Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Machines @ Camden Electric Ballroom, London

24 March 2005

It’s returns only at Camden’s Electric Ballroom tonight, and it’s easy to see why – quite apart from the demob happiness of the last night before the Easter holiday it’s a chance to see Texan trio Secret Machines in pretty much the perfect venue – a high ceiling the perfect vehicle for the impressive grandeur of their soundscapes.

If you’re standing near the back there’s the distracting aroma of the food bar drifting across, but thankfully the music soon dispels any temptation to queue for chow mein. Four illuminated vertical rods of blue transfix the crowd as the Machines arrive with plenty of smoke and atmosphere, getting a fervent reception.

An immediate curiosity is the band’s layout – exactly as implied on the cover of the album Now Here Is Nowhere, the drummer Josh Garza side on to the stage but directly opposite Brandon Curtis, with Brandon’s brother Ben the centre stage vocalist. It gives the strange feeling that you might be facing the wrong way, but obviously helps the band to communicate. They don’t interact with the audience much – spoken word is kept to a minimum – but instead prefer for the music and lighting to speak, which seems a fair deal when there’s plenty to listen to.

The already grand scale of their debut commercial long player becomes huge. First Wave Intact, already an opener that borders on ten minutes, generates palpable tension in the quieter passages, an impressive achievement in a track that could so easily collapse in on itself. Diehards towards the front are sufficiently moved to punch every note of the guitar hook, while others towards the back nod appreciatively to the percussive discourse.

In fact the band display a talent for creating something out of almost nothing, with the slow Rhodes piano statement that opens You Are Chains holding the crowd rapt in a Pink Floyd-ian trance, its harsh beauty cutting through the sparingly used lights – only at full climaxes does a single yellow light blaze, sun-like, into the audience. Otherwise the mood is dim but atmospheric, a deep blue with plenty of smoke. At moments like this the music seems to be taking a huge inward breath, a huge upbeat to preface the rock-outs for The Leaves Are Gone, the “you’d be surprised” refrain sparking considerable action down the front. The mood continues to veer between reflection and a kind of euphoric rush, as experienced in Sad And Lonely where Ben sings “and it feels like those around want you to die” – not, on the face of it, an uplifting lyric, but sung defiantly in a two fingered gesture, with Ben’s floppy fringe taking the music seemingly closer to 1990s UK than early 21st century Texas.

The band get a rapturous reception and deservedly so, as they throw themselves wholeheartedly into the music. Brandon’s keyboard stabs pierce the night air, Garza keeps control of the daunting drum tracks, despite an obvious potential for Led Zeppelin-like solos, and Ben’s heroics do justice to the grand lyrics.

Considering at the moment the Secret Machines have little more than an album’s worth of material to go on, this is mightily impressive stuff, and the crowd leave fully satisfied as the last atmospheric strains die away.

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More on Secret Machines
Secret Machines – Secret Machines
Secret Machines @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Secret Machines @ Camden Electric Ballroom, London
Secret Machines – Now Here Is Nowhere