Last night, the Secret Machines played a one-off benefit show at Webster Hall in NYC. Chilly Jackwater went, and he said “The show was too good to keep to myself. You are committing a crime against yourself by not seeing these guys live.” You can catch Chilly Jackwater on his own blog, Best Show Ever, and you can email him praise and love at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pink Floyd is overrated. Well, to me they are. I never fully bought into their legendary status. I mean, I UNDERSTAND why they are held in such esteem for the simple fact that they broke down musical boundaries, no one else sounded like them, they were forefathers for x, y, and z bands, etc. But most of their music left me asking myself, “That’s it? Another song about how money is evil? Another rock opera about a social outcast?” And if you ask me -and by reading this, you ARE asking me – one of the most definitive WTFs of the 1980s is this: How on our good, green Earth did Dark Side Of The Moon continue to stay on the Billboard charts for thousands and thousands and thousands…and thousands of days? Who were these thousands of people who were buying the album every week? Did they not have the capacity to simply tape the album from one of their buddies? (These are questions for another time…)
My point is that Secret Machines, easily one of top five most exciting bands out there right now, somehow still draws comparisons to Pink Floyd. Sure, listening to their first self-titled debut makes that an easy parallel. But people, they have moved on. By sprinkling in some Zeppelin, Dead, and New Order influences, they have cultivated a sound that is about as unique as anything else you’ll find. And now if you gave me the choice of listening to the Machines’ Now Here Is Nowhere or my favorite Floyd album, Wish You Were Here, is like asking me if I’d rather sleep with Jessica Alba or Jessica Tandy. (Google her. You’ll get the point.)
And that’s just their studio work. Saying you get Secret Machines just by listening to their CDs is like saying you get the Dead because you really, really like Aoxomoxoa. And (more or less) like the Dead, you could get hooked in by either their studio work or their live show. But I have to tell you, it is much easier to get hooked by seeing them live. Which is why when I heard that they were playing Webster Hall -recently acquired by the good people at Bowery Presents (who actually put money into, you know, the sound system. At a live venue. How novel.) – I bought a ticket the day they went on sale.
So after an abysmal opening act called Annie who did not, unfortunately, sing “Hard Knock Life,” Secret Machines took the stage ready to melt some faces. (Real quick: Promoters need to put a little more thought into opening acts. It reminds me of Jazzest a few years ago when Particle opened for Bela Fleck. Wh-wha?? There hasn’t been a pair that mismatched since Tara Reid’s boob job). Anyway, having seen Secret Machines five times now, I can say that last night’s hour and a half set was the best I had seen them. But shouldn’t that ALWAYS be the case?? (*ahem…UMPHREY’S!!!!!*)
They opened with a new tune, I assume, from their upcoming release “Ten Silver Drops” which I can report based on the opener, as well as other new tunes they played last night, builds on the sound Machineheads have grown to love: Driven by Bonham-esque drums, and accompanied by melodic, distorted guitars, with spooky vocals. Of course, as has become the norm at Machines shows, the songs from “Now Here” are the ones that bring down the house every time they hit the stage.
Last night was no different. “The Road Leads To Where Its Lead” and “Sad And Lonely” – a song that gets the “Little Wing” Memorial Prize for song that is just too damn short – were in typical form. That is to say epic, bobbing and weaving through fuzz and drums with a tenacity unseen since Hagler-Leonard fights of the 80s. But it was their final song that left me and the few hundred-person audience searching for our jaws on the floor. Now, what if I told you that every time you saw Phish, you were going to see the exact same encore every time? Not too interested in that, are you? But what if I said that the encore every night would be “Harry Hood”? Ah, you’ve had a change of heart, huh? Well, that’s Secret Machines for you. Each time I’ve seen them, they’ve played the same song to end it: “First Wave Intact.” I used to think that “Hood” was my favorite encore. I gotta tell you, “First Wave” blows that out the box. It’s got the typical Machines sound, but the last 16 bars builds up to an uptempo rave that has the entire crowd dancing and singing along. Yes, I can feel good, good about “First Wave.” And to top off the night, the exit music was Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” How’s that for synergy?
A few other notes about Secret Machines: First, if you see them in New York, while you may not see UB40 in the audience, you WILL see David Bowie. I’ve seen the Thin White Duke twice smiling and grooving to the Machines. But then again, the man shows up at all the “hip” bands’ shows in the city. (Of course, that doesn’t mean it ain’t damn cool to see good ol’ Ziggy.) Second, when I first saw Secret Machines in clubs here in NYC, their light show was very cool – simple, but effective: It was comprised of a single strobe light behind the band. But man, did it add to the overall effect. Nowadays, they’ve invested a bit more money into their lights and apparently it’s run by the same guy who used to do moe’s lights. I can’t remember his name now. But if/when you go and see the Machines and you have a Timmy Tucker flashback, now you’ll know why.
So when Secret Machines hit the road with dates in ’06 that include Langerado and (hopefully) Bonnaroo, are you going to go and see Chuck Norris And The 9 Volt Flameout on the Nostalgia Stage? Or are you going to go and sample something a little different? I’d hope the answer is the latter. So please, for the music jones that burns inside you as a music fan, go do yourself a friggin’ favor and see Secret Machines.