red lights


Flashes of experimental brilliance
mixed with self-indulgent prog-rock

Secret Machines
Hiro Ballroom
New York, NY
April 26, 2006
Secret Machines

Story and photos by Tony Bonyata

Although originally hailing from Texas the rock trio Secret Machines appeared to now own New York City, which they now call home, when last week they performed to a packed house at the beautifully adorned Hiro Ballroom in the Meatpacking District of the city.

Secret Machines The buzz surrounding both the band and this particular show, where the band unveiled songs from their new sophomore full-length album Ten Silver Drops, was thick enough to cut with a knife. Not only has the band been one of the critic's darlings since the release of their 2004 album Now Here Is Nowhere but they've also proved to be an artist's artist - gaining high-profile entertainers, such as David Bowie, championing them as one of the greatest things since sliced bread... or at least since the Arcade Fire.

The Secret Machines' show at Hiro Ballroom was unique in that the staging was set up 'in the round' amid the club's intoxicating Tarantino-goes-to-Osaka Japanese decor. As brothers Brandon (vocals/keys/bass) and Ben Curtis (guitar/ vocals) along with drummer Josh Garza stepped out onto the stage the crowd took a collective deep breath and tightly surged toward the center of the room.

With Brandon seated behind his Rhodes organ for the evening - save for the two-song encore where he strapped on his bass guitar, the threesome faced each other, if not actually looking at one another, and launched into the Secret Machinesspacious opening track from Ten Silver Drops "Alone, Stoned and Jealous," which eventually saw the band breakdown into a high-energy prog-rock jam, complete with Brandon laying down a heavy keyboard rhythm on top of Garza's thundering, Zeppelin-esque beat, and Ben adding both highly-texture atmospheric guitar tones with scorching stoner-rock leads.

The band's art/prog-rock tendencies seeped out on many of the numbers performed, including the spacey majesty of "You Are Chains" and "Pharaoh's Daughter," both from Now Here Is Nowhere and both sounding as if they were the bastard offspring from Pink Floyd's Meddle. As it turns out, one of the most enduring elements of this band for many fans ('70s prog-rock leanings, Kraut-rock eccentricities and lush, spacey soundscapes), also just so happened to be the iceberg where their ship would often get stuck  through their performance. Many of the band's extending jams turned out to be exercises in self-absorption, with droning keys, indulgent sonic guitar ambience and a redundant, repetitive beat that ran circles chasing it's own tail.

Luckily, however, the band's acerbic pop sensibilities bubbled through on the newer numbers "Lightening Blue Eyes," "I Hate Pretending" and "Faded Lines," which featured Brandon's stinging, absinthe-soaked vocals, which quite often hearkened back to vocalist Peter Murphy from his early days in Bauhaus.

I suppose for those who hit the hash pipe before the show, this was a transcendental evening of hypnotic, mesmerizing indie-rock magic. For those of us, however, who squeezed in a sobering seven-dollar beer or two, it was more of a night peppered with flashes of experimental brilliance mixed with an unhealthy amount of self-indulgent prog-rock.
Secret Machines 04.26.06 Hiro Setlist:
1. Alone Jealous and Stoned
2. The Road Leads Where It's Led
3. Faded Lines
4. Pharaoh's Daughter
5. Daddy's in the Doldrums
6. Better Bring Your Friends
7. Lightning Blue Eyes
8. I Hate Pretending
9. De Luxe (Immer Wieder)
10. Girl from the North Country
11. You Are Chains
12. Now Here Is Nowhere
13. Sad & Lonely
14. First Wave Intact

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