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Band dynamics are well known to be rife with tension and dissent, but Jason Vance's tenure in the San Francisco band Captured! By Robots pushes the envelope. Three of his bandmates " the guitarist and the drummers " planted a microchip in his head that allows them to control his every move onstage, where they force him to play, shackled, night after night. Sure, the tambourine player is much more supportive " even loving " but then again, he's a barely sentient ape-like creature. Still, Vance is hardly in a position to complain about the dysfunctional power imbalance in place between himself and his fellow musicians. After all, he built them. Sci-fi fans may be familiar with Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics: a robot may not intentionally do harm to a human; a robot must obey all orders given by humans that don't conflict with the first law; and a robot must protect itself, unless to do so would conflict with laws number one and two. (Asimov, according to some critics, inserted the three laws into his 1942 short story 'Runaround" as an expression of boredom with the popular theme of the rogue robot that would do humans harm. After all, wasn't it humans who made them, and couldn't we program them according to our will? Apparently, not so " at least not robots with anarchic punk attitude.)

Apparently, Vance's bandmates " the machines GTRBOT666, DRMBOT0110 and AUTOMATOM " aren't big readers, because those maliciously intelligent robots, according to the official story of the band, implanted a bio-cerebral chip in Vance's 'CPU," as they call it, shortly after he built them for the purpose of playing grinding, speedy electronic metal with gleefully adolescent lyrics. Now enslaved by his robot creations, Vance sings and plays guitar and keyboard in heavy chains, with a bouquet of gory entrails spilling down the front of his vulnerable human chest. Looking for some measure of camaraderie or solace, Vance built a (sickeningly cute) mechanical ape and later a second ape, programmed to be unconditionally loving, who comfort him throughout gigs and also play the tambourine. He's also added a gory horn section called the Headless Hornsmen.

DRMBOT0110 explains it on the band's MySpace page: 'So what's the deal with Captured! By Robots? Let me tell you," the robot writes. 'JBOT [Vance's slave name] played in a couple of ska bands, Skankin' Pickle and the Blue Meanies for years and was very unlikable. Everybody got sick of him (I don't blame them). JBOT thought that if he made a band of robots to play with, everything would be okay. He was wrong!" Thus, Vance's reality became the stuff of time-honored dystopic fantasy. He is forced to do the bidding of mechanical overlords, which in this case is to rock.

It's unclear whether the main creative decisions in the band are made by Vance or by his mechanical masters. Either way, though, the songwriting is hilarious if slightly compulsive. Themed albums in the past have taken on fitness (with songs like 'Abs of Steel," 'Celebrity Diet" and 'Thrashercize") and the Old Testament ('Passover," 'Idolaters" and 'Nefertiti Sex Jam"). This fall's tour celebrating " or at least marking " Vance's 10-year anniversary of musical servitude is dedicated to the Bush administration. Advance materials indicate that the robots will be costumed as various high-level GOP figures, and that audience members are encouraged to mask as Secret Service agents. New songs include titles like 'Dubya Dub," 'I Got His Gun, Daddy" and 'Re-Election," commemorating, in the band's words, 'these last 7 great years of American History."

After 10 years, DRMBOT0110 is still pumped to be on the road, in his own robotic way: 'The rare joy I can receive is when GTRBOT666 and myself humiliate JBOT all over the country," he writes. 'You will come to witness! Coast to coast, his humiliation will be legendary. Keep checking in for updates."

A good night of rock 'n' roll theater, or a dire prediction of the coming robot takeover? You decide.

click to enlarge Captured! By Robots harnesses punk music for the sick pleasures of robot bandleaders.
  • Captured! By Robots harnesses punk music for the sick pleasures of robot bandleaders.
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