Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Road Leads Where It's Led

Kings of Leon and The Secret Machines @ Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ 8/9/05
Well this was my 4th time at Starland Ballroom since it opened a few years ago (it used to be a nightclub called Hunka Bunka and yes supposedly it was as cheesy as its name, though I only went there once when they briefly did shows there and this was back in 1998 to see The Violent Femmes) and the 3rd time that I've gotten in for free (my friend who I went to the show with got a free ticket offer from their mailing list). When we got there, we'd already missed the opener Helio Sequence. The Secret Machines were up next and at first, this powerful 3-piece with the laserific light show and slow, chugging heaviness was impressive. After a while, however, of similar sounding material, they began to grate a bit until the set closer, the incredible "First Wave Intact", which generated some much needed momentum that they'd been losing. Overall, they were impressive, but they played for about 20 minutes too long (especially for them being the openers) and while they put on an impressive and powerful stage show, their lack of songcraft becomes apparent after listening to them for over an hour. With the exception of the aforementioned "First Wave Intact" and "The Road Leads Where It's Led", they don't really have a lot of very good songs, but they rely on atmosphere and power (and lights) to get their point across. At times, they reminded me of Rush, early U2 and Interpol, but if those bands had a John Bonham sound-a-like on drums who, interestingly enough, set up his kit at the front of the stage and all the way to the left unlike most drummers, who occupy the back part of the stage and are in the middle. Obviously he anchors the band and the other 2 members need to see his motions.

As for Kings of Leon, after hearing a few songs each from both of their albums, I wasn't all that impressed and after seeing them live, I can officially say that though they had an incredible crowd reaction (at this point I must mention that there was this incredibly annoying frat boy directly ahead of where we were standing who kept screaming very loudly and very inappropriately, much to my aggravation; if you're gonna act like a 2-year old, go home asshole!), especially up front where people were going nuts for them, I just don't hear what all the fuss is about. Their 1st 2 songs were good, including their opener, which I recognized from a car commercial, and after that, their guitar player played some good riffs (though the same ones in every song seemingly) and their bass player had some good, '60s style inflections similar to those great mid '60s Who singles on a couple of songs as well (and again, there wasn't much variation going on in his playing on those songs, either) and their drummer was solid in a Dave Grohl (think his playing on Nirvana, especially In Utero, not his subsequent Foo Fighters records or his work with Queens of the Stone Age or Killing Joke or Probot), but the overall combination just didn't gel for me. I would describe them as being very Strokes-like with a slight Southern rock element because of the twangy vocals, though the other influences I mentioned above were prevalent as well. My friend said that they reminded him a bit of Mudhoney, but I have to disagree. Mudhoney, at least at their best (on Superfuzz Bigmuff), were a great blues-punk hybrid more similar to an American Birthday Party (or to what later bands like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Royal Trux and more recently The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Kills and others) than to their grunge peers despite their Sub Pop and Seattle pedigree, whereas Kings of Leon are clearly not bluesy at all. Thus, since it was a work night and I had a long trip back, we all left about 7 or 8 songs in. On the way out, they were giving away tickets to the reunited New York Dolls performance (see my review of their April Irving Plaza show in the archives) there on Friday night. Of course for free I would go in a heartbeat even though I wasn't that crazy about the April show (it wasn't all bad, however) and though they gave me 3 tickets, I gave them all to my friend since I'll be seeing The Pernice Brothers that night, which should be a totally different and hopefully better show!


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