Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Machine Head / Arch Enemy / Throwdown / Sanctity

Before I start, I’d like to take a moment to make an appeal to club owners and, to an extent, opening bands. When you schedule a show to start at a certain time, please start the show at that time. Some of us have to leave work early to get to shows that supposedly start at 6:00, so think of those of us who are taking extra time out of our day so that we can come patronize your club and give the opening bands a chance.

Once again I found myself down at the famous First Avenue in Minneapolis on a weekday for a show. As is usually the case for weekday shows, it had to get started early, or at least was supposed to. Eventually the show openers, Trivium, hit the stage. Errr, wait, I mean Sanctity. For all intents and purposes, though, it was like watching Trivium. They sounded like Trivium, looked like Trivium (the lead singer of Sanctity even wore a Sanctity t-shirt much like the lead singer of Trivium does with their band’s shirts), and were merely passable like Trivium. Oh, and just to make sure we’re on the same page, when I make the comparison to Trivium, I am talking about pre-Crusade Trivium. From Crusade onward the band has just been one big, steaming pile of unlistenable crap.

There were a couple of interesting parts to Sanctity’s set, however, such as their dedicating songs to women’s periods (not so much interesting as lame, I guess) and having crowd members come up to sing their final song. Now that was funny as hell. The two long-haired, girlfriendless, 30 year old dudes took the stage and proceeded to head bang and air guitar for 4 minutes. The awesomest part was when it came time for the lead guitarist’s solo. As he stepped up to do his rock star thing, one of the two moron brothers that were on stage jumped in front of him and air guitared the solo to the crowd. I was in stitches it was so hilarious.

Anyways, after the comedy troupe finished up their act, a reunited Pantera stormed the stage playing some dirty, southern metal. Wait… what I meant to say was Throwdown came out to play. Seriously, talk about a complete overhaul in sound. Their first couple of songs were from Venom & Tears and sounded uncannily like Pantera b-sides. Truth be told the songs sound a heck of a lot better live than they did on disc, probably because you can feel the band’s energy and passion whereas on the album it felt like hollow hero worship of their influences.

In the middle of their set, Throwdown did toss in some classic tunes to get the meatheads in the pit slamming around. Listening to their older tunes, however, did leave me pining for their old sound and the interest I was garnering in their new songs lost some luster. I’m glad they went in the direction that they wanted to as musicians, but with two completely different sounds as a part of their catalog noticing the disparity is unavoidable. Still, they put on a very good performance in front of a predominantly metal crowd.

The first co-headliner to take the stage after Throwdown was Arch Enemy. The first thing that I noticed was the mixing of the band. Whereas Throwdown’s sound was very full and balanced, Arch Enemy had the vocals extremely low in the mix and the guitars were a little empty sounding. This didn’t necessarily hurt their performance, but it led to their set feeling weak in comparison.

While watching Arch Enemy, I noticed that they seem to have weak stage presence. Their ability to play is spot on, but they just sort of wandered around as they played. Sure, their brand of metal doesn’t necessarily lend itself to having an aggressive stage presence, but when you take into account much of their music sounds very similar in nature, their 50 minute performance felt overly long and drawn out.

And while we’re speaking of long and drawn out, the set change time between Arch Enemy and Machine Head was abysmal. It was around 35 minutes between the two bands whereas the first couple of set changes took 10 minutes each. You can’t complain too much since Machine Head’s set was impeccable, but that’s nothing new, is it? Every time I’ve seen Machine Head play they have been a treat. Even when they were opening for Heaven & Hell, playing with crappily mixed monitors, and getting no more than 25 minutes to play they were solid and commanding.

Once again, Machine Head was thundering and brutal. Only playing songs off of The Blackening, From Ashes to Empire, and Burn My Eyes they focused on the heaviest and most intense material in their catalog. There’s nothing like having a crowd totally go off as “Imperium” hits. Of course, it helps to have a band made up of musicians who play aggressive as all get out. Seriously, as much as people probably doubted it during the early 2000s, Rob Flynn is a commanding frontman. The entire set you can see that he’s playing his heart out, singing his ass off, truly enjoying what he’s doing, and able to appreciate the energy of his fans.

Playing for a solid hour, the band hit on many of their strongest songs such as “Old”, “Block”, and the more recent “Halo”. The three opening bands were simply appetizers that couldn’t even compare to the massive meal of metal that Machine Head served up.

The moral of the story, in case you haven’t noticed, is that you really need to go see Machine Head if you get the chance, regardless of who they are with. If the other bands are good, well, that’s just gravy.

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