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Victor Salazar is the man.  He employs my friend, Mike Vuckovich, at his amazing drum shop, is one of the nicest guys you could meet and has the greatest hair I’ve ever seen on a human being.  It is no surprise that he puts on a rad showcase at Cobra Lounge and, wisely, selected Mike’s band, Mechanical Animals, to perform this month.

Cobra Lounge is a great Chicago spot.  As I explained to my friend, Chris, who attended the gig with me… its DARK.  I can’t stand when I walk into a venue and I feel like I’m at the mall!  Besides the right lighting, the set up is also perfect.  Sound in the back room that houses the venue is stellar, the decor is very hip and rockin’ and the beer selection is really solid.  Despite the approved darkness, Vic is at the door to greet us with a 1000-watt smile and great enthusiasm for the gig.  We are all very excited to see our beloved “Vuck” tear it up on the drum kit after hearing Mechanical Animal’s debut Ep Demo Days (available for free download at www.themechanicalanimals.com).

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The band kick off the set with a few acoustic tunes.  Vuck plays Cajon with great finesse and lead singer/guitarist, Josh Bryant, shows off his versatility and nimble guitar work.  On bass is Josh’s brother, Randy, who I’m told picked up the instrument when the band was formed 3 months earlier.  Obviously, the dude is a quick learner because he not only holds down the rhythm section but makes it look easy!

After the first few songs, the band encourage the crowd to move up toward the stage (a usual request in smaller venues).  I decide to sashay over to the edge of the stage and take a seat, as I am feeling unusually rambunctious this evening.  “Perfect”, replies Josh without missing a beat.  I laugh sheepishly and retreat a bit.  The rest of the gig is filled with cheeky banter and one liners from behind the drum kit that engage the crowd in between songs.  Personally, I think this is something that is really important for putting on a great show and few bands do it this well. With a photographer canvasing the crowd, the evening is a true experience.

Although the entire set is great, it is the three songs from the Demo Days Ep that really make me take notice.  Find My Way” is a good mid-tempo blues/rock jam with bright crashing cymbals and a fabulous guitar solo at the end.  It’s always tricky, when playing any kind of blues, to set yourself apart from those who have come before you.  Mechanical Animals do this well with a choppy, almost California-y sounding rhythm guitar that takes the track just a bit left of center.

Mama” provides the night’s best guitar riff, a slightly more straight-ahead blues stroll that reminds the crowd what city they are in.  Randy Bryant’s subtle, yet complex bass parts have me wondering what instrument this guy was classically trained on before moving to bass (I looked it up, it’s viola).  Brother Josh’s lyrics make the song a perfect take on the ‘sexy-woman-did-me-wrong’ kind of blues tune.  “Mama stop-a-teasing’ me with those eyes/you fill my fantasy with dirty, dirty lies”, he sings with the appropriate proportions of pain and remorse.  Vuck keeps the groove at the perfect tempo, giving the song a great slinky feel before dynamically shifting to a nice little march in the breakdown.  I think this is the most emotive tune of the evening, possessing both hot-shot swagger and down on your luck melancholy vibes.      

Mechanical Animals will become a quartet after this fabulous Cobra Lounge gig and I hope, of all their great qualities, the one they hold onto most is the way they balance the instrumental component of their music.  When you have a lead guitar player who can shred like Josh Bryant, it is easy to have the rest of the band simply “hold down the fort” in the background.  Although I love simple, grooving rhythm sections, I also find that this can be a slippery slope toward blues-guitar-wanking over poorly structured music.  Mechanical Animals dodge this pitfall well, with Randy and Vuck doing anything but laying back.  The pair provide an intriguing, yet, steady foundation that gives Josh the freedom to weave in, out and above the song with his adept soloing (he has a degree in cello performance, of course).

My favorite overall tune of the night is probably “Stuck Up”, if for no other reason than the line “more notorious than B-I-G” towards the beginning.  I expect this would be a song about a ‘stuck up’ girl (this is blues, right?), but instead it’s a song about a robbery of some kind.  This is the second reason, I suppose, the song is my favorite of the bunch.  Great cliche’s like “No sudden movements” are strewn throughout giving it that good ole’ “M’yah, Copper, you’ll never take me alive” feel.  If your going to continue the tradition of Chicago blues, you might as well throw in some traditional Chicago bank robbing!

Vuck and the brothers Bryant certainly left the crowd wanting more after an hour or so of kicking’ out the jams.  As Vic takes the stage to close the evening, I secretly hope he is about to join the band for a surprise encore, but it doesn’t happen.  Instead, he gives heartfelt thanks to both the crowd and the band, because that is the lovely kind of dude he is.  After we move back into the main room, I joke with Vuck about how I will steal all of his drum parts for my own tunes and give him a hard time about the Dr. Who artwork on his custom Cajon (which, truthfully, is quite badass).  Josh recants a complement he received moments earlier, which was something along the lines of “you have cool fingers, dude” in regard to his guitar playing.  We all have a good laugh at that one.

What I take away from the evening is that concerts are all about the experience.  For a band that has existed a very short amount of time, Mechanical Animals already know how to put on one hell of a show.  Do yourself a favor and check these guys out!

Written by Fusion Alternative Blogger: Jason Polakowski

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