Last time Machine Head were in town, on The Eighth Plague tour, they played the 12,500 capacity Wembley Arena. Three years and one album later, with a two-night residency at the 1,700 capacity Roundhouse, cynics might argue that things have taken a negative turn for the Californian quartet. It all depends on how you measure success, but if we take the crowd’s reaction tonight as an indication, then they really are not doing too badly at all.
Unfortunately I miss out on Heart of a Coward (who were drafted onto the tour at the last minute to replace dropouts Devil You know) due to their absurdly early stage time which coincides with the opening of the doors. However, the vibrations felt through the floor from my vantage point in the cloakroom queue prove rather pleasing, so top marks for that.
Darkest Hour [3/5]
This means that Darkest Hour are left to kick off proceedings for me. As a long-time fan of the band, I’m always excited to catch the quintet in the flesh, but unfortunately their show suffers from the same affliction as usual; however complex or intricate their compositions, Darkest Hour have never been a band to write what you might call ‘distinctive’ riffs, which means that the guitar work is largely lost in the live mix.
You can’t fault their performance, but regrettably the sheer amount of apathy from the sedated audience leads to some cringeworthy moments as the band try admirably, yet unsuccessfully, to coax a response. When pressed about the crowd’s reaction after the show, frontman John Henry remains as gracious as ever. Nevertheless, with a set that relies heavily on this year’s self-titled album, it seems a telling sign that the biggest reaction is reserved for the band’s older material as they deliver a double knockout with set-closers ‘The Sadist Nation’ and ‘With a Thousand Words to Say But One’.
Machine Fuckin’ Head [4.5/5]
Ultimately, as the last strains of Darkest Hour’s set begin to fade and the chants for tonight’s headliners begin, we’re reminded that tonight was really only ever about one band. It’s a testament to Machine Head that their stage setup is largely bereft of the gaudy props that adorn the stages of other bands their size, consisting instead of little more than a drum riser and a few emblazoned screens. It allows the music to do the talking, and boy can it talk.
If ever there were a song written to open arenas then it is ‘Imperium’ and it makes a welcome return to the top of quartet’s setlist. As soon as Flynn lets forth with that iconic “Hear me now” roar, the floor is a sea of writhing bodies, setting the standard for the next two hours. Of course, the question on everyone’s lips is, Does the new material hold up against the classics? Well, ‘Now We Die’ sounds absolutely monstrous with its accompanying strings, while later in the evening new fan favourite ‘Game Over’ instigates one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night, the two songs looking to become a staple part of future sets.
Machine Head are one of those bands that were made to perform live. Their weightier tomes such as ‘Davidian’ and ‘The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears’ lose none of their breadth and power, while the more intricate, meandering compositions from their most recent three albums are performed with the kind of precision that allows them to retain their clarity and majesty. This owes in part to having a tight rhythm section and new bassist Jared MacEachern fits in as snugly as a butt plug in a virgin’s anus, even taking over Duce’s vocal duties.
With a two-night residency, we’d expect to hear a few surprises in the setlist and Machine Head do not disappoint. Fan favourites and live rarities such as ‘Bite the Bullet’ and ‘Descend the Shades of Night’ are brought out to rapturous applause before the crowd absolutely loses its collective metaphorical shit for a twentieth anniversary rendition of ‘Block’.
It’s nothing less than we’ve come to expect from a Machine Head show and, though Bloodstone & Diamonds may not quite have rivalled the sheer excellence of its predecessors, their live performance has only grown stronger.
Now We Die
Bite the Bullet
The Blood, the Sweat, the Tears
Ten Ton Hammer
In Comes the Flood
Killers & Kings
Descend the Shades of Night
Aesthetics of Hate