Originally from the wide, open spaces of Dallas, Texas, Secret Machines went for the vertical plane and headed for New York in 2000 before hitting the haute altitudes of space rock in 2004 with their debut album, Now Here Is Nowhere. David Bowie has sent his regards, and their second album, Ten Silver Drops, is out in late March. These Machines are cranking ahead.
Among the stars they are pulling from the sky are no less than mid-era Pink Floyd, Seventies Brian Eno and the Krautrock heroes Neu!. Improbably, they also manage to conjure the ghost of Simple Minds in their slow-burning new single, "Alone, Jealous and Stoned". It's their best song yet.
All this from a three-piece: stadium-kit drums paired with electric piano, guitar and a myriad of effects pedals. It's a huge sound, leaning on prog rock in its grander ambitions. To the stadium, then...
In 2005, the Machines played Glastonbury, supported Oasis at Milton Keynes Bowl, and then toured the US with Kings of Leon. But it's London's Garage where we find them tonight - a dark, pokey space that raises the question of where this band is properly placed. The crowd is familiar with a set that alternates between the first EP, the first album and already popular tracks from Ten Silver Drops.
"The Road Leads Where It's Led" draws rapturous applause, while "Pharaoh's Daughter" turns into a 10-minute epic, from languorous blues to psychedelic rhythm, that leaves the audience drilled but buoyant. The vocal harmonies of brothers Benjamin and Brandon Curtis add a rich dimension to the songs. "Now Here Is Nowhere" is the crowning joy to a glittering set, studded with explosive guitar and impressive backlights.
But while the performance is full of effects, it's oddly lacking in affectivity. The Machines are known for their detached stage presence, and this is unruffled tonight - the lively guitarist Ben Curtis enjoys the crowd without engaging them. Too studious to be pretentious, too cool to seduce a crowd, the band's appeal lies in their uncompromising and unique sound. Although knowingly introducing choruses and hooks, the band relishes motoring linear sounds that sit on a single chord, in one gear. Guitars cut, wail and arch, while keys and synth sounds generate rich textures. Josh Garza's drumming is the secret machine that keeps the sonic atmospherics grounded.
But the Machines need to experiment and take more risks before they can launch into the more niche realms of bands such as Neu! and Can, or the cerebral lucidity of Pink Floyd. And if they want to take a straight line to the stadium, they will require more structure and chorus, hook and anthem.
Tonight, as the band shined their stark floodlights on a jubilant crowd - comprised of young to middle-aged indie fans to lovers of classic Seventies rock - it was hard to know where they will finally land. But with such a diverse fanbase, perhaps their appeal will continue to stretch far and wide.Reuse content