Be still, my beating indie fangirl heart. I managed to find the time, in between decoding the latest Decemberist folk-rock opera and collaging my bedroom wall with pics of The New Pornographers, to make it to Canadian folk-rockers Immaculate Machine’s show this Saturday night at Yuyintang. The band sustained an entire concert joking around, smiling and dancing. They were just happy to be in Shanghai. And, honestly, I’m really glad they came.
Immaculate Machine’s music is lively pop-rock, refreshing and fun, never complex or dour. Lyrics muse on subjects like how “Nothing Ever Happens in this Town” or “I Only Love you for your Car”. There’s no real edge to it, nobody’s pushing any envelopes here, it’s just a bunch of Canadians playing mint-green Fenders and unbelievably tiny keyboards. Band members danced around onstage, dropping their instruments to take up maracas or beer bottles mid-song, and traded smiles throughout the show. It was clear that the audience was enjoying it as well, dancing wildly in the front row and yelling out song requests from the back. A highlight came during the performance of a song, translated into mangled Mandarin, for the benefit of the Chinese audience, who giggled and lapped it up good-naturedly.
As mustachioed singer Brooke Gallupe (classically trained in opera, apparently) peppered the show with genial thanks and an animated update of the band’s tour schedule, as well as stammering out what little Mandarin he had learned from some audio tapes, I realized how much I appreciate, and had been missing, a little stage banter now and again. Show after show, musicians wordlessly twiddle with knobs and tune between songs but neglect to connect with the audience. The last show I can remember an artist greeting the audience and telling amusing anecdotes was way back in the halcyon days of September, 2009, when superstar/rock veteran Cui Jian took the stage at the JZ Festival, regaling us all with stories from early tours and about good looking ladies. Musicians, take note: Ask us how we’re doing. Tell us that you’re glad to be in Shanghai if you are from out of town. Tell a funny anecdote, perhaps related to the song you’re about to play or have just played. As perfunctory as it is, it gives us faceless slobs in the crowd a chance to relate to you as a person, as well as a performer.
Immaculate Machine takes their name from a Paul Simon album, and it’s clear that they aspire to his finesse at creating catchy, emotionally resonant tunes. The songs are fun and lively, but lack lyrical and musical depth. Indeed, as much fun as it was to bob around and listen to pop songs, the show lacked any kind of emotional or musical climax.
Immaculate Machine, despite their heavy-handed name, don’t take themselves too seriously. As much as I dig the current rock scene in Shanghai, I needed a break from raw guitar and synth noize to listen to some well-constructed, tongue-in-cheek pop songs. Everything about this show was pleasant and jovial, and I look forward to the continued development of their sound.