Machine Head Fitzgerald's January 22, 2015
The line stretching around the block outside of Fitzgerald's on Thursday night was the kind that makes you wonder how the heck everyone is going to fit into the creaky, old place. It was a truly intimidating mass of people, shivering in black, and if anyone driving past wondered just who this lip-ringed throng had assembled to hear, they didn't have to wonder long.
"Machine Head!" screamed somebody, as he stared at his own breath. "Machine fuckin' Head!" hollered another. "Lincoln Durham!" yelled a third guy, pimping the night's downstairs act. But that chant didn't catch on.
After eight albums and 20 years touring the world's heavy-metal strongholds, Machine Head is just a little too big in Houston to be playing Fitzgerald's, even on a weeknight. The club was about to become uncomfortably full. As the long line slowly shuffled up the stairs, they were greeted by hellish red stage lights and the sobering realization that crammed-full crowd would offer no escape from the wild pit certain to erupt greeted fans.
Front man Robb Flynn would accept nothing less. Taking the stage to "Machine fuckin' Head!" chants, he started calling for circle pits pretty much right off the bat.
"C'mon, let's lose our mind!" he exhorted, and as the band ripped open "Imperium," the crowd obliged. The floor whipped up into a maelstrom of boots and hoodies as Flynn's guitar crackled through the air. There was shoving in the pit and surfing up top, and when the crushing double-bass kicked in next during "Beautiful Mourning," everything began to pick up speed. I can't recall having ever seen a barricade at Fitz before, but it seemed to come in handy on Thursday.
It was almost scary how quickly the audience warmed up. There had been no opening acts. After building a career out of 1,000 metal package tours, Machine Head is going it alone this trek, stretching out their set time and digging deep into the back catalogue. The band actually managed to play about half of its new record, but the new stuff was sandwiched in between hours of old material dating all the back to their now-classic 1994 debut.
"We're going to take you on a 20-year journey of music," Flynn told us. "I hope you came ready for a long fucking night."
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Long it was, but never monotonous. Machine Head has tried out a bit of every metal style and trend since the band's inception, and didn't shy away from their bouncier nu-metal stuff. Fans moshed, pogoed, clapped and sang along with everything. During "Davidian" in the middle of the set, the crowd's chorus of "LET FREEDOM RING WITH A SHOTGUN BLAST!" was deafening. Even the band seemed impressed.
"You guys got some fucking power tonight," said Flynn, with a huge smile sitting atop his sweaty goat-beard.
With mechanized precision, Machine Head wore their people down, until the same dudes who were shivering outside in leather jackets earlier had stripped down to bare chests. Crushed-together concertgoers got to know one another intimately via scent as Flynn and lead guitarist Phil Demmel kept their fingers flying over the fret board. For a couple of songs, it appeared that their energy could be beginning to flag.
But as the set drew to a close, everyone perked right back up. As Machine Head poured out the pretty, pounding "Halo," the crowd sang together as one: "And I won't pray for you." Not something you hear large groups of people scream most places. There were a few goosebumps in the place, that's for sure.
Flynn certainly seemed to have had a few.
"Un-fucking-believable, man!" he gushed. "Wow. Wow!"
Not the largest stage he's been on, sure, but Robb Flynn and pals discovered Thursday how magical a packed room at Fitzgerald's can be. If they ever decide to quite the package-tour game for good, one imagines they'll be back.
And there's probably still going to be somebody outside screaming "Machine fuckin' Head!" if and when they do.
Personal Bias: '90s survivor.
The Crowd: Bigger, sweatier '90s survivors.
Overheard In the Crowd: "You've heard the new one, right? Yeah, they're still pretty good."
Random Notebook Dump: No opening acts on a weeknight? Yes, thanks! There's something to be said for going home before midnight.
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