Wednesday November 13th, 2002 at The Brick in Kansas City, MO.
Captured By Robots & Dial

Captured By Robots Captured By Robots Dial Dial [more]

After hours of noisy and futuristic, yet danceable, ditties from the DJ (who seemed to have hunted far and wide for robot-themed cerebral techstep), Dial began making their own noise. No one was quite sure when the set began as the sounds of setup and tuning seemed very similar to that of their first several compositions. Dial's guitarist sat on the floor curled in upon himself; he didn't seem the least bit interested in the audience, but instead occupied his time by strumming a few strings, and then adjusting the sonic output with a bevy of effects pedals. Although Billy Smith (of Dirtnap) at least stood upright, his attentions also rested firmly with his guitar, bass, or keyboards. Behind them both, and hiding behind what appeared to be synths and sequencers, stood another player. Although the band's very loose space rock included no vocals, in the quietest moments you could hear band members sharing information about shifts to come, or when might be a good time to end the songs.

Although the band drew a dozen or so curiosity seekers up to the stage when their set began, they quickly cleared them out with tuneless, shapeless, and just plain boring, aural masturbation. Ten entirely improvised minutes into their set, the band introduced form and structure via well-conceived percussion loops. Despite the markedly better composition and somewhat forward-thinking blending of beats and effects, the audience just didn't seem interested.

I imagine the band's set is the result of stoned musicians who, while in the throes of their own ecstasy, decide that playing with the delay pedal and the phaser makes "really cool sounds." Of course the band is right… assuming two things: the first, you are the one making the noises, and second, you are in the right state of mind. The majority of audience was neither, nor were they impressed.

Personally, I'm holding out for Dial's composed material that has been recorded for potential release. If the band can combine their spacey soundscapes and warm drum programming into coherent songs, then they should be unstoppable. Too bad they introduced themselves to Kansas City with so little forethought.

I started the clock on "The Faint Game" while JBOT (aka Jay Vance) and his roadie/merch guy, Eric, set up the elaborate stage. The amount of power it must take to run the amps and the air compressor to power the robots is mind-boggling; never before had I been so proud to work for the electric company. After about a half hour the all the wires were checked, the hoses double checked, and JBOT appeared on stage in chains, ripped shorts, and a shirt yielding to the flow of his bloody innards. The show can begin now.

Having seen Captured by Robots before, I was no stranger to a stage show that is half GWAR, and half Mystery Science Theatre. Vulgarities abound as JBOT's robot creations hurl insults at their maker, that is all except The Ape Which Hath No Name, who only loves. With each tour, Captured By Robots' level of sophistication seems to grow. This tour has brought The Son of The Ape Which Hath No Name (yet another stuffed ape with glowing eyes and a moving mouth). Throughout the band's set, this young gorilla learns the virtues of love from his father, as well as playing his cymbals that mimic the high hat played by DRMBOT0110.

Although DRMBOT0110 has remained static for this tour, earlier self-replication brought about AUTOMATOM – a robot who contributes drum fills by striking the toms that comprise its eyes. GTRBOT666 however is the big story. Although unveiled many moons ago, this recent upgrade allows GTRBOT666 to play both guitar and bass simultaneously. Mallets strike the strings on his three-stringed bass while nimble fingers fret strings appropriately. A bi-directional pick sets the guitar strings in motion while the digital "fingers" running up the guitars neck would barre the appropriate fret. There were additional fingers for mutting strings unnecessary for chords on both instruments. To sum up the techie talk, what this all means is that JBOT is now backed up by a fully functional robotic rock band, allowing JBOT to concentrate on his vocals and stage show. Although he continues to play his custom combination guitar/keyboard, it's only necessary when the song calls for sizzling metal licks.

Rather than write a transcript of the evenings details, I'll skip directly to a musical summations. While music is only a small part of Captured By Robot's appeal, it has gotten better over time. Despite what you might expect from the players, the songs aren't rocket science. Each is squarely straightforward rock with little variation from the drop-d power chord motifs. Metal is an obvious influence as songs are aggressive, loud, and, on occasion, deal with the need for a six-foot tall vagina. As further evidence of JBOT's true love, the most entertaining and well-executed song of the night was a cover of Dio's Holy Diver. The novelty of robot players is easy to dismiss until they play a song you know, and play it perfectly. At that point it's enough to make even a straight-edger say "Woah dude."

Of course if Captured By Robots' original material isn't that great, but the players are good, and the stage show is great, maybe GTRBOT666 or someone else in the band needs to write more of their material. Well, from what I hear, such a monumental shift is coming. If merch guys can be trusted, the next Captured by Robots tour (and album) will feature entirely different songs that are much more influenced by funk. The advance recordings I heard were actually great songs (although a little bit on the frat party tip) and I think we're all looking forward to seeing the new robots that will be required to play the seventeen horns I'm told we can expect.