As part of an album primer tour called The Killers and Kings Tour, Machine Head have been on the road in the US before heading to the UK and Europe. Unlike previous times though, they are avoiding all major cities and venues they have played at repeatedly in the past and are instead essentially doing a club tour, playing small venues in towns and cities they have never played in before or, in the case of Norwich, not played in for 17 years.
In Robb’s own words – “In keeping with the intimate club tour-vibe we are doing in the USA this summer, for our first time ever, we decided to blow off 90% of all Euro summer festivals, and hit the nooks and crannies of the UK and Europe as well. We will be doing no major cities in any territories throughout Europe and the UK for this first leg of 2014. No London, no Berlin, etc, and instead focusing on the die-hard MACHINE HEAD fans that who don’t often get the chance to see us because the travel is too far or too costly to get the big cities.”
So, with no London date and being one of the lucky few who managed to get a ticket, we set off to Norwich to see one of my all-time favorite bands.
Arriving at the venue, a very blue venue, a crowd of excited but relatively quiet fans are already queuing up. The silence is quite strange as previous experiences of Machine Head gigs usually involve the fans being heard chanting “Machine Fucking Head” for miles around, on the trains and in the pubs.
Perhaps it was the low numbers with the venue only holding around 500 people that add to the quiet or maybe even the 17 year absence but not a single chant was heard anywhere at all until we entered the venue.
The doors opened almost bang on time and they had everyone in quickly and smoothly. The bar was very large for a venue this size and there were loads of staff working it. Drinks choice was better than most pubs I have been too recently and way better than any gig I have been too recently. Prices were very fair as well, coming in at around £3 per pint and £4 for a spirit and mixer. There was also a large outside area for smokers or just for some air and the atmosphere bubbled along excitedly once the venue was filled out.
Back to the music though where Machine Head were being supported by Birmingham based thrash band, Hostile.
Playing aggressive thrash metal, they were a fitting warm up for what was soon to come. They weren’t supported to heavily unfortunately as there was as large a crowd in the smoking area and at the bar as there was in front of the stage. As their set came to an end, everybody started jostling for position and finally the first real chants of Machine Fucking Head could be heard.
These gigs were meant to be “stripped back” and Machine Head came on stage with a quick wave to the crowd and then burst straight into Imperium which is the prefect song to get the crowd going. In front of center stage the floor erupted into a mosh pit but only the center. The sides, in front of Phil Demmell and Jared MacEachern, were amazingly still other than head banging. Machine Head kept the aggression and energy alive by going straight from Imperium into Beautiful Mourning. This got a huge reaction and you could barely hear Robb Flynn over the crowd during the singing section (“This lifetime, In sorrow……”) at the end.
Robb’s banter with the crowd was, as always, bang on displaying the perfect amount of gratitude and arrogance. He is grateful for his position but is well aware of how good they are. After a quick joke with the crowd, an apology for ignoring Norwich for so long and an instruction to get the circle pits going, the lights went off and the intro to Bulldozer started. Love or hate the album, Supercharger, this song is crazy live. The crowd loved it, the circle pit was an absolute collapsed failure but everyone was having a blast anyway so it didn’t matter.
The lights dimmed, Dave McClain, Phil and Jared left the stage and Robb, under a single spotlight attempted to start The Darkness Within but was left standing there watching the crowd as Machine Fucking Head was chanted continuously for around 5 minutes. When it eventually slowed, Robb, now with a huge grin on his face, applauded the crowd and started the song. The other members of the band came back out one by one as the song picked up pace and the crowd sang every word passionately. It really was a beautiful moment with a collection of fans and a band in perfect unison with each other.
The gig continued on in the same vein with rapturous fans while Locust and The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears (Beers) were played back to back before the new song, Killers and Kings was aired. It went down well and slotted into the gig nicely. It is exactly what you would expect form modern Machine Head, a long track that flits between extreme aggression and catchy choruses with plenty of riffs and solos. Ten Ton Hammer came next and quickly worked the crowd into frenzy before a small spoken tribute to Dimebag Darrell from the band led into Aesthetics of Hate were once again Robb requested circle pits and once again they failed to materialize.
After a few minutes of Robb throwing beers into the crowd, Old was played. Robb requested everyone jumping along and for the first time the whole venue did. There was no escape from the sweaty mass of bodies as they went crazy to the intro and the whole venue shook brilliantly. This was followed immediately by Davidian and kept the mosh pit alive, once more a circle pit started at the band’s request and quickly collapsed, but the crowd and the band, were energized and feverish.
As everyone tried to catch their breath, Robb once again thanked everyone for their support over the years before announcing their closing track, Halo. The announcement itself got one of the largest roars of the night quickly showing the songs popularity and it was phenomenal. Musically perfect, people in the crowd with tears of joy on their face, clapping along to the intro and bellowing out every word. It was an epic metal moment.
As Halo closed and the band applauded the crowd and vice versa before leaving the stage, the crowd started to depart. I found this quite surprising as normally I would expect the crowd to stay for a while; chanting and trying to get the band back out especially as the house lights were still off. After half the crowd had left, the lights then came on leaving me wondering if we could have had an encore had the crowd stayed and chanted for a short while.
The venue was brilliant, the band were amazing, as always , and seeing them in such an intimate setting is something I will never forget but the crowds inability to hold a circle pit and a chant was frustrating. There were at least 50 of the 500 people that were there that had no interest in the band and spent their evening in the smoking area. Normally that wouldn’t bother me but those 50 tickets could have been in the hands of true fans that had lost out.
So aside from those few grumbles which are not related to the band or venue, I had an amazing time and Machine Head get better and better each time I see them. They are one of the best live bands around and have an immense catalogue of songs to choose from. I must admit though that while I like the idea of this small tour and had a great time, I cannot wait until they are back at their spiritual home at Brixton, London where the circle pits are frenzied and the chants are loud and long.
Machine Head @ The Waterfront, Norwich (03/08/14)