Live Music + Gig Reviews

Secret Machines @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

6 April 2006

If ever there was a band to let their music do the talking, then that band would have to be Texan trio Secret Machines. And when your music is as compelling and intense as theirs, few words need be said in support.

Which is just as well, since vocalist/guitarist Ben Curtis offered just a couple of ‘thank you’s in the band’s 90 minute set – and yet that somehow seemed right, the stage reserved for his band and their extraordinary music, sprawling yet finely crafted.

A conservative Shepherd’s Bush audience took a while to warm to this, which was a surprise given the collective heat emanating from the light show, or the near-agricultural fire that accompanied a magnificent encore of First Wave Intact.

The gig opened on epic proportion with the first track from new album Ten Silver Drops. Alone, Jealous & Stoned took a euphoric chord progression and turned into a huge upbeat to The Road Leads Where It’s Led, the two forming a mini-suite that carried all before it. Within seconds the band were fully into their stride, Brandon Curtis’ stabbed keyboard motifs and slightly nasal vocals complemented by brother Ben, who looked somewhat marooned centre stage but provided excellent guitar work and vocals. Meanwhile on the left drummer Josh Garza just about stole the show and shook the building to its very foundations, his enormous bass drum surely requiring the death of several animals to build, the contribution a mighty one indeed.

Not all the music was large in concept – the slower Bad Wind was an understated, atmospheric triumph, as was a moving interpretation of Bob Dylan‘s Girl From The North Country. I Hate Pretending grabbed on to a solid pop hook, while the majestic You Are Chains seems to have mellowed a little in recent times, a softer sound from the Curtis Rhodes where there was once a cutting piano.

The exultant Nowhere Again followed, preceding a three-pronged encore of Pharoah’s Daughter, a defiant Sad And Lonely and a barnstorming First Wave Intact, the sheer volume of the band at the end rendering any audience contribution totally redundant as our eardrums pounded.

A well-drilled, dazzling light show lent weight to the music, colours ranging from warm blood red (Doldrums) to queasy yellow strobe (The Road Leads Where It’s Led). Intensity varied likewise, from a pinprick to a dazzling all-round glare.

A better gig I have rarely been to – the trio (difficult to believe there are only three of them!) held us in their grip from the first note to the last atmospheric cloud, as if performing just one epic song. It was an experience that lifted us all to a higher plane.

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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