i was captured by robots

April 2010

Before the show, E and I met up for dinner at Lindo Michoacan. Burritos. Enchiladas. Talk of circuits. Recording. Sound manipulation. Killing time until J was ready to go the show. Not able to tell E about H being pregnant. Not able to tell anyone yet. On the tip of my tongue. But still a secret.

In the car with J and V. Their cigarettes burning, smoke filling the back seat. Windows cracked. Rain coming in. Spring night in Chicago.

4 or 5 bands playing that night. Might as well be 4 or 5 hundred bands. The opening bands all varying degrees of awful. We tried to miss the first band but came in half way through their set. Made up like raggedy-ann. Striped tights. Ridiculous pippi pigtails. Goth lite mixed with new wave cheese. We stomached a song before retreating to the bar in the other room. Surrounded by sports tvs. A jazz band setting up. Saxophone. Electric bass. Drums. Keyboard. They started playing safe jazz. Slightly better than goth lite.

Shouting to each other at the cramped round bar table. E and J talking to each other. Me and V talking. Trying to get to know her. J’s new girlfriend. What’s her story? Talking about languages and her thinking of going to law school. Hard to hear and be heard. My voice already raw and cracked. One beer. J and V excusing themselves to smoke periodically.

We skip the next band entirely. Passing the time in the bar. Surrounded by the safe jazz and basketball.
Eventually we head back in to the main room with the stage. Head up the stairs to the balcony to a table and sit back down. Low ceiling. Black table. Black chairs.

The next band starts playing. I Love Rich. Faux cockrock hair metal. The lead singer bass player, Rich, a large middle aged man long stringy hair thinning on top. The guitar player – longish hair hanging in his eyes. Constantly making guitar faces. Stage banters in a fake English accent. A giant glittering light-up sign spells out R-I-C-H in ten foot high letters behind the drummer. Something out of the KISS playbook. Song after song with choruses like Let’s fuck all night and I wanna fuck blend together into an endless onslaught of awful.
J sketches the singer with extra chins and drops of sweat flying.

A group of kids ten years younger than us dressed up like Motley Crue or Poison circa 1988, before these kids were born. Sleeveless t-shirts. Teased and feathered long hair. Skinny skinny jeans. Studded leather belts and bracelets. Headbands. Eyeliner. All immaculately put together in a ritual that must take hours. They eat up the cock rock. Fists pumping. Beers raised. I Love Rich plays for what seems hours and hours.

Downstairs a few feet from the stage we watch as Captured! By Robots sets up. Hydraulic robots. Animatronic apes. Guitars, drums, keyboards, bass. If Rube Goldberg created an automaton band for the House on the Rock. This would be it. Except it all works.

Motors and air pressure cause guitars to play, bass strings to be pounded, drums and cymbals. All of the mechanisms were on display. Skeletal homemade robots built from scrap. E was eying everything. Sizing up how it all worked.

At the first song, I smiled. Watching it all come together. The robots playing. JBot, the singer/guitarist/slave of the robots, interacting with and controlling all of his robot bandmates. Voicing all the robots’ insults of him and the audience. It was an awesome thing. A technical spectacle and achievement. And fun to watch. Their music was tech metal, thrash, hardcore with some fairly straight covers of Journey thrown in. He says it’s a best of tour. A sampling of all his work – songs about Star Trek, George Bush, the ten commandments, etc.

Right in front of us. A tall skinny guy. Newsboy hat. White t-shirt and skinny-legged brown pants and brown shoes. His head shaved. Dancing with his girlfriend. She in a dress and half his size. They dance to all the songs, sometimes twirling each other around, trying footwork, sometimes grinding into each other, sometimes him groping her from behind Serge Gainsbourg Decadance stylee. Always dancing without any concern for others. Always bumping into other people. Knocking people around. The tall guy at one point tried to get my attention by parodying me standing and watching the show. I saw him from the corner of my eye, but ignored him. From his movements he was drunk, from his eyes he was on something. Perceiving the world differently from me.

He bumped into J a few times. J ignored it or said don’t worry about it, but he was clearly annoyed. The guy stepped on V’s feet and stumbled into her and J lost it. He started yelling at the guy. They got into each other’s faces. Squaring off. J yelling at the guy to watch out for other people. The guy getting mad about J ruining his night. No apologies.

V yelling at J to stop and leave it alone. The guy’s girlfriend yelling at the guy to kick J’s ass and yelling at J. Fuck you! Fuck you! She screamed. Fuck you! I moved closer in case it needed to be broken up. Annoyed and tired.

J and V headed out to smoke. The guy’s girlfriend jubilant and feeling victorious. Blowing them kisses and waving goodbye. Fuck you! Bye! Turning to each other to make out.

Raining outside. Pouring. Straight down. Cool wind. Cigarette smoke. Taxis. J and V calming down. Rain on the windows. In the street lights. Deep puddles in the street. 1am. Chicago spring night.

E still inside, captured by robots.

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