Young Machines could be writen off as another new wave/synth pop group. But the show March 25 at Nightrocker Live revealed that Clay Noah (guitar, vocals) and Joel Diablo (bass, backing vocals) are genre-bending craftsmen. Their music is drenched in the synthy ’80s, all yester-youth melancholy and nostalgia, but their approach recalls the nerdity of Yes and the sillyness of Minus the Bear.
Take the epic “King Cobra Versus Unicorn.” Diablo prefaced the tune by yelling, “Guess who wins? The King Cobra! Because he’s real!” Then he and his partner subverted pop format with extended instrumental passages between verses. Noah’s got a set of finger funhouses, a la Dave Knudson of MTB. His finger-tapped guitar solo soared as the backing track pumped along. “No, We Will Not Die Like Dogs. We Will Fight Like Lions” opened with a synth that sounded like a civil defense siren. Then a massive breakbeat dropped and Diablo set his funk face to groove.
But YM’s crowning moment was their cover of the Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You.” Post-show, Noah said that while he’s tired of synth-pop acts raiding the canon for cover ideas (think Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence”), the shoegaze genre is in sync with new wave emotionally. Covering GB’s classic single offered a nice crossover opportunity, he said. He transposed the sweet guitar riff in “Found Out About You” into a twinkling synth line and gave everything else over to reinvention. He and Diablo changed the key to give the guitar section a punkier edge, allowing Noah to sing at his most screamo during the chorus.
What YM lacks in numbers they made up for in tech magic. On the “King Cobra” outro, Diablo flicked several switches on his rig and, in a blur of finger work, created a cinematic soundbed. Elsewhere, Noah made his guitar sound like a synth, looping licks on the fly and improvising harmonies.
Then the bullshit train made a stop at Nightrocker. During “King Cobra” a group of out of town DJs got onstage and started scratching on the turntables, a pussified but all too clear signal that YM were being run off. The previous DJ’s set went long, but YM were paying for it.
Noah said, “I guess we’re done” and saved his bitterness for offstage. Earlier in the set, he snarkily asked the audience, “Are you not entertained?!” Apparently, their performance was enough to make at least some in the crowd feel threatened.