Reviews

Secret Machines: 27 August 2009 - Phoenix

Andrew Watson

I stood in blissful repose, hundering madness all around, forgetting I was in a half-empty warehouse surrounded by Kia salesmen, drinking lukewarm Budweiser, with a giant robot looming over my shoulder.

Secret Machines

Secret Machines

City: Phoenix
Venue: The Icehouse
Date: 2009-08-27

As an outsider looking in, and as someone who, perhaps foolishly, holds artists and those who create my kind of art to a higher standard, I would imagine that performing for a room half full of local media/promotion types on the eve of a weekend long, corporate-sponsored event intended to pimp the 2010 Kia Soul leaves a ghastly wad of shame lodged deep in your stomach, and that after assisting in such a cause you might imagine your skin to have a slick, greasy sheen, as if you just crawled out of a pit of lifeless, festering ooze.

I found myself debating this peculiar artistic dilemma as the Secret Machines, a band I enjoy very much, prepared to take the stage at a converted warehouse space in downtown Phoenix. To my left was the “bar”, a makeshift countertop where a couple of hired stooges were handing out free cans of Budweiser and Mountain Dew. To my right, inexplicably, was a 20-foot tall cardboard robot. Banquet tables overflowed with various Kia product fliers. Behind the band was a large decorative mural that had multi-colored 2010 Kia Souls juxtaposed with-no shit-little tiny sheep. The implications were staggering. Apparently, Kia’s ad wizards have resorted to calling the American public exactly as they see us: sheep! I’m not sure if they were trying to be ironic or flat out insulting or if maybe they’ve finally just given up, as in a “nobody is buying cars anyway…we might as well tell the truth” kind of statement. Their diabolical marketing scheme was lost on me, however. I just wanted to see the Machines. Besides, I already have a sporty mid-sized compact SUV.

The band began their abridged set with “Nowhere Again”, without question their most recognizable song, and if the shiny-shirt wearing guys in the front row thought the warm-up DJ mouse-clicking Itunes dance jams earlier was loud, well, they must not understand loud like some of us do. The Secret Machines are a LOUD band. It starts with drummer Josh Garza, who sets up stage left rather than the traditional background locale. Garza, it seems, uses small trees for drumsticks—for sheer force and consistency, his is a tough act to follow.

Brandon Curtis runs the show; songwriter, singer, guitarist, keyboardist, etc. His brother Ben quit the group in late 2007 to form School of Seven Bells. My first experience with the Machines was in early 2005, and the demonstration that Garza and the Curtis brothers put on that night was awe-inspiring, to say the least. I’m not saying that the current lineup (guitarist Phil Karnats now rounds out the trio) is lacking in any way, and perhaps this evening’s shortened set wasn’t the most honest representation, but I can’t help feeling that some of the magic has lifted.

Their most recent, self-titled LP, while nowhere near as captivating as the first two records, does manage a few great moments. One of which, “The Walls Are Starting to Crack”, with it’s devastating mid-section, featured Garza absolutely losing his shit during a freakish, five-armed drum solo, and it was easily the most memorable moment of the night. The rest of the set pulled mostly from the band’s earlier work, from a slow-burn take on the sad-sack anthem “Alone, Jealous, and Stoned”, to a typically vamped out version of “Sad and Lonely”, to their crowning achievement, Now Here Is Nowhere’s ten minute opening opus “First Wave Intact”.

I'm hard pressed to pinpoint a riff, written in the last 15 years, that rivals the one in “First Wave Intact” in terms of monstrosity and face-melting potential. The song totally wails and the Machines held nothing back as they barreled their way through it. Safe to say that by now, all the shiny-shirt PR guys were making for the exits. This was not their kind of noise. For a moment I stood in blissful repose, feeling the thundering madness all around me, briefly forgetting that I was in a half-empty warehouse surrounded by Kia salesmen, drinking lukewarm Budweiser, and feeling very sketchy about the giant robot looming over my shoulder. That moment felt like any other Secret Machines show, as I stood there cursing myself for forgetting my earplugs.

The band called it a night after eight songs, playing barely an hour. I had already resigned myself to the fact that this wouldn’t be a proper Machines gig—one look at the stage set-up told me that, as Brandon’s keyboard was nowhere to be found. If I wasn’t going to be able to hear “You Are Chains” or “1,000 Seconds” than I certainly wasn’t getting the full experience. Not to seem bitter or ungrateful—on the contrary, I would like to thank the folks at Kia for making an effort, for bringing a great band to town, and for giving me those three free drink tickets. I imagine lukewarm Budweiser can only taste that good when you’re standing in a dusty Arizona warehouse in the middle of August.

I’d like to thank the band, as well. It can’t be easy fulfilling these kinds of corporate obligations, even if it does mean a decent paycheck. With the music industry in shambles, perhaps any paying gig is as good as the next.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image