Concert review: Machine Head @ Pop’s in St. Louis, Mo

Machine Head’s “Eighth Plague Tour” with Suicide Silence and Darkest Hour at Pop’s

By Matt Albers

There are some well-respected metal acts that are gracious enough to continuously return and grace their fans in the St. Louis area with a concert. One of those bands is none other than the mighty Machine Head, a band that has experienced a gamete of hard-earned success in their now two-decade existence. After the September 2011 release and success of their latest effort, their seventh full-length album Unto The Locust, Machine Head kicked off 2012 with the North American leg of “The Eighth Plague Tour,” their first headlining tour in over four years. And it was the second date of this tour that brought the band back to Pop’s in Sauget, IL in the middle of the frozen month of January since last co-headlining the venue in 2007 with Arch Enemy and support from Throwdown and Sanctity.
Originally, a new metalcore band from London, England called Rise To Remain (fronted by Austin Dickinson, son of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson) was set to be the first opening for this North American leg, but were forced to drop off the tour after bassist Joe Copcutt and drummer Pat Lundy departed from the band on January 6, 2012, just over a week before the first date of the leg. Consequently, the remaining two opening acts, Suicide Silence and Darkest Hour, were given slightly extended set times, allowing them to play one or more songs during their set.
Though nowhere near the size of the crowd that would end up at the venue later on that night, a decent sized crowd arrived early to Pop’s to enjoy Darkest Hour open the show. Anyone who’s been to any metal show, especially one at Pop’s, knows that it’s not uncommon to be surrounded by a large crowd of impatient metalheads who are not afraid to jeer an unimpressive opening act. Therefore, it was quite refreshing to see the almost complete opposite response from the crowd that night. Whether they were enthusiastic fans up front along the barricade, or simply unfamiliar onlookers taking in something new to them, Darkest Hour’s intense and polished performance appeared to please, if not impress, all those who witnessed it. Even with new drummer Timothy Java, formerly of Dead To Fall, and touring bassist Aaron Deal of Salome, filling in for Paul Burnette, Darkest Hour focused mostly on songs from their latest album, early 2011’s The Human Romance, and seemed able to convince skeptics that their talent and energetic stage show would prove to be a strong start to the night.
Next up was Southern California’s Suicide Silence, possibly the kings of today’s thriving deathcore scene. This band’s popularity was evident that night, when it appeared that the crowd nearly doubled in size for their set after Darkest Hour’s, and would remain close to that size if not larger throughout Machine Head’s set as well. Mosh and circle pits were prominent throughout Suicide Silence’s set, and vocalist Mitch Lucker also successfully organized a wall of death among the fans in the crowd as well. Lucker, now sporting very short, almost rockabilly-style hair in a band known for long hair windmill headbanging, also made sure to give strong credit to both Darkest Hour and Machine Head during their set.
While Suicide Silence’s fan base is undoubtedly strong, their performance was typical and unfortunately bland. Though their stage performance was full of their typical energy, their music and sound got old very quickly to the non-fans, although that reaction is typical as well. Also, Lucker’s vocals seemed less varied this night, and seemed to stick almost strictly to his dying-cat-like screeches and fewer death growls, a similar trend seen in their latest studio album, 2011’s The Black Crown. The most divisive aspect of Suicide Silence’s set was when they intro’d a song with a sound bite from an episode of Family Guy, a staple from the band’s 2004 demo. Not only did this stop the momentum of the show and confuse non-fans, but it also proved to seemed to just be a downright, rather douchey move by the band as well. That is, of course, to non-Family Guy fans in the crowd. However, the Suicide Silence’s appeal and stage show still proved them overall to be a strong direct support provider for Machine Head.
Machine Head’s triumphant return to the Pop’s stage was presented in full force, accompanied by crisp sound and a surprisingly intricate light show. Their over an hour long set consisted of many songs from their new album, Unto The Locust, including opening with the first track on the album, “I Am Hell (Sonata In C#),” “Locust,” “Darkness Within,” “This Is The End,” and closing their set with the last track on the new album “Who We Are.” The set consisted of other notable fan favorites from the entire Machine Head catalogue such as “Imperium,” “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears,” “Bulldozer,” “Ten Ton Hammer,” and “Aesthetics Of Hate” which followed a short but sweet paying of tribute to “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott. Unsurprisingly, the two songs saved for their encore were “Halo” and “Davidian.”
A very seasoned band like Machine Head needs only to let their musical talent and abilities do the talking rather than rely on most tricks or gimmicks during a set, and their performance at Pop’s was no exception. The guitar harmonies and shared solos between Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel were spot on, as were vocals not only from Flynn but also Demmel and bassist Adam Duce who provided just as good sounding backing vocals live as they do on their recordings. Easily one of the most fun and impressive parts of Machine Head’s live show is Dave McClain’s tight and groovy drumming, which never seemed to let up for a minute, proving why he is one of the most celebrated metal drummers of the past two decades.
It could be safe to say that ultimately the best aspect of a Machine Head show is just their overall stage presence. For any band that has been around as long as they have, it truly is inspiring to see its members clearly so consistently enthusiastic about playing the music they love to the fans that enjoy and appreciate them. Rob Flynn especially makes sure to put his best effort into being the ideal heavy metal front man, both as a performer and showman as well as a professional musician, and represents his band well as one who’s fans can believe are strongly appreciated for continuing to support them.
Though the opportunities to see Machine Head in the St. Louis area may be seldom, they are fortunately not too few and far between. Any band that makes sure to stop in this humble Midwestern city and play in a small, shitty club like Pop’s time and time again in their twenty plus year existence are undoubtedly dedicated to their fans as much as their work, just as their fans are dedicated to the band themselves in return. Machine Head and their St. Louis area fans have shown undying support for each other that does not seem to be letting up, nor will it any time soon.

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