Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images by: Dave Jackson
The Secret Machines :: 08.02.08 :: Stubb's BBQ :: Austin, TX
They arrived onstage without so much as a hello, and the lack of a lighting rig in the claustrophobic indoor room of Stubb's BBQ meant that there were no visual cues that the show was starting. Suddenly, we were thrown back by an all-encompassing growl before the pre-first note cheers had even peaked. Trademark black clothes and sweaty hair hanging in their faces, The Secret Machines were light on audience interaction, but theirs is a sound you get lost in, souring over high plains one minute, burrowing through the mantle next. Chitchat is unnecessary.
On record I have often found this band to be immersive yet slightly cold, the themes of isolation and loneliness finely tuned (especially on Ten Silver Drops). But in a live setting the sound is hypnotic with metallic intensity, the chilling splendor rendered heavier and dirtier. The tightly coiled tension will suddenly drop the floor out from under you, revealing crash sites on psychedelic vistas, and it's these stomach plunging moments that draw you away from the crowd and into your head.
Many in the crowd were holding their breath to hear their favorite songs but the band clearly had their own agenda. They played mostly new material, spiraling out from these into extended intros to the occasional fan favorite such as "Lightening Blue Eyes" and "Sad and Lonely." The proggy progressions and saucer-eyed journeys are still very much present in the new material, but sneaky touches of Kraftwerk and even Mars Volta have been rubbed throughout. I found myself shaking vigorously to the noise, despite the close quarters and the mostly-still concertgoers.
After the departure of Benjamin Curtis last year, guitarist Phil Karnats has the unenviable task of trying to forge his own identity in a band that is much loved for their distinctive sound. His taut fretwork and feedback whistles snaked through the show, stealthily slipping behind Brandon Curtis' powerful, organ-like keyboards and Josh Garza's drum swells and smashes, and then emerging around a corner to knock you over the head. Even if Curtis sings in a way that makes my neck ache just to look at him, facing sometimes straight down into the mic, his voice makes serious contact with its potency.
|Brandon Curtis :: 08.02 :: Austin, TX|
Garza was plugged in behind the kit with quick drum machine rolls and sustained percussive echoes. During the one-two punch at the end of "Alone Jealous and Stoned" and "Nowhere Again," I had moved up to watch the end of the show from the first floor balcony, positioning myself directly above Garza. He looked up, transfixed with something on the ceiling, mouthing the words to "Nowhere" and smiling, drumstick rising and falling in long thrashes.
With virtually no light effects or visual tricks, the show felt quite spare, especially when compared to past Machines productions. But it allowed the music to speak for itself, extending songs into ten-minute-plus soundscapes, taking their signature spaciousness into wilder territories. Clocking in at a little over an hour, the show made up for its relative brevity with its intensity. It may not have gone over well with everyone in the crowd, many of whom were in a sing-along mood. Still, it gave us a preview of what's in store for the new album, due to hit in October. If this was any indication, across that tundra I see electrical storms in the distance.
JamBase | Austin
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