On Stage: String Machine taps into anxieties of youth

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

String Machine

There are a lot of bands whose music is informed by relationships with cars. The Beach Boys alone had more than an album’s worth with songs such as “I Get Around,” “Little Deuce Coupe,’ “Fun Fun Fun,” “This Car of Mine,” “409,” “Little Honda” and “Custom Machine. “

Some of rock music’s other auto-driven hits are “Little G.T.O.” (Ronny & The Daytonas), “Hot Rod Lincoln’ (Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen), “Hey Little Cobra” (The Rip Chords), and “I’m In Love with My Car” (Queen).

String Machine — David Beck, Dylan Kersten, Laurel Wain, Nic Temple, Mike Law, Ian Compton, Katie Morrow — is a young band from western Pennsylvania that is making its Philadelphia debut on January 25 at The Pharmacy (1300 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, https://thepharmacyphilly.org). It is also a band that has cars in its influence.

“At the core of it, our songs are about the anxiety of being young and things like worrying about old cars breaking down,” said Beck, during a phone interview Thursday from a tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I had an old car and I was always worried about my getting stranded because it broke down somewhere and I wasn’t able to call for help.

“It makes you emotionally callous. You get to the point where you don’t feel anything. So, the songs are about how you have to move on with your life and embrace change.

“My biggest songwriting influences are Dylan, Neil Young, Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel.”

String Machine has its roots in what was originally a solo project by Beck. Based in a small town north of Pittsburgh, Beck enlisted a number of friends to help him see his vision through. Soon enough those musicians shared his vision, and String Machine grew into a collective, shared project. The band’s debut album was “Threads from the Youth Fossil.”

“We’ve been together as String Machine for four years but we’re all childhood friends,” said Beck. “It started as a solo project 10 years ago. I wrote all the songs and then brought collaborators in. Eventually, they became part of the band.

“We’re all from Saxonburg. Half of us went to Saxonburg High and the rest to Butler High and one to Freeport High.

“The first album was mainly a solo project. The second album is more of a band project – the first as a unified band.”

The band’s sophomore album, “Death of the Neon,” was originally self-released on August 2, 2019.  Know Hope Records will re-release “Death of the Neon” on January 17, 2020, a Philadelphia-based indie label, re-released the album on January 17, 2020. It was recorded at Loud Audio Workshop and various other locations and produced by Beck. The LP was mixed and mastered by Jake Hanner and engineered by Beck and Law.

“We started recording it in June 2018 in our bassist’s basement studio in rural Saxonburg,” said Beck. “Basically, I’d come to the band with words and then everyone would show up and add to it. It was very much written in the studio. I’d come in with the skeleton and everyone would add the meat to the bones.

“Dylan plays piano and synth and Nic does drums and songwriting. Laurel sings, Ian plays trumpet and guitar and Katie plays cello and does the string arrangements. Mike the bass player and I sing and play guitar.”

Their first conscious effort to make an album as a band came with a lengthy period of having to discover how to creatively work as a unit of seven people. After a busy stretch of playing countless shows and embarking on mini tours, they self-isolated into their rural Saxonburg home studio and remained in a reclusive state until they had an album they were collectively happy with.

“It took us a while, but it was worth it,” said Beck. “We’re happy with how the album turned out. Now, we’re out on tour supporting the album. This will be the first time we’re playing Philly and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Video link for String Machine – https://youtu.be/ywW1i7JHByY?list=RDywW1i7JHByY.

The show at The Pharmacy, which also has No Stranger, ManDancing and Tonks on the bill, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

If you’re in the mood for live theater this weekend, you have several good options.

The Phoenix Theatre (The Phoenix Theatre at SALT Performing Arts, 1645 Art School Road, Chester Springs, https://www.thephoenixtheatrepa.com) is continuing its debut season with Tennessee Williams’ classic play, “The Glass Menagerie.”

The theatre is dedicated to re-envisioning and reinvigorating the classics, making theatre accessible and affordable for all. The Phoenix Theatre is in residence at SALT Performing Arts.

“The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play by Tennessee Williams that premiered in 1944 and catapulted Williams from obscurity to fame. The play has strong autobiographical elements, featuring characters based on its author, his histrionic mother, and his mentally fragile sister Laura. In writing the play, Williams drew on an earlier short story, as well as a screenplay he had written under the title of “The Gentleman Caller.”

The play premiered in Chicago in 1944. After a shaky start it was championed by Chicago critics Ashton Stevens and Claudia Cassidy, whose enthusiasm helped build audiences so the producers could move the play to Broadway where it won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1945. “The Glass Menagerie” was Williams’ first successful play; he went on to become one of America’s most highly regarded playwrights.

The time-honored play runs now through February 2 at the comfortable new performance space just down the road from Historic Yellow Springs. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for students. There also will be an accessible relaxed matinee performance on January 25 at 2 p.m.

The Children

Now through February 9, People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is presenting Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children,” a 2018 Tony Award nominee for Best Play.

The play premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre in November 2016 and on Broadway in November 2017.

Two retired nuclear physicists live a quiet life in a cottage by the sea. Outside, the world is plagued by earthquakes, tsunamis, and a nearby nuclear meltdown. When a former colleague turns up after 40 years with a shocking request, three old friends must reckon with their shared culpability in this darkly funny disaster drama.

The event that served as the inspiration for the play was the 2011 Fukushima nuclear explosion in Japan.

Ticket prices for the production at People’s Light start at $35.

This weekend, the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelcenter.org)will host “Riverdance – 25th Anniversary Show.”

The iconic international dance production is known for its Grammy Award-winning score and powerful Irish dance numbers. The current tour features new design elements and a whole new look — new sets, new scenic design, new costumes, new lighting, new animated technology, and new musical orchestrations.

Initially, “Riverdance” was created as a seven-minute piece to be performed as part of the intermission entertainment at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The piece was so well received that the team of producer Moya Doherty, composer Bill Whelan and director John McColgan expanded it to a full-length stage production.

“Riverdance” had its world premiere in February 1995 at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland and, since then, has been seen onstage by over 20 million people worldwide. Additionally, Whelan won the 1997 Grammy Award for “Best Musical Show Album”.

Video link for “Riverdance – 25th Anniversary Show” – https://youtu.be/5gSbweqZ_I4.

“Riverdance – 25th Anniversary Show” will run through January 26 at the Merriam Theater. Ticket prices range from $40-$119.

Now through February 23, the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting the well-loved musical “Cabaret.”

The classical musical opened on Broadway in 1966 and won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score.

Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

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