By: David Schultz
To celebrate the release of Ten Silver Drops, their second full-length album, The Secret Machines played a special in-the-round show for their adopted New York City hometown fans at the lavish Hiro Ballroom. With its paper lanterns, wooden columns and tiered risers, the Hiro Ballroom looks like it would make a better setting for a Quentin Tarantino fight scene than a locale for one of modern rock's freshest and exciting new bands. While fascinating in appearance, the in-the-round stage took up the majority of the floor space of the triple digit capacity ballroom. The layout gave everyone an opportunity to get nice and close to the band but it also provided for cramped conditions in certain congested areas. Fortunately, once the atmospheric, spacey background music the trio uses to preface their appearance began to channel through the PA, everyone seemed to lose their desire to wander around the room. Even moreso, once The Secret Machines hit the stage, people stood transfixed.
For those who have yet to become acquainted with The Secret Machines, they are lead singer/keyboardist Brandon Curtis, guitarist Ben Curtis and drummer Josh Garza. The Machines didn't really make the best use of the centered stage as the Curtises and Garza all faced inward towards the middle, rarely turning towards the crowd amassed at their feet. On the flip side, by facing each other instead of an audience, the instrumental sections of each song gained fervor as the three delightedly fed off each other's energy, shooting grins and excited looks back and forth while they played.
Clad entirely in black and playing heavy modern rock with uber-intensity, the Machines are surprisingly loose, relaxed and limber on stage. For a band that kicked off the show and led off their new album with a song entitled "Alone Jealous & Stoned," they are far from morose. Once he loosened up, Ben Curtis even danced a little loosy-goosy jig by his mike before finally feeling comfortable enough to turn and play to the crowd. More fit for packed arenas than a tiny ballroom, up tempo songs like "Faded Lines" and "Road Leads Where It's Lead" completely overwhelmed the delighted crowd. Heavier songs like "Daddy's In The Doldrums" and "I Hate Pretending" got an added boost in the tiny setting as the feel of the bass lines shuddering through your body raised the tense, edgy vibe.
Even though the Hiro Ballroom show was designed to celebrate the release of Ten Silver Drops, the set list mixed in a healthy dose of the Machines' older material. Now Here Is Nowhere's "Pharaoh's Daughter" segued nicely into "Daddy's In The Doldrums" and "Lightning Blue Eyes" zipped along with the same pacing as the set closer "Nowhere Again." "Harmonia," with its far eastern rhythm and trancelike melody, had the crowd swaying hypnotically in time with the band.
While the Curtises remained relatively stationary throughout the show, Josh Garza played up a furious storm. Looking every bit the wild drummer, Garza moved animatedly behind the kit with his long black hair flying askew and beaming an enraptured grin. If Garza were chained to the drums with a neck collar, covered in pink hair and spoke monosyllabically, he'd possibly resemble Animal from Electric Mayhem. (As an aside, amongst fictional bands comprised of puppets, Electric Mayhem plays The Rolling Stones to the Banana Splits' Beatles.) In driving the Machines' songs forward, Garza seems like he's trying to burst his kit, hitting the drums and cymbals harder than your average drummer. The force Garza's playing with becomes pronounced when he holds the cymbal steady for four beats, releases it and than bashes the absolute holy hell out of it for the next four. He also looks like he's having a blast, singing along with Brandon and the crowd during "First Wave Intact."
Technical difficulties, possibly relating to the filming of the event, delayed the encore for approximately ten minutes. The announcement of which puzzlingly caused some to head for the exits. The Secret Machines returned for their encore refreshed, promptly diving into "Sad And Lonely" and a rafter-shaking, or more properly for the Hiro Ballroom chochin-shaking, rendition of "First Wave Intact" that had the true believers that remained shaking their heads with awestruck delight. The Machines knew they'd hit the mark as well, sharing smiles and hugs before retreating backstage.
The Machines followed up their hypertensive Hiro Ballroom show the next afternoon with an in-store acoustic set at Union Square's Virgin Megastore. From there, they embark on a world tour to support Ten Silver Drops, going where the road will lead them. They will revive the in-the-round setup in Los Angeles on May 4 at the El Rey Theatre and then return to the customary theater setting. Anyone prophesying doom upon the future of modern rock needs to get to an arena and see The Secret Machines. It wouldn't do to heap the burden of bringing rock and roll into the next century upon this trio's young shoulders. That being said, The Secret Machines can be counted upon to give people a lot to be very excited about.