Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Machine Head... kings of SW12!

One of the (many) things that I love about Soundwave festival is that every year, it seems to produce (at least) one genuinely mindblowing set that stands above the many other highlights of the day.

In 2009, it was Alice in Chains' early evening set on the main stage - a great opportunity to hear some classic material performed by a band I never thought I would have the chance to see live.

In 2010, it was Faith No More's gloriously manic headline set on the main stage.  It was Mike Patton doing what only Mike Patton can do, and a fantastic set to close the day - We Care A Lot was a huge highlight near the end.  And again, FNM had the theme of 'bands I never thought I would have the chance to see live'.

In 2011, it was Sevendust's early afternoon set on the metal stage.  Brutal, uncompromising, and packing more energy and intensity into a 30-minute set than most bands could manage in two hours.  It might also have been Iron Maiden's set, had we not already seen them two days earlier.

And in 2012, it was Machine Head's closing set on the metal stage.

This is not to suggest that there were not other highlights throughout the day.  There were many - Hellyeah were beer-drinking and hell-raising on the metal stage early in the afternoon, Alter Bridge brought Slash out as a guest during their set, Mastodon played an action-packed set including almost all my personal favourites, and Black Label Society were a bit of an unexpected highlight.

But the truth is that none of these came close to the crushingly heavy, melodic assault that Machine Head inflicted upon the metal stage at the end of the day.

The ingredients were all there - last act of the day, a major drawcard, a fearsome live reputation.  And importantly, they were also playing at the same time as the major headliner on the main stage.  Now, I don't mind System of a Down, but I consider Machine Head to be an infinitely better band, and I was perfectly happy about this particular clash.  The great thing about seeing a band that's clashing with a headliner is that you know you are going to get a dedicated hardcore crowd there.  Which is exactly what happened.

MH took the stage to a raucous chant of "Machine Fucking Head" and opened with the thrash-metal-vs-neoclassical-guitar of I Am Hell (Sonata in C#), and it was clear that this set was going to be one for the ages.  I can think of few other bands that manage to simultaneously be so thunderously heavy and melodic at the same time - but it's a thing to behold on their albums and live it takes on an entirely new dimension.  There was moshing, there was headbanging, there were circle pits (for better or worse) during the heavy parts... but during the quiet parts the crowd displayed a sense of what could best be described as awestruck respect.  That or they were just using the chance to catch their breath.  And that was pretty much how it panned out for the next 60 minutes - a band with great songs, who clearly know their stuff and have some pretty phenomenal musical chops, and an audience who were 100% up for it. 

Their set traversed mostly newer material - because let's be honest, The Blackening and Unto the Locust are both absurdly good albums - whilst throwing in a few older gems too.  We didn't get Bulldozer or Ten Ton Hammer, but Old was a major highlight.  Although even that didn't perhaps quite hit the heights of recent single Locust which dropped mid-set to a fanatical crowd response.

They closed with old-school track Davidian and the crowd sing along to the main refrain ("Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!") was a pretty fitting finale.  The footage below is from Wacken a few years ago, but you get the idea.

Personally, I've always taken festival sets as a necessary evil - you know you're going to hear less songs than you want, but that's the price you pay for getting to see a bunch of great bands on a particular day.  There's a few bands however, that have figured out how to transcend the boundaries of those shorter sets by putting on a truly memorable performance.  Machine Head are clearly one of those bands - and as much as I enjoyed a lot of bands at SW12, when I'm reflecting on it in the future I know that SW12 will be forever remembered as 'the Soundwave at which Machine Head thoroughly kicked ass".

And of course the great thing about Soundwave, and it's consistently awesome line-ups, is that we can now spend the next six months or so puzzling about who will be there next year...

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