Strange Machines

Snow Barn at Mt. Snow Dover, VT

January 27, 2018

By: Stephanie Janicedottir

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I’ve been in my comfort zone seeing some of my tried and true favorite bands/acts at some of my favorite local venues over the last several months – rice: An American Band, The Alchemystics, Rhythm Inc., and Funk Night at Bishop’s, but this past weekend it was time to go see something new at a place that’s not as far away as it seems.

I’m not sure when but the FB event for the Strange Machines show came across my News Feed and it peaked my interest.  The Snow Barn is just as close as Boston, if not closer, to where I live, but the trek is by far nicer.  As I drove on Route 119 through New Hampshire to Brattleboro, VT and east on Route 9 to Dover I got a real sense of nervous anticipation.  I had never been to the Snow Barn and I knew that Strange Machines was a New England jam band, but that is such a broad description I didn’t know what to expect.

The Snow Barn is an interesting space. You have to walk straight through the dance floor to get to the bar, which means there’s a lot of traffic cutting through.  This certainly isn’t an ideal design for a bar with a music venue, but I’ve been in smaller and more cramped spaces to see music, so it’s not a major complaint.  The Snow Barn also has a small menu, but it’s clear that most people who order the food chose the mouth watering wood-fired pizza, and there are places beyond the bar away from the music where patrons can sit and enjoy themselves.

The Strange Machines is a four piece band with founding member Mike MacDonald on guitar and vocals, long time member Christian Perron on keyboards, and newcomers Craig Holland on bass and Isaac Civitello on drums.  They played mostly original songs with heavy jams throughout, and I could hear influences of rock, funk, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, and electronica.  

During the first set, they played a cover of Dillinger’s “Cocaine in My Brain,” which began as a rock jam then sidestepped in Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (also known as 2001), and finished with a reggae beat like the original.  I was also impressed with Perron’s keyboard work, which reminded me of the Moog sounds of Prog great Rick Wakeman of YES.  The back and forth between Perron on keys and MacDonald on guitar showed that they have had a great working relationship combining those elements to bring the audiences some fabulous solos.  Holland provides some deep bass, which is crucial on many of their reggae inspired songs, and Civitello’s stick work on drums reminded me of Neil Peart, even if Civitello’s kit isn’t as extensive as RUSH’s monster drummer.

The second set started out strong with a very funky blues tune with a short bass solo by Holland followed by, as I wrote in my notes, “more funkiness.”  During this set, Strange Machines played “This Must Be the Place,” by the Talking Heads.  They played it like someone playing a 12″ LP on 45 RPM, but it worked and kept the crowd energized.

I really enjoyed myself this evening.  Strange Machines are reminicent of so many of the genre bending jam bands I know and love, like Roots of Creation and Flux Capacitor, but still maintain their own sound.  Besides the venue’s layout, my only other complaint of the evening, and again it’s minor, is that Strange Machines suffers from what I’ve seen other up and coming bands in the jam scene succumb to, and that’s playing the epic jam with the epic guitar solo during every song.  I’m sure this evening it was partly due to the high energy of the crowd, and the other is the fact that this was a one-band bill, and they had to have been on stage for at least 3 hours.  I can see why they would want to stray from needing to play more covers for time and wanting to showcase their own material by stretching out many of their original songs.  I’d be very interested in seeing what these guys can do at a summer music festival.

It’s never easy motivating yourself to go out to see new to you music and worrying about whether or not it’s worth the drive, cover, menu, crowd, or vibe, but I would definitely see Strange Machines again or any other band at the Snow Barn.  Let’s see what new and original show I cover next. (Hint: It’s an, until recently, obscure neo-folk/ambient/traditional/prog group from Norway.)



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