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Machines of Loving Grace

Reprinted from , Issue #3, 1994
courtesy M.F. Mauceri and Bikini Magazine

RIOT HOUSE GAME

High Hand, High Spade In The Hole,
Quarter On The Four, Roll Your Own

Forget Robert Bly. Don't think you need to beat drums naked in the woods to reaffirm your manhood. What you do need is a deck cards, chips (poker and potato), a bottle of Irish, some cheap cigars and you're well on your way. If the greatest pleasures in life are simple, the game of poker illustrates the point. It's not about gambling, it's not about cards, it's definitely not about who reels in the biggest pot by the end of the night. What it's about, is, well, let's just say the point of the journey is not arriving. For this Bikini excursion, we decided to take all the aforementioned items, a hotel room and a band of road-weary, industrial-strength rockers to see if 'boy's night in' is worth the ticket price.

This is not about "how." It's about "why."

Picture this: The Sunset Hyatt Regency. The L.A. hi-rise hotel affectionately dubbed "The Riot House" during Led Zeppelin's heyday. An establishment that has seen more than its share of rock bands, groupies, and airborne TV sets headed for oblivion by way of gravity down on Sunset Boulevard. Here, a veritable home away from home for musicians whose tour bus rolls into Los Angeles, Machines of Loving Grace was indoctrinated.

The 'high hand' part: standard seven card poker, nothing wild.

"I'll take 'Useless Information That Only I Know' for $500," Brad Kemp (Drums) intones as he pulls three draw cards and slowly spreads them into the other pair hoping something matches. "EHHHNNNT! I'm sorry, Brad, the category is 'Famous Midgets' for $1000," Scott Benzel (Vocals) says as he ponders his own lousy cards.

Arizona-based Machines of Loving Grace have been on tour criss-crossing America in support of their second album, 'Concentration.' Most of the way, they've traveled city-to-city by van citing the trivia book 'Greatest Myth's of American History' to break the monotony on endless stretches of road between map coordinates where 2"= 200 miles. After mastering the categories by over-usage, they've dreamed up their own self-indulgent trivia headings. 'Movie lines I wish I'd said,' Mike Fisher's (Keyboards) favorite, keeps everyone's attention.

"Know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a gun. You get a love letter from me and you're fucked forever." Mike adds in a Dennis Hopper bravado.

The game progresses.

Poker's zeitgeist comes not so much from the game itself, but the subtext of the players. It's not serious gambling. If you want serious gambling, Vegas awaits you with open arms. This is about something else, but don't get me wrong, Poker should be played for money. It's essential. "Quarter, Fifty, Dollar" stakes- whereas a quarter is the ante (opening bet), fifty cents, the max bet, until the last round where it becomes a dollar- makes the game interesting without bankrolling the big winner or bankrupting the big loser. Though it may sound a bit low budget, compound these rates by six players and you're looking at upward to sixty dollar pots. Then, of course, the dealer has the option or raising the ante as long as everyone at the table agrees. Everyone usually does.

The 'HIGH SPADE IN THE HOLE' part: While straight seven card poker, nothing wild, is still in effect, the three cards dealt face down are considered 'hole' cards. The highest spade (hopefully, the Ace) locks the holder in to split at least half the pot (as long as the player doesn't get greedy and go 'pig'.

Like many other things in life, Poker starts slowly then gets bigger and more involved with each round. Machines are content to stick to five card draw for a few hands to bring everyone up to speed. That is, until, the deal comes round my way and I introduce them to some mindless hijinks known as "It's Good To Be The King," Mike picks up on the familiar name culled from Mel Brook's 'History Of The World, Part I.' "Hump or Death? Hump-Death, Hump-Death, Hump-Deathx ahh, IT'S GOOD TO BE THE KING," Mike mimics. Likewise, in this game whoever draws a King is immune from defeat for the round. It's a process of elimination where one's lousy cards are passed off until someone is left with the lowest card on the table, ironically, it's the ace. One other thing, there's no skill involved here, pure (dumb) luck only. In the end it comes down to Brad and Stuart Kupers (Bass) vying to stick the other with the low card while the less fortunate, already eliminated players egg them on. It's highly amusing watching a bunch of rock musicians get all bent out of shape over a $15 dollar pot, which is about the ticket price to one of their gigs.

"You've gotta be shitting me Private Pyle!.. A jelly doughnut in your footlocker!.."

Next up: "Three Card 'Guts.'"

The spark that ignited Machines Of Loving Grace came out of nowhere. While students at the University of Arizona, Mike and Scott were working on a film project and needed to lay down a soundtrack. A classically-trained cellist, Mike had access to an eight track mixer and a recording studio. They hired Stu to play bass and guitar on the song and once completed, a local DJ picked up on the tune and started giving it airplay. A demo tape followed and then a recording contract with Mammoth.

The film never got finished.

In a sense, that's fitting for Machines, who are all self-proclaimed perfectionists in one way or another; they're never finished. They look at their music as work constantly in progress, always changing, always looking for possible new directions, always requiring a little tweaking to get it just where they want it. They're the first to admit they were somewhat disappointed with their self-titled debut album to which they attribute to lack of focus. Bringing on Roli Mosimann (New Order, Skinny Puppy) to produce 'Concentration,' gave them that focus, as evidenced by the overwhelming appeal of 'Butterfly Wings,' which, at the moment, is in heavy airplay around the country.

