Automatons for the People: Captured! By Robots @ Rhythm Room on November 29

By Benjamin Leatherman Photos by Luke Holwerda

Better than: Getting assimilated by the Borg…or the Republican Party.

I have a confession to make: Robots used to scare the shit outta me. I mean, really scare the shit outta me.

I don’t know what it was about automatons and androids, but during my pre-pubescent years, these mechanical menaces used to give me Texas Chainsaw Massacre-sized levels of terror, particularly the junky, lo-fi kind of machines that looked like they were cobbled together by some mad scientist. (Cartoon robots like The Transformers and Voltron were a-okay, though). Remember all those freaky mechanoids that filled that weird-ass, early '80s video for “Rock It” by Herbie Hancock that aired in heavy rotation during MTV’s embryonic years? That shit used to give me nightmares, as did the vid for Lou Reed’s “No Money Down” (where a robotic doppelganger of the rock icon tears its face to shreds).

Pre-pubescent nightmare fuel

Although I’ve overcome such robo-phobia (for the most part, anyway), automatons still fascinate and kinda frighten me, which might explain why I’m such a fan of the bizarre ‘borgs that make up Captured! By Robots. If you don’t know the back story behind the group, it goes something like this: fed up with usual drama of performing with humans, musician Jay Vance (formerly of Skankin’ Pickle and the Blue Meanies) created a band of instrument-toting robots (such as GTRBOT666, DRMBOT0110, and so forth), which became self-aware, and then enslaved and disemboweled their former master, dubbed him JBOT, clad him in chains and a mask, and forced him to perform as their lead singer.

The robots themselves are quite grotesque, possessing disembodied body parts and looking kinda like junkyard versions of the Terminator, as they blast out hardcore metal and talk in mechanized robotic vocals that are preprogrammed by Vance. Between songs, they stage amusing vignettes where they usually torture and insult JBOT. In addition to this sadistic psychodrama, C!BR has also done several “theme” shows (dedicated to Star Trek or other topics), where both the robots and JBOT are clad in costume and perform songs based on the subject.

For the band’s most recent tour, JBOT and his crew decided to take things in a bit more satirical and political direction by lampooning President George W. Bush and his entire presidency. To wit, each of the various robots were dressed like members of the Bush administration or other superstars of the national political scene, such as GTRBOT666 becoming Dick Cheney, DRMBOT0110 serving as a demonic Condi Rice, and AUTOMATOM playing deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

GTRBOT666 as the Veep Watch a slideshow from the concert.

DRMBOT0110 plays the role of Condi Rice

Saddam lives on in AUTOMATOM

Rounding out the cast were the tambourine-playing “Ape Which Hath No Name” as Wolf Blitzer, the “Son of Ape Which Hath No Name” as speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, the HEADLESS HORNSMEN as the “Presidential Hopefuls Horn Section” (consisting of Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and Fred Thompson), and JBOT himself assaying the role of Dubya, clad in a comical mask in the vein of Genesis’ “Land of Illusion.”

JBOT donned the Dubya mask to become “JBUSH”

Kicking off this weeknight of weirdness was Tucson’s Flagrante Delicto, an eclectic bass-keyboard-drum trio of shabby-chic hippie musicians who specialize in “pirate-gypsy-swing-circus-punk” that’s got a worldly-yet-otherworldly vibe to it. It’s kinda like a mix of Oingo Boingo and Mr. Bungle with a chaser of Weird Al, or better yet, Gogol Bordello without the Eastern European influences.

Tucson trio Flagrante Delicto jam out

After the beatnik boys of Flagrante Delicto finished their seven-song set, JBOT began setting up the robots while a soundtrack of pro-U.S.A. pop and rock -- including Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America,” James Brown’s “Living in America,” and the hilarious “America Fuck Yeah!” from Team America: World Police -- blared over the Rhythm Room’s loudspeakers. The throng of 50 or so fans who packed the joint dug the latter song, singing along and doing the whole hook ‘em horns and headbanging routine.

JBUSH entertains the crowd.

Eventually, JBOT donned his freakish Dubya mask and asked the crowd, “How many of you out there are ready to R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.?” before launching into the speed metal version of “Hail to the Chief.” The entire evening was a raucous retrospective of the past seven years since Bush took office, with “I am Bush” and “Hanging Chads” detailing his arrival on the political landscape and the electoral kerfuffle of 2000, “9/11” and “Let’s Start a War” covering the tragedy of September 11 and the resulting conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and “I Got His Gun, Daddy,” ridiculing how Dubya got Saddam’s pistol as a souvenir and “accomplished” what his father, George Bush Sr., couldn’t. The topics of Camp X-Ray (“Enemy Combatants”) and Bush’s 2004 return to the White House (“Re-Election,” natch) were also tackled.

The vocals of “JBUSH” were mostly a lot of hollering and Cookie Monster growling, but the frontman hammed it up during the gig, sticking his tongue out and wandering around the venue singing when he wasn’t on stage working his guitar. Between numbers, he brought the funny, dropping tons of jokes on the crowd in Dubya’s accent, encouraging them to chant “USA,” and introduced the members of the band (“I got two words to describe Nancy Pelosi: pussy communist”). Whenever the audience didn’t give him the reaction he wanted, JBUSH responded with, “What am I playing to, a bunch of terrorists?” or “Am I speaking to a god-damn fucking Mosul convention?” The robots themselves spewed some pre-programmed gags, with Cheney/GTRBOT666 screaming about how he wanted to “fucking shoot you in the face” or Saddam/AUTOMATOM calling JBUSH a “douchebag.”

JBUSH gets a taste of rock n’ roll.

The band also popped off with some apropos parody covers befitting the Bush presidency, such as a send-up of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (satirizing Dubya’s infamous verbal boner about “Fool me, can’t get fooled again”), and reworking of the Christmas carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (used to spoof the rise in domestic surveillance since 9/11).

The raucous and ribald gig finished off in furious fashion with a Sublime-like reggae jam called “Dubya Dub” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” but not before JBUSH made out with Condi Rice/ DRMBOT0110 (“My jungle fever just got cured”), and quipping to the crowd about Ron Paul supporters (“Are you the fuckers who’re putting all those signs on the overpasses?”) and his presidential predecessor (“You ever hear Bill Clinton play the saxophone? He sucks a dick”).

Finally, the fantasy is fulfilled

Random fact: JBOT had some whiskey and barbecue from the Rhythm Room’s Rack Shack before the show (“It’s a deadly combination”).

Personal bias: I have a CD full of Captured! By Robots MP3s at home.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea