Turn On the Bright Lights, Turn Off the Secret Machines

I saw one of my favorite groups, Interpol, live this Sunday, and they brought more rock than I knew what to do with. Even if you’ve heard their first album Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, their latest, you can’t grasp what they’re like onstage. There’s a deep, intense, charismatic energy that grabs you and everyone around you when they delve into their songs. It’s great. It actually reminded me of seeing the Ramones live. The Ramones were a seminal punk band, and their albums are classic, but they blasted the veneer off the floor with the energy they bring live, which the studio can only dampen. Interpol does the same to the thin disaffected veneer people often bring to concerts in an effort to look cool. By the end, you’re dancing.

In addition to Interpol, there were two opening acts. The first, On! Air! Library! was very cool. If it’s any indication, I bought their album. They’re definitely too abstract and odd to go mainstream any time soon, but when the two female vocalists sing together, the songs are just amazing. Definitely worth a listen.

The second group was another story entirely.

They are The Secret Machines (http://www.thesecretmachines.com/), and their music makes me want to smash their instruments, only I probably wouldn’t be able to hit them without having to claw my way past their epic egos. To their credit, The Secret Machines are very technically competent, and clearly function cohesively as a band. Unfortunately, this technical competence and cohesion is bent towards building a masturbatory wall of rehashed rock pretension so huge, I want to bash my own skull in with another brick from The Wall.

The Secret Machines will probably become a big teen rock hit. They relentlessly pursue all of the achingly deep and intensely rocking moments of Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, a bit of Radiohead, and every other rock revival band out there. All the pieces were there, but when I thought “This should be ass-kickingly awesome,” I thought “I am unable to feel emotions other than spite for the band during this riff.” Unfortunately, when they trod down the familiar paths, they took the least interesting fork with relentless consistency. It’s all cock and no rock. They want to be big rock stars, but came off sounding like teenagers with nothing to say except “Don’t we sound like rock stars up here?!”

A little tip to the members of this band. If you aren’t rock gods or established, brilliant artists who’ve blown open the doors of the genre, you aren’t allowed to turn an opening act into Concept Album Lite, with songs that consist of a repetitive drum beat and a numbingly simple guitar line to accentuate how ’deep’ it all is for 10 goddamn minutes, while you sing Scarborough Fair. Others did everything you’ve ever done, and they did it after making rock albums that actually rocked, instead of sounding like albums constructed from the ’How to Rock Like The Big Boys’ handbook. You can’t do Bitches Brew before you work with the Charlie Parker Quintet. You’ve got to earn it and feel it. This is obviously lost on The Secret Machines.

Two more notes on this sonic flogging: 1) If I can feel my hair blowing back and my CELLS individually vibrating from the bass, you better be great. I’m not going deaf so you can cover up your lack of ingenuity. 2) Don’t light the crowd. Having bright, bare-bulb lights pointed at our faces while you play is stupid and annoying. I’d like to at least not be blind along with deaf. We came here to see the performers, not the other way around.

4 replies on “Turn On the Bright Lights, Turn Off the Secret Machines”

  1. I wondered if the Secret Machines were doing that thing with the lights all throughout their tour. They should’ve handed out sunglasses.

    The drummer was by far the most interesting band member to watch, if only because I was waiting to see when his kit would just splinter into a million little pieces.

  2. Wow, Jon. Brian said almost the exact same thing to me about the drummer. : ) I agree that the drummer was the best thing about TSM.

  3. I was about to kick the IDIOT who was elbowing me in the back all during the setup for Interpl to FINALLY come on stage. But then the music started and I was bopping, jumping and dancing around (which is pretty rare for me). They kicked major ass.

  4. Patel and I saw Interpol at the 9:30 Club in DC. Good stuff, however, for the first half of the show were were apparently in the “6′ and Taller” section of the club and I saw absolutely none of the stage. We moved to the way back for the second half of the show and actually ended up seeing the stage – what a concept. Only, we had that same “bright light facing the audience” thing going on with Interpol. It wasn’t all that terrible, but it was kind of annoying.

    Thanks to your advice, we skipped out on all the other bands and just went late to see Interpol. By the way, the 9:30 Club was as packed as I’ve ever seen it.

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