Sonic Youth

The Brick is packed. Not that it requires a Herculean effort to fill the small downtown indie-rock enclave with people. If you build it and stock it with cheap beer, they will come. Throw in some karaoke, maybe a trivia night, perhaps some live music, and the place will reach capacity. But tonight is different.

The second anniversary party for Sonic Spectrum — the Saturday afternoon radio show hosted by KCUR 89.3 music director Robert Moore — has brought the semi-ironic T-shirt crowd out of the … uh … brickwork.

The line is three-deep all along the bar. You can’t swing a pool cue at the billiards table in back without knocking over four malnourished hipsters. The dance floor is a stifling mass of thrift-store mannequins staring like a sea of Easter Island statues with Buddy Holly glasses at the stage, where Hot Fruit is smashing out jagged garage-punk amid squalling feedback.

Moore looks surprised as he scans the chaotic scene from the sanctity of a booth beside the soundboard.

“I’m overwhelmed, really,” Moore tells me. “Honestly, I thought there would be a decent turnout, but I wasn’t expecting anything like this. It makes me feel like people have really embraced what we’re doing.”

Embraced? More like latched onto Sonic Spectrum‘s leg and vigorously dry-humped it for as much under-the-radar music as Moore can expend in a two-hour, once-a-week burst. The show is still small potatoes — a short public-radio broadcast that reaches roughly 10,000 listeners each week — but it’s an aural feast for those left famished by formulaic Clear Channelization.

“Corporate radio sucks,” KCUR announcer Michael Byars tells the crowd between sets. “Thank you for listening. You are the reason why Robert puts in his blood, toil and soil into two hours of music that matters every week.”

The measured tone Moore conveys on his show belies his fetish for eclectic sounds. The music that matters — in his estimation — can include (as it did on the latest Spectrum) everything from Iron & Wine and Crooked Fingers to Rex Hobart and Hank Williams. And even though the show is a significant springboard for local acts, Moore doesn’t let just any group amble onto his airwaves.

“I’m not going to play something just because it’s a local band,” Moore says above the din of the Brick. “I don’t care if it’s a local band — if it’s bad, I’m not going to play it.”

Not to say Moore hasn’t found a treasure trove of regional artists deserving of his spotlight. The bands performing at the anniversary party — Hot Fruit, In the Pines, Doris Henson, Minus Story and Unknown Pleasures — are just a sample of a music population dying for exposure.

“We have one of the best scenes in the nation, but people don’t realize it,” Moore says. “There are so many good bands and such diversity. Look at the Wilders — they don’t have a record deal, but every show they play is fucking packed…. [And] it’s really a crime that Namelessnumberheadman doesn’t have a deal.”

Onstage, Doris Henson is underscoring Moore’s insistence about what lies on the horizon for the local music community, as wild-eyed lead singer Matt Dunnehoo sings, I’ve got plans for a big future.

Moore has his own plans for the future of Sonic Spectrum. A wider audience. A longer show. National syndication. But all in due time. For now he is still just happy to be on the air and swimming against the mainstream.

“It’s been my dream to have a show like this since I was a teenager and I was listening to KROQ in Los Angeles,” he says. “[But] I couldn’t do this show in L.A. — in L.A. you gotta know somebody who blows somebody.”

The 38-year-old has cause to be jaded. Once upon a time, Moore worked within the gears of the corporate machine as an A&R man for Virgin Records in Los Angeles. Disenchanted by that experience, he fled to the Midwest in 1992 and worked at Recycled Sounds and KKFI 90.1 before beginning an ascent at KCUR that led to the creation of Sonic Spectrum two years ago.

Now the show has become a viable draw for voracious audiophiles — as evidenced by the impressive turnout at the Brick. Is Sonic Spectrum poised to become the next Little Steven’s Underground Garage? Not in the slightest.

First off, Moore would need to put in a few tours with Bruce Springsteen and a few seasons on The Sopranos before he could begin to compete with Mr. Van Zandt. And Moore would have to inject at least ten pieces of flair in his delivery to carry the show. No, this is still a small, weekly radio show at a small public-radio station in a small big city in the heartland. But just blurring the edges of what radio can accomplish is enough for Moore. For now.

“It is a free-form show, but there is a certain demographic that we’re aiming toward,” Moore says. “[But] I have pushed the boundaries of that further than I ever thought it would go. And I’ll continue to do that until they tell me to stop.”

Categories: Music