I seem to be quite lucky when it comes to birthday gigs (mine’s on the 14th). Two years ago, Fear Factory were opening for Devin Townsend, last year we traipsed down to see Lawnmower Deth in Nottingham a few days afterwards. This year, Machine fucking Head. Bliss.
Doors were at seven with Machine Head apparently doing a set in excess of two hours in length. This meant that the support slots were quite short and, annoyingly, Heart of a Coward were thrust on stage as the first eager fans were having their tickets checked. In fact, they were nearing the end of their first song by the time the venue bothered to open up the box office window dealing with guest list which meant that I hardly had any time to get photos of the guys.
A shame as they, as promised in the interview I had with Carl, treated the show as any other. Regardless of whether they’re playing to people trickling in, a packed basement venue or a festival crowd, Heart of a Coward give it their all. With only four songs to try and impress the Machine Head faithful, scarily-muscled frontman Jamie and the crew barely let up, simply battering the front row with their top choice of songs and a quick invitation to see them at the merch stand afterwards.
Jamie, decked out in a hoodie and 3/4-length shorts also accepted the one-man chant of “shave your, shave your, shave your fucking legs!” with good grace and a chuckle. With a new album due early next year, here’s hoping the guys are back up again soon enough one a tour that lets them really showcase their talents.
Next up was Darkest Hour, a band with a fair few connections to the headliners having played with them numerous times before. A decent support band for this gig, with a style differing from both the openers and the headliners and also playing to a decent number of their own fans who had – by now – made it into the venue.
They predominantly used their eight-song set to push the latest, self-titled, release with half the songs springing from it including openers “Wasteland” and “Rapture in Exile”. By the time they were halfway through, they had a decent pit going and it was obvious who the existing fans were by the raised fists and screamed vocal accompaniment.
With such a back-catalogue, and a willingness to try out a new slant on their chosen genre, it’s surprising to see a band with the strength of Darkest Hour touring as support. They could easily be headlining a more modest sized venue. And then you remember the might of the band they’re touring with.
Say what you will about Machine Head, unless it’s positive I likely won’t agree with you. I’ve been a fan since hearing their first album and watching them tear Leeds T&C apart when they opened for Slayer. Rob mentioned this tour during one of the between-song breaks and I’d not be surprised if a healthy percentage of the crowd were there. More heartening, though, was the number of younger fans. Many of them wouldn’t have been born then – certainly one lad in the queue with his parents couldn’t have been older than twelve. I’m always glad to see younger faces in the crowd for established acts. It shows that the music is still going strong.
In my book, Machine Head can do no wrong. Even their weaker albums – and I disagree with the vast majority of people on which ones they are – are better than a lot of the output from their peers. Every one of their eight albums receive some kind of showing this evening, though the bulk of the tracks were from the latest release Bloodstone & Diamonds.
The staples were well in place – “Bulldozer”, “Ten Ton Hammer”, “Old”, “Halo”… and they were joined by the more recent likes of “Killers and Kings” and “Now We Die”. A strange, to me, addition to the set was the lengthy and pondorous “Sail Into The Black”, though the crowd predominantly seemed to enjoy it.
One song that I’m glad to see has become a permanent fixture is “Darkness Within” from my favourite album Unto the Locust. Whereas I’ve seen Robb wax lyrical online about shows where the audience has sung the closing riff over and over, seemingly unwilling to stop, tonight was different. The crowd picked up the pace with each repetition, clapping hands and stamping feet as the rounds got faster and faster until ending in a roar. You couldn’t fake the look on his face as he clenched his fists and screamed at the ceiling in response.
I gather the folks at the Plymouth show a few days earlier were lucky enough to be assaulted by a Pantera tribute medley, the eve before the anniversary of Dimebag’s passing. Glasgow settled for the standard rendition of “Aesthetics of Hate”, written in the throes of the news being released and tabloid journalists trying to set Dime up as some kind of pariah who deserved what he got.
Machine Head is a band that have been near calling it quits on several occasions. Each time they’ve come back stronger and stronger. This two-hour plus show demonstrated why. They have more strength in depth (in terms of number of good songs) than many bands and the breadth of their music range is impressive to say the least. Indeed, MH could have played for four hours and still had a decent number of songs left in reserve.
In comparison, the Edinburgh show earlier this year was less epic… but overall just that bit more enjoyable. The Academy suffered from a not-uncommon bout of “shit sound”, certainly on the floor where I was, Robb’s vocals often disappearing completely. My wife was on the first tier up, level with the sound desk and said everything was fine – which it would be, being level with the sound desk. Liquid Rooms didn’t suffer this issue, being a smaller venue and it just made the gig that bit more fun. Ideal situation? This setlist at that show!