New York-based space rock-trio Secret Machines’ new, self-titled third album is strong evidence that in the studio at least, the group hasn’t lost a step despite the departure of guitarist Ben Curtis. His brother, frontman Brandon Curtis, has soldiered on with new axe man Phil Karnats, continuing to layer shimmering guitars and keyboards atop drummer Josh Garza’s bone-crushing, Bonham-esque rhythms, with a newfound focus on tighter song structures. This is good.
Secret Machines have played stadiums with U2 and been compared to Pink Floyd. Alas, at their funereal set at the 9:30 Club Thursday night, they seemed more like the Iron Butterfly of the iPod Age. And while everybody surely loves to hear all17-plus minutes of “In a Gadda-da-Vida” once a year (preferably in the fortnight before Halloween), the interminable new “The Fire Is Waiting” — the whole show, really — recalled that iconic, goofy tune in all the worst ways. Too often it felt like an unbroken, unbearably pompous 90-minute dirge, the luminous textures of the band’s albums lost in a muddy, drony, roar.
The stage was wrapped in what looked like strips of bandage —appropriate for an act that came off as humorless, hidebound and unable to connect. While a few members of the half-empty (well okay, half-full) 9:30 crowd were psyched enough to leap and wave during the chestnuts “Nowhere Again” and “First Wave Intact,” the audience was mostly a sea (or a pond) of heads nodding in solemn semi-communion as they fiddled with their cell phones. Dude, you should have been there!
Worse, some of the those nodding heads were on stage. Garza is fun to watch, mainly for the uncanny way he resembles Animal from The Muppet Show, but Curits was an inert presence. Before kicking off the encore with a (relatively) spare “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” that painfully exposed his vocal limitations, he murmured, “I’m glad you’re still with us.” It was a performance that must have felt like a rehearsal even to him.