Machinedrum’s (a.k.a. Travis Stewart) most recent project is a joyful reflection of the composer’s emotional state. According to Stewart, Human Energy reflects “a period of great change in my life. I moved across the country to a new city, I proposed to the girl of my dreams, I moved into a new house, bought a brand new computer and set off to write a new album.” The album also echoes Stewart’s interest in “esoteric and new age concepts … researching energy healing, meditation and other pseudosciences after learning that my great grandfather was a healer.”
Machinedrum’s Human Energy date in DC fell on a rather inauspicious date for a lot of would-be fans. November 9, 2016 was, shall we say, not a good day for many DC residents. As protests grew against the election of Donald Trump to the presidency and other conservative lawmakers to Congress, the vibe at our beloved Music Hall was unlike any I’ve experienced in the past. Under more normal conditions, Machinedrum has packed out U Hall in the past. On Wednesday, though, the election hangover left attendance spotty and energy melancholy.
After a few bars of high-flying arpeggios from Human Energy’s opening track, “Lapis,” the energy began to flow into the room. Human Energy is aptly named – it feels more like a transfer of emotions and feelings than a collection of songs. It tells the listener much about its creator, demonstrating a more positive, humanist perspective of Travis Stewart than his last (excellent) record, Vapor City Archives. Calling a show ‘intimate’ is a wildly overused cliché, but there’s no better word to describe the vulnerability and optimism in the face of hardship demonstrated by Machinedrum and the fans at U Hall. It felt like watching a child learning to walk – she falls down, scrapes her knee, and cries for a minute, but eventually she screws her face up with courage and tries again. The post-election show was very similar: a group of like-minded people experience a setback, but shook it off and prepared to keep moving forward.
It was a fortunate confluence of circumstances that Machinedrum’s show was scheduled for such a difficult night. The Human Energy tour stop wasn’t the wildest rager of all time, nor was it jam-packed with raucous fans. But it was a cathartic and freeing experience, a way to begin the healing process. In Stewart’s own (tweeted) words, “I needed that.”