Ah, Secret Machines, Secret Machines... the best new band by default only of a truncated Reading Festival 2004, a band who had then taken a step up following a fine Interpol support slot later that year, but who had still flown under my radar since, due to a Spiritualized-like tendency to sonic monotony at the expense of tunes. That is, until recent sighting of the video for new single "Lightning Blue Eyes" which surprised me with its power, concise punchiness and verve. So I sorted tix for this one, unfortunately prior to the new CD release, with a challenge to Secret Machines. Could they make the step up from promising support to quality headliners?
Rachel and I hit the venue at 8.30, having left this late so missing the support, and having only Bowie's "Scary Monsters" over the PA to amuse us until Secret Machines arrived at 9.10. The trio took the black back-lit stage to the sound of a synth driven nuclear meltdown (so it seemed), and initially tried to match it, in mood at least!
The first 4 strobe-lit numbers took 35 minutes to dispatch, each veering from monotonous to absorbing to metronomic and back again! They share 80's gloomy headspace with Interpol et al, but go overboard on the drone factor. The poor sound and slightly ham-fisted drumming (still!) added to my difficulty - my random thoughts included, "playing shoegaze in Oxford; like carrying coals to Newcastle, isn't it?", "actually, this is a bit proggy at times, like Pure Reason Revolution" (Rach also noticed this unfortunate comparison), and "if my head was inside a washing machine, would it sound like this?"
Then, after an almost bluesy stomp, a superb "Lightning Blue Eyes" lit the place up, and suddenly I realise - it's the Drop Nineteens all over again! The Drops, Boston's early 90's purveyors of shoegazey soundscapes, had one utterly brilliant song, "Winona", reducing all their others into pallid and frustrating insignificance. Such are this lot - "Lightning Blue Eyes" is strident, concise and superbly catchy, whilst retaining Secret Machines' love of metronomic delivery. Why, oh why, don't they have more like it??
A couple of numbers later (including a naked version of Dylan's "North County Fair") we were gone, having given Secret Machines an hour and gotten one song and a mess of frustration back. Guys, you can do it; write more songs like "Lightning Blue Eyes" and you could be one hell of a band...