Call me Russ L

Welcome To The Machine (Head): The Actual Gig

Posted in Music, Well, it passes the time by Russ L on 13 December, 2011

(Previously on “Writing Nonsense About Machine Head”: an intro, the first two albums, the next two albums, the two after that, and the most recent two).

And so, the big Machine Head gig, on Sunday the 4th of December. I’m tempted to try and make some sort of “Heart Of Darkness/Apocalypse Now” metaphor out of all of this – I sailed down the river of their recorded output to eventually find Kurz on stage at the NIA – but you’ll all just say “Sod off Russell, you make Heart Of Darkness metaphors out of everything” so I won’t bother. Also, as we’ve already discussed, Rob Flynn is far more Beavis than Kurz.

That wasn’t a slip of the keyboard, by the way – they actually were playing at the National Indoor Arena. I just couldn’t believe that was really where the gig was going to be when I first found out. It was nowhere near full, but that still adds up to a lot of people. Machine Head-mania must truly be gripping the nation.

Our lot got there in time for the latter half of Darkest Hour’s set. I saw DH and liked ‘em at The Flapper way back in 2004, when (although they weren’t exactly hardcore DIY) they weren’t really a band on the stadium tour/showbiz side of things. They played what was then known as metalcore (the term seems to have moved sideways to mean something a touch different since then), all Slayer riffs and beatdown parts. They aren’t a million miles away now, but they did have a hell of a lot more Maiden/Swedish DM-styled lead guitar than I remember. They were alright here, although they did suffer a lot from being first on in an enormous aircraft hanger without too many people in it. These sort of venues present an odd abstraction at the best of times, never mind when they’re full of empty space.

SatanChauffeur DevilDriver were on next. I’d got an inaccurate idea about their progeny from somewhere –aroundabout the time when I was originally into Machine Head (callow youth etc) there existed a bleedin’ awful nu-metal band called Coal Chamber, and I’d somehow got the impression that DD were just CC with a change of name and change of style. It turns out (according to Wikipedia, at least) that this isn’t at all true, and that Devildriver are a band that Coal Chamber’s singer joined afterwards. Further confusion arose from their great big banner backdrop that said “Devildriver” at the top, and then “Beast” underneath in a different and far more scrawl-y looking font. It turned out that “Beast” is the name of their most recent album, but I did initially assume that it was some graffiti from someone they went to prison with.

Their set wasn’t much to write home about, anyway. They suffered from a really messy sound, resulting in long stretches of their set sounding like streams of double-pedal drumming with some muffled sounds over the top. They achieved a touch of semi-convincing Slayerology here and there, but I mostly found myself reflecting on what the hell I’m doing with my life if I can be so easily talked into listening to men shout indistinctly whilst I squint into the distance in a massive arena.

Speaking of slightly-peevish sounding shouting, next on were Bring Me The Horizon. Perhaps they should not have been. A lot of people around appeared to have Very Fixed Views about Bumth (as I’ve decided ‘BMTH’ should be pronounced), and there were easily as many boos as there were cheers. The group I was with certainly weren’t fans. I do wonder if another band playing exactly the same stuff without the stigma of “being Bring Me The Horizon” would have gone down better, because I sort-of suspect that they would.

That’s not to say that I particularly liked BMTH myself. I saw ‘em in 2006 and was fairly indifferent to them then, and we appear to have had some diminishing returns since then. Their songs sound like cut-up bits of death metal and metallic hardcore songs slapped together without care, only far less interesting/fun than I’ve made that sound. I did enjoy a brief keyboard-led dance-like interlude, but only because it reminded me of DJ Pie Safety (for some reason). It’s saddening, though, to hear an English band hamming it up by pronouncing “Birming-ham”. I’m sure they must have heard of the place and how to say it at some point in their lives beforehand.

Finally, I arrived at my False Metal destination. Machine Head played, aaaaaaaaannnnnd… they were alright. Y’know, quite good. Fairly likeable.

What did you expect?

They gave it some welly onstage and had an air of energy about them. They also sounded right – there’s little to like about this size of venue, but the huuuge speakers ensure that a metal-type band will at least have an appropriately big sound (assuming that they have headliner privileges, o’course). “Locust”, for example, had a lot more oomph than it does on record and was definitely a highlight. “Darkness Within” still sounded weedy/crap, but I suspect there’s not a lot that anyone could do with that one.

I was interested to see how they differing ends of their material came across when put next to each other, and it did actually all sound pretty cohesive live. Only a few bits seemed to veer away from the main stylistic body (most notably “Be Here And Know”, which came across as some really bombastic stadium prog. Maybe that’s what it’s like to see Rush, although I’m not going to develop that line of thought because I don’t really want to have to imagine what it’s like to see Rush).

Another happy point was the relative absence of attempts to engage the crowd via the standard clichéd methods – there was very little in the way of “everybody sing along clap clap your hands”. I’m no fan of “introduce the band members and have them do a solo” bits, but I had to laugh when Flynn said “Mr Adam Duce on the bass” and promptly launched into a solo of his own before people even had a chance to cheer. Boo, boo, boo-sucks though to the sequence (during the generally crappy “Who We Are”, to make matters worse) where the big screens displayed photos of people holding up signs on which they’d written their reasons for liking Machine Head. They were playing at the NIA, and the night before they’d played at Wembley Arena – I’m sure their collective egos could have survived intact without that kind of shameful stroking.

On the whole: it wasn’t all enough to shake the general unpleasant dissonance caused by a band acting like rebels and badmen whilst playing a highly polished large-scale arena tour, but maybe it was enough to mitigate it just enough to enjoy things to a reasonable degree. Let that be Machine Head’s epitaph: it is possible to enjoy them to a reasonable degree.

And at least Rob Flynn could pronounce “Birmingham”. That’s definitely a plus point.

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