the devotion of Sonic’s acolytes is the universality of his songs, with the inspiration for his work often being personal. The next song, “I Know they Say” explores a broken relationship, with its folk vibe counteracting the sadness of the lyrics to give it an uplifting feel. The contrast between the ecstatic highs of love, and the depths of despair that often follow, is a theme that Sonic returns to time and again in his music and that he revisits later this evening with “Let Me Down Gently.
The most esoteric song of the evening is a mash up of “Like..” from Spectrum’s Forever Alien LP and the EAR song “All things being equal”. It is the most out-there song of the evening, consisting of a fading drone, disembodied voices and stuttering, broken, words repeated. It is also the most recent. I feel kind of indifferent to songs like this; they are all vibe and no structure. And, while I like the drone noises, the formless nature of the whole leaves me somewhat cold.
Things soon warm up after that, with a succession of crowd-pleasing numbers including the Swamp blues of “Call the Doctor”, which tells the story of a drug overdose, and like the opener appeared on the seminal Perfect Prescription in 1987. “Let me down Gently” and “Che” follow from the 1989 Spacemen 3 album “Playing with Fire”; songs about respectively romance and revolution. As a bit of a Spacemen 3 fan, it’s great hearing these songs live, and as someone who had a bit of journey home to make, it was also good they played straight through to the encores.
The encores were the highlight of the evening for me, particularly the performance of “Big City Bright Lights”, the first time I think I’ve heard him play the song live. Perfect for the occasion, with the euphoria of the lyrics matched by the crowd’s response, and the rolling beat of the rhythm track juxtaposed with the evangelical sound of the organ, sets the sanctified against the secular. Finally, this evening of many highlights is rounded off with an outro of “I Believe it” providing a suitable note of introspection for a band that, whilst far from being straightforward, seem to have found their inner peace.