The current line-up of MACHINE HEAD play their final show. We shed tears and raise beers.
THE CATALYST, SANTA CRUZ The Phil Demmel and Dave McClain era ends with an emotional final feast
this past september closed with a stunning announcement: longtime Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain would be leaving the band at the end of the 2018 autumn tour. Revealed by Robb Flynn via Facebook Live, the singer was quick to clarify that the announcement spelled the end of this particular line-up of the band, but that Machine Head were a long way from calling it quits. In the wake of the news, the band released a statement that read, “Machine Head wish to thank Phil and Dave for their significant contributions to the band, both musically and lyrically, as well for the spirit, genuine passion they infused into the music, and legendary live performances brought along the way.” Tonight we arrive at The Catalyst, in the groovy beachside haven of Santa Cruz, to watch the celebrated line-up perform together one final time.
Keeping pace with the rest of the tour, tonight’s show is a sold-out affair, with no opening act. It’s been an interesting – and resoundingly successful – approach. Practically, it allows the band to play for upwards of three hours a night, including ample deep cuts and a few covers. Over the PA system, