Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Benjamin Maas
The Machine :: 12.28.08 :: B.B. King's Blues Club :: New York, NY
The unfortunate reality for fans of classic rock is that their favorite acts are increasingly dwindling. And as more and more baby booming bands go the way of the dodo extant fans are left with but one refuge – the cover band. Though the stigma attached to cover bands seems to predominantly be a negative one, every now and again one comes along that actually does the original artists justice. And if there ever was a cover band that managed to shake that stigma it's Pink Floyd tribute band The Machine. Over the span of two decades, the New York-based foursome has managed to consistently deliver an astonishingly authentic duplication of this legendary band's material.
Given The Machine's reputation, I had no qualms heading over to B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square to catch a midnight show in lieu of the numerous exceptional pre-New Year's Eve concerts occurring throughout Manhattan that evening. At almost exactly the stroke of midnight, the band took the stage for their first set – a rendition of the renowned Dark Side of the Moon album in its entirety. From the get-go Joe Pascarell (lead guitar/vocals) seemed intent on establishing an intimate connection with the crowd, letting them know that they were the "true [Pink Floyd] fans".
As the familiar menacing heartbeat at the start of "Speak to Me" began pulsing from speakers, I closed my eyes, tilted my head and let myself drift 35 years back in time. Once the band broke into "Breathe" it was clear that their replication of Dark Side was going to be deadly accurate. Pascarell, who sported a Santa hat in spirit of the season, played slide guitar with a gently warm timbre nearly indistinguishable from that of David Gilmour. And though his voice wasn't an exact imitation of Gilmour, it is as close a replica as I have ever heard. The chaotic "On the Run" had Scott Chasolen (keyboards/vocals) paying homage to the recently deceased Rick Wright, producing ominously anarchic noises that would have made Wright proud.
Anyone remotely familiar with Dark Side would have noticed the band's astonishing attention to detail. From the tone of Todd Cohen's drum hits at the beginning of "Time" to the fluid basslines of Ryan Ball to Pascarell's lunatic laughing in "Brain Damage" it was apparent that this band had achieved a near carbon copy of the album. Aside from intentionally replacing the words, "It's good to warm my bones beside the fire," with, "It's good to smoke a bong beside the fire," during "Breathe (reprise)," Pascarell did not once stray from the original lyrics. If not for extended jams in "Money" and the underrated "Any Colour You Like," the first set might very well have clocked in at exactly 42:59, the same length as the album. All that was truly lacking in their rendition was the ghostly whispers sporadically placed throughout the album at a nearly inaudible volume and a barely noticeable slip up from Chasolen during the transition into "Eclipse."
|John Thompson :: 12.28 :: NYC|
Members of the crowd could be seen singing along not only with the lyrics, but scatting along with all the note-for-note instrumental solos as well. Pascarell nailed the guitar solos in "Time," "Money" and "Any Colour You Like," playing them verbatim, while John Thompson did the same on the saxophone solos in "Money" and "Us and Them." In "Great Gig in the Sky," Nina Setaro belted out orgasmic whaling identical to that original female foil, Clare Torry. As the menacing heartbeat returned at the end of "Eclipse" to conclude the first set, one got the feeling that the astounding legacy of Dark Side of the Moon is one destined for immortality. And thanks to The Machine, its legacy has survived at least one more generation.
The second set consisted of a smattering of the rest of Pink Floyd's repertoire, mostly from the pre-Dark Side era. They opened the set with the outer space like "Astronomy Domine" from Floyd's first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This song in conjunction with "The Gnome" and "See Emily Play" showcased the beautiful absurdity of Syd Barrett's mind, the creative force behind Floyd's earliest works. One of the highlights of the second set was the epically long "Echoes." With its abundant underwater imagery, it was easy to submerge oneself in the unearthly textures of the song. Pascarell's reproduction of Gilmour's soaring guitar solo was more than enough to make anyone's knees buckle. The song's epic peak was laden with earth-shattering energy exploding from the stage, subsequently washing over the jubilant crowd. From out of the ensuing psychedelic chaos contained in the heart of "Echoes," the hypnotic bassline from "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" slowly began to form. Much to my dismay, the band never returned to complete the second half of "Echoes," leaving me with a terribly unfulfilled sentiment – the musical equivalent of blue balls. Overall, the second set contained significantly more jamming than the first, epitomized in the trippy rendition of "Set the Controls," which clocked in at nearly twice the length of the original studio track on A Saucerful Of Secrets.
The band closed the second set with the tranquil "Two Suns in the Sunset," the only post-Dark Side song of the night. It was evident from this selection that by this Roger Waters dominated 1983 release, The Final Cut, Floyd was passed its prime songwriting years. "Two Suns" made for a disappointing close to an otherwise flawless set. After several minutes of onstage contemplation, The Machine chose "Free Four" as its lone encore. Though enjoyable, it made for a rather anti-climactic end to a show packed with energy and excitement.
|The Machine :: 12.28 :: NYC|
If you are looking for an alternative interpretation of canonical Floyd material, this is not the act for you. On the other hand, if you want a resurrection of a great thing then look no further – this is as close as you will ever get. While the remaining members of Pink Floyd bicker over petty disagreements, The Machine is touring the world giving "real fans" the most authentic encounter with Pink Floyd possible, and helping to keep the legacy of Floyd's music alive and kicking. In many ways, seeing The Machine felt more authentic than either of the times I had seen original Floyd member Roger Waters in concert. It is no coincidence that The Machine is billed as "America's premier Pink Floyd experience."
The Machine :: 12.28.08 :: BB King's Blues Club :: New York, NY
Set I: Speak to Me > Breathe > On the Run > Time > Breathe (reprise) > The Great Gig in the Sky, Money > Us and Them > Any Colour You Like > Brain Damage > Eclipse
Set II: Astronomy Domine, See Emily Play, Echoes (unfinished) > Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, One of These Days, The Gnome, Fearless, Two Suns in the Sunset
Encore: Free Four
JamBase | A Certain Side of the Moon
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