The Secret Machines clearly hate pop radio, and we love them for it. After all, who could not be in awe of a band that dares to open their debut album with an eleven-minute track?
Opening their May 13th show at the Chicago’s Metro with the killer opener “Alone, Jealous and Stoned,” from their fantastic follow-up CD, Ten Silver Drops [Reprise], the Secret Machines set the pace for the night. Next, they eased into a trancy, stripped down, experimental version of “The Road Leads Where It’s Led” (with that memorable chorus, “blowing all the other kids away”). And blow us away, they did. In fact, TSM took this road considerably farther than the album version…and everyone had a lot of fun on the journey. Soon after, “Daddy’s in the Doldrums,” one of the grooviest new tracks, was a great example of how this live show expertly transitioned from one song to the next in a seamless fade that never let the audience take a breath.
There’s a mysterious element to this band, and part of the secret might be in their appearance: with the heavy backlights and the dark hair in their faces, and so many strobe lights that the cooler kids wearing shades at this midnight gig might have been onto something. No matter if you couldn’t see them. You could hear them with the venue’s near-perfect sound and singer-keyboardist-bassist Brandon Curtis’ unmistakable dark, raspy voice.
Facial recognition aside, drummer Jeff Garza’s energy output is inhuman—and he should be recognized as one of the strongest percussionists in alternative rock today. In one of the rare moments this trio took to actually speak to the audience, guitarist Benjamin Curtis (Brandon's brother) announced that it happened to be Josh’s birthday that evening.
The energy was high and getting higher when the band broke into “You Are Chains.” The joy may have best been reflected by my companion, who said, “I’m gonna have to drink my beer quickly, ‘cuz I have to pogo!” Other high points of the night included “Nowhere Again,” (which is about as cool as it gets), and “Lightning Blue Eyes,” --it wouldn’t shock us if that song turns into 2006’s “Mr. Brightside” on the radio charts.
A surprise on the set list included "De Luxe (Immer Wieder)" off of their EP. As a slow building tune and not the strongest track on the EP, it was a strange choice, but who the fuck cares? Done live, it was amazing. The crowd didn’t know what they were cheering for until the increase in volume and layers upon layers of sound that built straight to aural orgasm.
The band played a steady 1 ½ hours with no banter, no bullshit, and then a quick return for a three-song encore that started with “Sad and Lonely” as they were bathed in pulsing red and white peppermint-striped lights. In keeping with rock star protocol, the fog machine made its first appearance at the second encore song, “First Wave Intact,” and they closed the show in the highest pitch of excitement, with strobe delirium, noise and light for the unbeatable closer on the new CD, “1000 Seconds.” Pop radio can go to hell. This sounds like heaven to me.
Thanks to Tom Henkey, occasional NT contributor, for some of the insightful and witty comments I blatantly stole for this article-jgb