Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gig Guide 1 - Secret Machines: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham. Feb 14, 2009

THE Rescue Rooms has been a venue I've visited on a number of occasions - Julian Cope twice, House of Love, Shack, and a couple of others, and generally I've found it cramped, noisy, acoustically challenged and just a little grubby. Tonight was no exception; it's like the RR prefers that used, slightly crusty feel.

The support band, local lads called Filthy Dukes, who have just signed a record deal and were on the tour because Brandon Curtis (of the Secret Machines) is a fan. One has to seriously wonder how someone who can produce such excellent psychedelic rock as Curtis can be a fan of such a melange of trashy Eighties synth-pop and wannabe Ian Curtis-ness (obviously no relation). The half an hour set was made up of thudding beats that didn't inspire the audience and drew polite, but quiet applause.

The first impression from Secret Machines was that no expense was made. The band stood on a bare stage, with two spotlights behind them and no other lighting. This didn't change for the duration of the 70 minute set, except on the very last number when the lighting guy must have found the on-off switch, because we were treated to a kind of home-made strobe affect.

There is nothing slick about this band. While their albums are polished walls of progressive sound and psych reverb, live they are just energy. Josh Garza, the drummer, could be John Bonham in his youth and channeled more energy into that 70 minutes than I have seen in 30 odd years of gigging. Phil Karnats, Ben Curtis' replacement on lead guitar noodled and thrashed his way through a back catalog he had no involvement with and did it heroically, while Brandon Curtis switched between bass and keyboards, sometimes both.

The sound was poor and the band were far too loud for such a small venue. It took the sound engineer at least 3 songs to get the balance right and even then it was patchy at best and not helped by the fact that TSM are, as I said, not slick performers.

The only real positive reactions from the audience were with Now Here is Nowhere, the title track from their debut album and First Wave Intact, also from their debut. They performed an almost entirely new version of Alone, Jealous and Stoned, which took me almost a minute to work out what they were playing and followed this with Atomic Heels from the new album, which got some of the audience jumping around.

But on the whole it was a very low key affair; the audience didn't seem to be inspired; apart from a token Valentine's day wish from Brandon, there was no audience interaction and the band looked like they would have rather been anywhere else. The impression is that this is a low key tour of the UK attempting to re-establish the band after a promising debut here two years ago - they need bigger venues and improved sound to make any head way.

6.5 out of 10.

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