I've seen The Machine twice now. The first time was at Mr. Smalls. I had bought tickets for a buddy of mine's birthday. We were both into Floyd - what 20-something suburbanite male isn't? - and barring the next Live Eight taking place in Pittsburgh, I figured this was as close as we'd get to seeing them live. What I didn't realize was just how close it would be. We were both blown away by their musicianship and how much they sounded like the Floyd.
A few months later, we saw them again, at Heinz Hall. The Machine was performing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This being the pre-Lyft days, we took a Classy Cab down, so that we could effectively psych ourselves up to hear "On the Run" with full orchestral backing.
It's a testament to the effort they put into their craft that an esteemed organization like the PSO would share billing with a tribute band. Little did I know that this sort of thing is the norm for The Machine. They've performed with the Atlanta Symphony, the San Diego Symphony, and the Detroit Symphony. They've toured all over the Americas and Europe. And did we mention how The Machine sounds exactly like Pink Floyd? That's literally what Spin said: “The Machine sounds exactly like Pink Floyd.”
2014 marks 25 years for The Machine. We had a chance to talk with Tahrah Cohen, the band's drummer, in anticipation of their upcoming show in Pittsburgh:
Pittsburgh Music Report: First of all, congratulations on 25 years. Have you been doing anything special on this tour to mark the anniversary?
Tahrah Cohen: Thank you very much. we've been making sure to keep a very varied performance, making sure to represent many of the albums.
PMR: At what age did you realize that Pink Floyd was more than just another rock band?
TC: I've always been connected to their complete presentation. Visually, they have always been ahead of their time. Their sound palette has always been unique and the content of the music is universal. Life, death, struggle: it's not something you find in many bands.
PMR: Are you able to listen to the band on a recreational basis anymore? Or do you hear "Money" on the radio on your day off and instantly change the station?
TC: Everytime I hear their music I am still blown away. I don't seek them out, but I never avoid it when I do hear it. It always brings me pleasure.
PMR: Talk a bit about the difficulties you face playing in a tribute band. Do you feel at all like you have to sacrifice your own creativity to stay true to their vision?
TC: Some have to sacrifice their egos. That has never been an issue for me. When you are a mature player you understand and appreciate what you are supposed to do and what you aren't. I have never sacrificed my own creativity. On the contrary, being in this band allows me to be a full time musician. I do many many projects in NYC. I have toured the world with The Machine and other bands. I have played with Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, and Boy George. I've played a sold out show at Carnegie Hall. Hardly a sacrifice.
PMR: You guys get pretty deep into Floyd's back catalog. Are there any of their songs you just won't attempt on onstage, or maybe one you tried once and said "never again?"
TC: There is some material that just does not translate to a live audience. There is some material that doesn't stand the test of being played hundreds, even thousands(!) of times. It's pretty evident when a song makes that list.
PMR: What do you make of the other Floyd cover bands out there? Is there a friendly rivalry that exists between you all?
TC: I don't pay attention to the other ones very much. From what I've seen online, the other bands are more of a "show," where the individuals don't matter as much. That's fine, it's just not appealing to me. Those shows have a very rigid feel since they are timed specifically to the production. The Machine is a very organic band. Our set lists change every night; we are flexible and raw. That is one of the reasons we have been around for 25 years.
PMR: Lastly, how excited are you for this new Pink Floyd album that's supposedly coming out in a few months?
TC: It's going to stir up lots of excitement for Pink Floyd fans and radio stations. That will put Pink Floyd front and center for a bit. It will make a lot of people happy.
We have a pair of tickets to giveaway for this performance. To enter, simply email your name to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "The Machine" in the subject line. We'll announce a winner on Twitter early next week.
Tickets are available via Ticketweb for $20, $25 day of show. 21+.
-- B. Conway