Machine Head are out on tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Burn My Eyes with returning members, Logan Mader and Chris Kontos.
What better place for a sold out celebration of Machine Head and Burn My Eyes than Brixton Academy! The UK has long held Machine Head in high esteem, staying strong and selling out shows even through the bands tougher times. No matter what, the UK had faith to the point where frontman Rob Flynn has previously stated there were times when the UK felt more like home than home.
These days you are more likely to catch Machine Head, and other bands, in the Camden/Kentish Town area of London. Recent two day stints at The Roundhouse show the scale of Machine Head but go back 10 or 15 years and Brixton Academy was the main venue for metal, including Machine Head.
Even though Burn My Eyes would have been toured at the old Astoria in London, Brixton has always felt like Machine Head’s home. London has always embraced them and to give you a sense of that, this show sold out in less than 8 hours.
So the format for tonight is more of a celebration of Machine Head past and present. The recent format of “An Evening With” remains but with the show split in two halves. The first half being the new, with Machine Head’s new line-up including Wacław Kiełtyka (Vog) and Matt Alston hitting us with 90 minutes or so of a greatest hits set list. Once they finish we will get a short changeover followed by the return of (most of) the original Burn My Eyes line-up. Logan Mader is on guitars and Chris Kontos is on the drums joining Robb and Jared. Rob and Adam Duce mustn’t have made amends enough yet for him to be part of the show.
So one show, but being delivered in two segments. Should be good right? The first half saw the band take to the stage to deafening roars of approval as the deep tones of Imperium blare out. The heavy start continues straight into Take My Scars leaving a writhing mass of bodies in the pit well and truly warmed up. Now We Die gets one of the best sing alongs of the night before the pace ramps up again with Struck a Nerve followed by the masterful Locust. Machine Head, with the new members sound great. Really strong and heavy. It could be my imagination but they do sound a little harder, a little faster and reenergised. I’m not sure if that is true or just my optimism though.
Robb chats to the crowd throughout declaring his love for the fans and reminiscing about the original Burn My Eyes tour. Say what you want about Robb, he is a wonderful frontman and has the rampant crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. I Am Hell and Aesthetics of Hate get aired next and both go down a treat. The band leave the stage for a few minutes now leaving Vog alone for a bit of a guitar solo. It’s pretty cool and he looks to be having fun as he plays around chucking little bits of Pantera’s Floods into the mix. It’s brilliant to see how happy the crowd are to have Vog and Alston in the band. To say they are welcomed by the Machine Head family is a huge understatement.
The gig continues with the crowd favourite Darkness Within which comes preceded by a lengthy but poignant speech from Robb on the importance of music in his life. The song is brilliant but also hits the first little disappointment of the night. Crowds love to extend the ending for as long as possible, something usually encouraged by Robb but here coming essentially a third of the way through the gig, Robb cuts it pretty quick as they need to get on.
Never mind though – music takes over again as Catharsis hits hard, sounding much edgier than the album cut. An old favourite comes next with From This Day. We may all dislike Robb rapping but it doesn’t seem like it when this song goes off and the crowd explodes singing “Time, To see”. A frenzied crowd get torn a new one next as Ten Ton Hammer pulverises us before a huge sing along comes for the first cover of the night with Iron Maiden’s Hallowed be Thy Name. The final song of the first act is, of course, Halo. It really gives Robb and Vog a chance to show their skills with the huge dual guitar solo as they stand back to back and play in perfect unity.
So ends Act 1 of this set for a 10 minute changeover before the Burn My Eyes section. It is strange though – ending with Halo, stopping for an intermission. Just feels a little odd. Still, the return of Robb and Jared and the arrival of Chris Kontos and Logan Mader raises the roof with the level of roaring from the crowd. Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies plays out on tape before they arrive which is a bit disappointing but understandable. I was looking forward to hearing the guitar bits played out though understood there would be a tape for the samples. Otherwise there are no surprises from the set list.
It is Burn My Eyes, played in order. Davidian leads into Old which leads into A Thousand Lies. All songs I have heard before so while it is cool that Chris and Logan are there, it doesn’t really do much for me. The next chapter of the gig is the best of the night for me personally. None But My Own is a real highlight, not being a regularly played track at all and sounds phenomenal live. Chris is one hell of a drummer and that guy oozes enthusiasm. This shows even more as he gets a few minutes for a drum solo next before the track I was most waiting for gets blazed out with The Rage to Overcome. It is the song of the night for me. Another rarely played track but man is it good. The drums are brilliant and Robb sounds enraged throughout. it is perfect.
