at Avalon, October 23

Seeking a more communal concert experience, the perpetually retro Secret Machines are performing “in the round” on this tour (on a stage in the center of the venue, with the audience surrounding them). The relatively cozy confines of the Avalon lent tonight a welcome loft-party aura (albeit tainted by sponsors’ banners), the crowd only five or six deep in places around these three floppy-haired Pink Floyd acolytes.

The visual shift is welcome, ’cause Secret Machines’ current album, Ten Silver Drops, is mostly a more concise take on their subtly seductive 2004 debut, Now Here Is Nowhere. They’ve found a formula they dig, man, and hate to harsh that mellow: erecting plateaus of pulse and throb around Josh Garza’s Armageddon kick drum (now somewhat reined in), crinkling the surface with Brandon Curtis’ lonely and mildly menacing late-night vocals, then cascading off the edge in great cymbal-washed, unifying statements of hook and heft. “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” thrives on its inevitable, instinctive melody; “Road Leads Where It’s Led” prods and cajoles against a machine-shop groove; “Nowhere Again” both whispers in and washes over the ear.

For all of Secret Machines’ experimental and psychedelic trappings, they’re more than ever about songs; there’s no trawling around in topographic oceans and whatnot. Sure, they like to stretch out and wait on a groove, there’s some ponytailed Eno keyboard warblings, and they make just so much sense on headphones after multiple hits, but Secret Machines know that refrain and repeated structure are more truly hypnotic than any amount of free-form overplaying (which they studiously avoid).

Secret Machines take the good from art rock — the atmosphere, the adventure, the standoffish mystery — and shun its look-at-me shredding, lyrical melodrama and smarty-pants pomposity: Punk Floyd, after all.

—Paul Rogers

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