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By Loren Green
For a groupie who never actually slept with any of the band members, Monica Lee wields a lot of influence over the Spectors. You might even call her a "band whisperer" for the way she single-handedly wrangled the raucous quintet into agreeing to play a reunion show two days before her wedding.
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"Getting them back together was my idea, but they couldn't play at the place where I'm getting married because it's way too small, and everything would break because they're way too loud," laughs Lee.
Volume certainly characterized the Spectors (many of its members worshipped the Hypstrz) during their Minneapolis heyday in the '90s, but what really defined the band was its anomalous sound—a blend of '60s garage and British invasion with hearty doses of punk, pop, and psychedelia—during a time when homogenous grunge and flavorless pop dominated airwaves and clubs. That, and they fought. A lot. Onstage.
Lee, who managed Aardvark Records' Bloomington store and worked promotions for KJJO (an FM station that generously played local acts before Rev-105 and the Current came into being), fondly recalls following the band. "I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to be friends with a band that I totally loved. The Spectors had such giant personalities, and they always made me laugh. They were always fighting, and to this day I find that hilarious."
The Spectors' shuffling lineup ensured that there was always fresh blood to be spilled. "Everybody seemed to want a piece of the action, yet there were only five spaces in the band," says founding Spectors member (and former Funseeker) Keith Patterson. "People were always vying for a position. Everyone wanted to be the lead guitarist, but everybody was a drummer, more or less."
Along with Patterson on bass, vocalist Chris Knott and guitarist Devin Waterman were constants, while Jed Mayer, Adam Fesenmaier, Dan Boardman, Dave Randall, and Eric Tretbar strode in and out. The band released its only CD, the celebrated Beat Is Murder (Get Hip Records) in 2002. Fesenmaier is unapologetic about the fact that half of its 21 tracks are covers. "Nobody knew at the time that we were doing [covers], nor did they care. It rocked and people danced, so the whole thing about originals didn't matter."
To the band's (and the producers') credit, it's hard to discern which is which on Beat Is Murder. Tracks like the Spectors' own beat-driven "Private Dick" meld seamlessly with a rendition of the Monks' "Oh, How to Do Now." (Fesenmaier grew up knowing two members of the Monks as "friends of my dad.") Patterson, who had a hand in writing most of the originals, stylistically balanced what he calls "over-amped" numbers with catchy power-pop ditties.
The technical prowess of the band was obvious—flawless guitar riffs, pounding backbeats, and thoughtful melodies flavored every tune, and you couldn't help but dance your ass off. And despite its revolving cast, who argued as much as they rehearsed, the band delivered cohesive and rambunctious performances that left you wanting more.
Before the Spectors, Patterson, Tretbar, and Mayer had enjoyed well-earned popularity as the Funseekers. But during the Spectors' five-year tenure, members found themselves divided by other projects. Fesenmaier, in particular, was forced to choose between the Spectors and his up-and-coming band the Loose Rails. He eventually left the Spectors to focus on the latter.
"The Rails got busy and took off," Fesenmaier recalls. "We were going to California—playing showcases and shit like that—and all the while the Spectors were gaining popularity. Dave Randall and I would swap on guitar, but at the same time he was in Skeleton Ed, too."
But side projects weren't the band's only challenge: Egos and violence eroded relationships and caused deep rifts between members. In the extensive liner notes to Beat Is Murder, Knott writes about being named "most friendly" during his senior year at a Mankato high school, but his synopsis of the others sounds more like a band of pirates than a band of musicians.
"Violence, real and imagined, was a strange ingredient in the chemistry of the seven of us," writes Knott. "From Dan Boardman's tussle with seven (or more) party crashers, to Dave Randall being literally gunned down walking home.... We had a collective chip on our shoulder to match our collective egos, which started out sizable and got bigger."
"Sure, there were people who'd show up and wait for a fight," admits Fesenmaier, who quickly adds, "But we weren't as bad as the Magnolias..."
In a nutshell? "Just too much testosterone," offers Patterson.
Whether or not the Spectors' October 4 reunion show will lead to fisticuffs remains to be seen. Age and experience seem to have tempered the once volatile lads, and in fact Patterson and Fesenmaier have played together peacefully for almost a decade in their own power-pop combo, the Conquerors.
"We'll probably never be as popular as the Spectors," says Fesenmaier, "or gain that kind of respect, but it's not like we're going to start beating each other up onstage to get an audience."
Besides, this gig is for Monica Lee—their Number One Groupie, their Superfan—as a kind of wedding gift. And it just wouldn't be right to get blood on the bride.
THE SPECTORS perform with the Loose Rails, Skeleton Ed, and the TC Playboys on THURSDAY, OCTOBER 4, at 7th St. Entry; 612.332.1775
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