Unfortunately as a show, things went a bit wrong after this point. Nothing on the band, purely on us as a crowd and this inability to buy a pint and drink it, rather then launch it at the crowd. Seriously. You spend a good £10 on a 2 pinter and launch it at your fellow fans. You suck!
As bad as it is throwing it, it appears some peoples aims aren’t great either as this time they managed to land their drink on the soundboard. Half way through Death Church the sound cut out and never really recovered. Well done to all the techs for their hard work in getting us back up and running and well done to the venue for extending the curfew by half hour to allow the gig to finish but with all sound routed to the onstage monitors, it has a lesser impact and didn’t really fill the venue afterwards.
The 30 minute gap sucked a bit of the life out of the gig, being another interruption and while I was proud of the fans who stayed and cheered the band through the mishap, and pleased with the band and staff who battled on, we need to look at ourselves really and think about what we are doing. I know that seems harsh. After all, it is juts one drink from one person that landed on the soundboard but I am seeing, and feeling, drinks being thrown all night by loads of people. It just happens that only one of them hit the soundboard, not that only one was thrown. This is also the second successive gig at Brixton where a drink has landed on the technical equipment and caused a problem. The last being a few months back at Gojira where their lights were taken out.
We need to do better and consider the consequence of our little rush of blood on those around us.
Eventually we get back under way with a missed Death Church and a shortened A Nation on Fire. Blood for Blood hits us hard next before I’m Your God Know lights the place up in pyro. A cover medley comes next with Metallica’s Battery, Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade and Slayer’s South of Heaven and Raining blood getting an airing before the huge ending, Block. Block is a real treat, though a strange ending song for a Machine Head gig. The sweaty masses that have stayed scream “Fuck It All” impressively before all band members, past and present come out to thank the crowd warmly to rapturous applause.
So, let’s be clear before I start listing things I didn’t like. I thought both versions of Machine Head were immaculate. They played feverishly and with real power. They were fantastic. My issues come from a more personal perspective but a gig is the whole experience and not just the quality of the band playing.
So, what exactly is my problem? Weirdly, I didn’t like the format at all. I thought I would but I didn’t. It was backwards as far as I was concerned. I expected Burn My Eyes to be the first half with the new line-up being the closing part. Nod to the past then a look towards the future. This also would have meant we would have started with Davidian and probably ended with Halo. Instead it felt a bit like, here is a quick glimpse of the future, now, forget that and let’s get back to the past. I personally felt like I would have enjoyed it better the other way round leaving the venue with the sounds of Halo or Darkness Within ringing in my ears.
Again, not entirely the band’s fault but the show didn’t really flow well at all and instead of feeling like an evening with Machine Head, it felt like sections patched together. Those sections being seperated by the covers thrown in, the official changeover and the loss of sound. I would always prefer another track or two from Machine Head over a load of covers anyway so maybe I mentally checked out through these parts? Either way it felt a bit stop start throughout. With the gig running over by 30 minutes it also meant exiting the building and getting home became a lot more rushed and difficult as fans desperately scrambled for the last trains home.
I fully commend the dedicated staff for staying on so Machine Head could finish the important Burn My Eyes part of the gig but why they still played their 6-8 minute long cover medley in the middle of it is beyond me.
So to summarise, I had a great time. I loved the new look Machine Head. I loved seeing the older version. Hearing some old, rarely heard tracks was a dream for me. Robb was on fire, Jared was his usual enthusiastic and solid self. As a band (or bands) they were near faultless but I didn’t love the whole event. The format was weird and backwards to me. An idiot made the stop start nature seem worse than it probably was. Songs felt out of place and I would have happily had a few less covers and a few more Machine Head songs. I think part of the problem is I have seen these guys so many times, and I am a huge fan. That gives me a solid idea of what to expect and also very high expectations.
This was a great Machine Head show where the band were phenomenal but the overall event was less so. Machine Head continue to march forward and, despite the haters, show they are still one of the best live bands out there but, while I completely get the need and want for this current anniversary format, the quicker it is done and we get back to normal, the better.
Machine Head at O2 Academy Brixton (02/11/2019)
The Final Score - 7/10