Michael Wolraich's picture

    Music: Secret Machines - Wounded Eagle or Lame Duck?

    The Secret Machines just haven't been the same since Ben Curtis, one half of the fraternal duo, left to focus on his own band, School of Seven Bells. The unsettling but electrifying harmony between Ben and Brandon Curtis could send a current through the back of your head. Imagine Geddy Lee and Robert Plant on stage together like Simon and Garfunkel gone bad.

    Perhaps I should have been suspicious about a tour without a new album, but I do love the band, particularly the first two albums when Ben was still with them. The first ill omen was the sparse attendance for the atrocious "Glam / Gospel / Soul" warmup band, Dragons of Zynth. I listened for two songs then went down to hang in the bar, where I ran into my former neighbor working the coat check. Sometimes, even New York is a small town. She informed me that the first warmup band, The Sugar Report, was even worse. I was annoyed to have arrived for the warmup band at all. It was well over an hour before the Machines went on. Stupid question: Why don't venues publish the times that the headliners go on? I've missed the beginning of some shows. At others, I've arrived frustratingly early.

    When the Secret Machines finally went on, the audience was still sparse and dominated by men, some of whom wore disposable glasses like the kind that they give out at 3-D screenings, which made the show feel like a cross between Spinal Tap's "Hello Cleveland" moment and a Trekkie convention. One of the bespectacled men explained that the glasses made the lights behind the stage "ten times brighter and trippier," which was necessary because without glasses, the lights were about as trippy as desk lamps. The set consisted of a parallel strips of paper stretched across a metal frame over the band members' heads and looked like it was ripped off from an avant-garde high school musical. All they needed was a dancing dwarf for the Spinal Tap imitation to be complete. I'm not sure why they felt the need for a set at all; it's friggin' indie band.

    The Secret Machines 2.0 have evidently decided to morph into a jam band, with frequent pounding guitar and drum solos that can only be described as really boring. But at moments, rare delicious moments, the old Secret Machines still showed through. The poignant longing presented in Alone, Jealous and Stoned was especially moving when performed live, at least before it was interrupted by the utterly incongruous drum riff. And songs like Lightning Blue Eyes proved capable of spurring the audience into frenetic dancing even without Ben's harmony.

    But ultimately, it seems that the Secret Machines are running on fumes left over from the full tank they had two albums ago. It's time to break up the band and use the scrap to make something new and better.


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