Model Engine 
January 16, 1998 
Bill's Bar, Boston, MA 
By: Steven Stuart Baldwin   
  
I'm a believer in the beauty and effectiveness of e-mail.   Although I don't recall how, I'm on Model Engine's fan-base e-mail list. A fact for which I'm grateful, because in early January they informed me they were making a rare appearance in my area (on the opposite coast from their California headquarters).  Model Engine had been invited to play the NEMO (New England Music Organization) Festival, an excuse for a big blow-out in Boston and an opportunity for myriad bands and record executives to meet, mingle, and maybe even sign on the line which is dotted.  They shared a line-up with three other bands on a chilly night in a smokey bar in the shadow of Fenway Park.  I was thrilled because we don't get a lot of good shows up here in New England, but that's another story (thank God for their timely email!). 
   
My expectations for the concert were high.  I had seen Black-Eyed Sceva (a Model Engine forerunner sans the current drummer) back at Cornerstone 1996.  They were impressive, but I didn't know their material yet...you know the drill.   (I bought the album to be better prepared next time!)  What really stoked me for seeing them again was the recent gift of their 1996 EP, Five Years, 50,000 Miles Davis, which includes four new songs, one cover of the classic Police tune "Invisible Sun," and three inspired live tracks heralding from Black Eyed Sceva's 1995 debut Way Before the Flood.  Reminiscing about their show and listening to these live tunes, I concluded as I rarely do that Model Engine is one of those uncommon bands that sound as good or better live than they do on a studio album.   I hoped their appearance at Bill's Bar would live up to my elevated expectations.   
  
After surviving an all girl-group from New York City that struck me as an unholy union of The Go Go's and the Ramones, and then being pleasantly pummeled by a grungy group from Berkeley College of Music called Big Wreck (a separate review is in order), Model Engine took the stage without much fanfare from the crowd.  Regrettably, they were sandwiched between two very beloved local bands--Rubyhorse, the last band of the evening, had recently won the coveted title of Best New Band in Boston. This juiced crowd wasn't there to see Model Engine.  In fact, I felt like the only person there that even knew who they were--and I  was certainly the only one bravely belting along to their opening number.  The song "Justified" was exactly what I hoped for: well- played aggressive pop with a timely message, great jangly guitar bits, throbbing bass lines, pounding skins, and earnest vocals peaking in a catchy chorus.   Model Engine was off to a great start, and an oblivious audience was being lovingly serenaded with these delightfully delivered and heartfelt lyrics:   
     Since being justified  
     it's just as if I'd never sinned at all  
     it's the unsoiled soul that sees the face of God 
     it's his face I am seeking after all  

     salvation makes a subtle sound for those with ears to hear  
     is the sound that you hear the sound that I hear? 

"Justified" turned out to be the highlight of the show for me simply because  it was the only tune from the Black Eyed Sceva back catalog.  Model Engine devoted the rest of their time to tracks from their new album, The Lean Years Tradition, and I hadn't picked that up yet.  Not being able to sing along yet...well, you still know the drill.  In fact, I had to ask the band for the set list, which they graciously provided:   
   
   Justified 
   Anonymous F 
   Halcyon Days 
   Weathervanes 
   Walking Wounded 
   Rosinante 
   Hang You Upside Down 
   
It's not that I was disappointed, but I'm sure you know the glee of being at a show when you hear all your personal favorites (the band's greatest hits), as well as the difficulty that arises when you're unfamiliar with the new material.  In Model Engine's favor, however, the new material indubitably makes me want to run right out and  pick up the new disc, to get to know it as well as I have their previous two.  Two of the songs in particular, "Walking Wounded" and "Hang You Upside Down," were especially inspired bits of rowdy rock-and-roll that will undoubtedly be added to my future list of favorites.   
   
Model Engine has an appealing recklessness about their style.   It's a bit like a battered old fifties pickup truck tooling down the highway at top speed with chicken coops rattling around in the bed.  There is a sense of danger that their songs just might run off the road or fall apart at any given moment.  Unfortunately, this spontaneity and energy actually translated better on their recent EP than the concert I attended.  The Model Engine material is more polished and refined musically than their previous ventures, and I miss the madcap feeling. If you prefer a little less rattle and more shine, then the new material will be right up your alley.  It's less retro and progressive and more nineties and focused.  That personal critique aside, their lyrics haven't lost their aggressive edge and they played hard, fast, and with a tight fury that carefully wooed an unfriendly crowd to their favor.  The crowd, I gratefully confirm, was grooving to songs juxtaposing faith with the frustrations of living!  How often do you see that in a crowded bar on a Friday night?  Overall, it was a fine time to stop in to witness their ongoing musical journey (now if we could only get them to tour as a double-bill with the Vigilantes of Love...we'd have ourselves a dream tour!). 
   
Credit must also be given to these guys for not only bravely showcasing songs to an alien audience, but cutting their set short to make up for the first two acts playing overlong.  Leaving the stage, they didn't seemed miffed at all about getting the raw deal.  Furthermore, they graciously pumped my hand and thanked me for coming to the show (how often does that happen?) with an attitude so positive I'm sure they would've gratefully shared the good news of Jesus right then and there had I been in need of such curbside evangelism.  How refreshingly honest and needed in this day of cynicism and lack of attention to appropriate proselytization.  My hat is off!  I'm a believer in this band, their rocking chops, their urgency, and their attention to the immediacy of God's powerful messages in every arena of life.  I'd love to see them again in a more friendly setting where they would have more time to please fans with older standards as well as show off their new numbers.  If you feel the same, send them an email at fansbelt@juno.com and get on the list.