Machines of Loving Grace–Concert Review
By James Ellis
“It didn’t make much sense, but it sure was a lot of fun” (Live Review 1995)
I was a little confused when I walked in the door. The show, a bang-slam rock-techno fest at the Brewery featuring Korn and Machines of Loving Grace, almost didn’t happen. In fact, Korn, the headliners, didn’t show at all.
Their bus broke down in Baltimore. That’s a pretty tough tour when one night you’re in Maryland, and the next you’re here. Couldn’t they find some place to play in D.C. or Richmond? I guess they need a better booking agent.
But anyway, the show went on without them. I was surprised to see that Machines of Loving Grace was opening for Korn, as Machines has had a couple of videos on MTV and is a big spin over at WKNC. I guess this is just the way it was supposed to be: Machines being the big shots on the bill.
Opening band, Grotus (I swear, I am not making this up), played about half hour of Jackie Chan movie clips on a sheet taped to the wall. The film was pretty cool. It got everyone in the mood, though I’m not sure what for.
Tangent: If you’ve never seen a Jackie Chan movie and think Hong Kong produces nothing but junky chop-socky flicks, you are flat out wrong. The man is a ballet dancer! What he does while beating the stuffings out of evil henchmen and thugs is astounding. Even the veteran slam dances and metal-heads were impressed (audibly “ooh”ing when Jackie did something particularly cool) with his moves — and that’s saying something.
Back to the story: So for half an hour we stood (some sat on the floor) until Grotus took the stage.
And they took the stage. No one knew what to expect, but Grotus blew us all away.
Where to begin? Well, the band was your basic set of metal-playing dudes. Long, curly, Slash-like hair and feet-more-than-shoulder-width apart, you know the drill. They started their tape (ah yes, taped background music. But we’ll get to that later) and began to play really loudly.
Then suddenly, a masked wrestler jumped on stage. My God, he almost gave me a heart attack. He was the lead singer of Grotus, and he wasn’t kidding.
Dressed (aside from the wrestler mask) in a T-shirt (which said “Banned from `Maximumrock-androll,'” an L.A. based punk fanzine), a pair of thermal long-johns and yielding a cup, lead singer Lars Fox looked ready to scare the bejesus out of the moral majority. Yeah, he was styling.
Well, from that point on, it just got weirder and weirder. The film projector played images from movies, television, commercials and stuff, while the band just ranted. The songs were way too loud to comprehend, but the film helped get the message across. The first song was about media violence. The next one had something to do with justice, and the rest were mostly incompre-hensible.
He didn’t just sing, though. He had a mini drum set (a floor tom and two mounted toms) which he would periodically beat like a high school marching band drummer from hell. It was wild.
The wildest thing about it all was that nobody clapped. The room was packed before Grotus even started, but no one moved between songs. Maybe two people clapped. It was eerie.
And it annoyed the band, who walked off as soon as they could. The guitarist, as the band was leaving, asked, “Anybody alive out there?”
Well, they left, and Machines stepped up.
Machines of Loving Grace, who are touring to support their new “Gilt” album, blew me away. I like “Gilt,” and “Concentration” was okay, but live, they are relentless.
The five-piece vocals/drums/bass/guitar/synthesizer line-up was somewhat crowded onto Brewery’s less-than-spacious stage, but they didn’t let it stop them.
Drawing most of their material from “Gilt,” Machines went for the throat. Lead singer Scott Benzel jumped into the moshing crowd twice and sang through a mega-phone, leaving the band to fill in the rest. Drummer David Suycott threw down some wonderfully tribal and hard rhythms that kept Machines moving. In fact, he played so hard, his chair had to be tied to the bass drum to keep him from kick-drumming the kit off the stage.
The other band members did a great job bringing the sounds of the album (along with the taped background music) to the stage while creating new atmospheres and emotions. Great stuff.
Now, I still haven’t decided if taped background is a good thing. (Yeah, it took forever for me to get around to it, but deal with it.) Anyway, taped music completely leaves out any chance for spontaneity, but Machines seemed to make it work. They were able to use it purely for the purpose of adding depth to the music.
Of course, it helped that Machines actually turned up the volume a tad (the first time I’ve ever heard the opening act being louder than the headliners) because it reduced that fuzzy edge and allowed the audience to figure out what was really going on.
Machines was displeased by the lack of audience response (only slightly more than for Grotus) and took off after an hour. Their “encore” consisted of one song, but I really wouldn’t consider it a real encore because the band had come back from “backstage” before the drummer stepped off stage.
But as short as its set was, Machines are just a fabulous band live. I definitely had a great time.