Before we sat down at the card table, I gave 'Concentration' a listen at home and thought okay, these guys ought to be the national spokesband for the dark side. Take titles like 'Albert Speer,' 'Perfect Tan (Bikini Atoll)' and 'Trigger For Happiness,' then absorb some lyrics: "I remember the time I mindraped you, never say repression, unless you're ready, to mean it, baby".

Hmmm, maybe this poker thing isn't best idea for a Bikini piece, after all. However, during our game, somewhere between 'Guts' and 'Anaconda (pass your trash),' I got tuned in to the band's way of thinking. Besides being fluent in 'useless information,' the Machines are also well versed in the concept of the global village and dialed into the fact that there's a lot of shit going down in the world and a lot of it isn't real good. Throughout hands, we talked about everything from 'Psycho Girlfriends for $300' to 'cheap Mac tricks' to politics to the plight of the 'DownWinders;" unfortunate Nevada residents who had the misfortune of living downwind from U.S. nuclear test sites. These same people 'coincidentally' share the common denominator of extremely low aptitude test scores and the highest incidence of leukemia in North America. A statistic the U.S. government claims isn't related to the detonation of hydrogen bombs in the nearby desert. Even though we discussed this at length, I came away feeling the Machines are not angry, they're just aware and if they can enlighten others with their knowledge or their music or both, so much the better. Keep in mind, they're not interested in preaching and they not trying to convert anyone.

The 'QUARTER ON THE FOUR' part: Because pulling high spade in the hole (down card) locks you into at least half the pot; if, during the game, you're dealt a 4, face up, you can buy another hole card for a quarter. The more hole cards you gather, the better the odds of pulling that coveted bullet.

Two hours into the game- due to circumstances beyond our control- we suddenly find ourselves evicted from our initial playroom with a six-pack and 1/2 bottle of Jameson left to our credit. The Machines sans Stuart (the night's first casualty), mobilize and the entire operation moves with 'Secret Squirrel' stealth down the hall to 'another' room. Shortly thereafter, we're back in business with a round of "Midnight Baseball" (3s & 9s wild, no peek) when the moment is shattered by the SHRILL OF THE OVERHEAD SMOKE DETECTOR. In a heartbeat, Mike and I are up on the table 'overriding' it with much vigor as the ceiling stucco hits the table, Scott and Brad find this hysterical. "I thought you guys said you had smoking rooms?" I ask fanning the cigar smoke. "Yeah, we do, but this isn't our room." Brad answers with a shrug. As it turns out Mike relocated us to a room the hotel staff forgot to lock. I look around at the overturned beds with the card table moved dead center and haphazardly scattered empty beer cans everywhere, "Uh, huh, whose bet is it?.." Thus we continue under the threat of hotel security turning up any minute.

Around 3:00 am, the stakes are double, the bets a lot less cautious. Whilst the Machines ponder their cards, I'm struck by the thought that they could be anyone I ever grew up with. The kids in the neighborhood, so to speak; the ones who played stick ball, rode dirt bikes and cut school for adventures in higher mischief. A bunch of guys, talkin' trash at a poker game. However, the following night I got to see the Creatures From Their Id emerge once they hit the stage at L.A.'s Glam Slam. Witness, if you will, the darker split to the Machine's personality. Scott's John-Boy-Walton persona immediately mutated into John Boy Malkovich ala "In The Line Of Fire," as he marched the stage leering as if possessed, belting out Machine's brand of hard-edged nihilism. Mike pounds the keyboards as if they've done him some terrible wrong while Stuart and Brad's back beat literally shakes the mezzanine to a Richter 3.0.

The 'ROLL YOUR OWN' part: The first three cards are dealt face down as opposed to two down, one up. Thus giving the player the option of 'rolling' his third card and the advantage of "holing" a high spade or opting to 'quarter a four' for a bonus hole card.

It's 4:00 am, Scott, who accused me at the onset of calling games I'd knew I'd win, sits atop a hefty stack chips (mostly mine) with a Cheshire grin. Mike looks just as demonic as he did when we started. Brad, hoping to add to his lexicon of 'useless information,' is still trying to remember who was shot in the back holding aces and eights, Wild Bill Hickock or Buffalo Bill? Monty, Machine's Manager, still laments calling a wild card-laden four of a kind as two pair. Me, my luck hit the toilet an hour ago.

Scott caps the night after reeling the final El Pot Grande. "You know, when our publicist told us we we're playing poker tonight, we thought it was it was stupidest idea yet..." He tells me. "...but this is the most fun we've had all tour."

Easy for you to say now, pal.

Know (some of) The Lingo:

  • 'Bullets' Aces
  • 'Cowboys' Kings
  • 'Ladies' or 'Bitches' Queens
  • (always a dilemma)
  • 'Hooks' Jacks
  • 'Suicidal' Kings/Jacks The ones pushing swords through their own heads.
  • 'Boat' A Full House
  • 'Full Boat' A Full House (all picture cards)
  • 'Jacks or Better' A caveat that one must hold a pair of Jacks or higher in order start the betting and vie for the pot.
  • 'Trips To Win' Only three of a kind or better takes the pot. The game keeps going and the pot keeps building until someone does.
  • 'Kangaroo Straight' Ex: 2-3-4-5-6 (worthless)
  • 'Bluff' Something Monty Hudson (Machines' Mgr.) can't do to save his life.
  • 'Going Pig' In split-pot games, going for both splits.
  • 'No peek' Games in which you're not permitted to look at your cards first.

This page layout is (c) copyright 1994 EmeraldNet, All rights reserved. Contents are (c) copyright 1994 Bikini Magazine and M.F. Mauceri