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Robotic Rock: According to Captured! By Robots' JBOT, it's a robot thing. You wouldn't understand.

Popular Mechanics

Captured! By Robots reinterprets the greatest story ever told

By Jim Harrington

JBOT--government name Jay Vance--isn't a people person. The dude just wants to play music and be in a band. Unfortunately, being in a band traditionally requires being around other people, so JBOT decided to change tradition. The Chicago native--who had been plucking bass for a number of years with the Blue Meanies and Skankin' Pickle--decided to build some robots.

But if he thought real people were difficult, robots can be downright treacherous. What started as a way to liberate him from the regular world of working and playing with living, breathing musicians has turned into an all-consuming project that has utterly dominated JBOT's life for the past seven years. These robots did more than just disobey; they made JBOT their slave. The resulting musical odyssey (and oddity) is the mostly mechanical Captured! By Robots, which grinds into the Blank Club on Jan. 24.

Vance hatched the plan and began building his first mechanical musical companions back in 1995. After Skankin' Pickle disbanded, he broke out the wrenches and created a full-band concert experience using just himself and robot players. Vance, a music major in college, had no background in building robots prior to Captured!

"Basically, it all came down to 'I wanted to do it.' Anybody can do anything, if they want to do it. I hate to sound like fucking Anthony Robbins, but it's true. I never did take a class on maniacal robot building," he says. "The idea was that I wanted to be in a band and not have to worry about quitting."

Quitting is not an option for him at this point. GTRBOT666 and DRMBOT 0110--the creator's first and most fearsome creations--have other plans for him. As the yarn goes, one woozy night Vance mistakenly spilled a cup of coffee on the controls for GTRBOT666 and DRMBOT 0110. The caffeine had a curious effect on the robots, spawning modern-day Frankenstein monsters. Vance awoke the next day with a half-shaven head, a computer chip allegedly implanted in his brain and the robots fully in control.

"All I know is that I woke up with this jolt of pain," JBOT recalls. "[The robots] said that I had to do whatever they told me to do, or they would zap this chip. Ever since then it has been sucking."

Captured! uses no canned music. Everything that one hears coming from the stage is being played live--although, admittedly, only one of the players is alive in the traditional sense. It's just JBOT on guitar and vocals, five accompanying robotic musicians and a horn section (known as the Headless Hornsmen). The real miracle is the music, which ranges from old-school funk and metal to rap and reggae. Although often described as "Chuck E. Cheese on acid," Captured! is far more than just a hip version of Disney's Country Bear Jamboree.

"That's bullshit," JBOT says of the Disney crew of bathtub gin-swilling bears. "They're like the Milli Vanilli of robots."

Word has begun to spread, thanks to three lengthy U.S. tours and features in such publications as Spin and The New Yorker. The band has been featured on UPN's Strange Universe and has recently released a DVD/CD Captured! Alive.

As if being in a band populated by robots wasn't enough, JBOT is playing Moses in Captured! By Robots' adaptation of the movie The Ten Commandments. The robots fill out the rest of the cast--GTRBOT666 plays Pharaoh Ramses, DRMBOT 0110 plays Nefertiti, et al. The movie will be shown with costumed robots accompanying the scenes in a variety of musical styles. Although JBOT has received some negative feedback from Christian fans regarding this latest endeavor, he remains undaunted, saying that it is meant as a tribute to one of his favorite movies as well as people.

"I'm a Jew," he says. "And it's my boy who talked to God and who brought the commandments down from the mountain. It's not their boy."

Captured! By Robots performs Jan. 24 at the Blank Club, 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose. Call the club for more information. (408.29BLANK)

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From the January 15-21, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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