Secret Machines/ High Line Ballroom

Filed under: Live Music — doktorjohn January 19, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

It was no surprise that The Secret Machines was selected to top off the High Line Festival, a 10-day combination of music, art and performance celebrating the inauguration of work to renovate a stretch of elevated rail running up the west side of Manhattan through Chelsea to convert it into a public park-in-the-air. This trio, originally from Dallas, but currently living in New York City soared into fame and acclaim on the basis of tight, elegant Led Zeppelin-meets-Pink Floyd brand of power rock.

So it was a profound letdown when, following two excellent, anonymous opening bands (when, oh when, are rock venues going to make clear announcement of the identities of openers?) and a dazzling light-show prelude, TSM began, not with one of their beloved anthems, but an unfamiliar and uncharacteristic ballad…or two…or five.

No longer a trio, having lost guitarist Benjamin Curtis recently, they replaced him with not one but two performers, thus transforming TSM into a quartet. Scorning the audience’s desire to hear their many established hits, TSM chose to push new material obviously intended for a yet-to-be-assembled third album. Worst of all, they failed to intersperse the new material with recognized songs.

Unfortunately, the new material has none of the qualities of their prior efforts. Brandon Curtis completely changed his vocal style. Gone are the compelling, driving cadences. Gone the catchy, melodious hooks. Gone the intriguing lyrics! Instead the rhythms are erratic and shallow, the melodies monotonous and unsatisfying, the lyrics preachy and pretentious. The bass guitar issued buzzing belches that removed any resemblance the music might have had to their former repertoire. Between these half-baked songs there were irrelevant drum rolls and guitar and synthesizer riffs. All throughout the show, the band members seemed to be distracted, frantically gesturing hand signals to each other and to the off-stage staff.

It’s as if TSM had been replaced by imposters who knew nothing of the originals, and who trying to foist their own inferior material on fans. A confused but loyal and forgiving audience accepted this misguided departure from TSM’s former style with lukewarm applause. After an hour of bitter disappointment, I lost my desire to hear the songs I had sacrificed a Saturday night to hear. I had no trouble convincing my companion to leave, even as TSM began reverting to their old repertoire. We got up and walked out, wondering if it would be appropriate to ask for our money back.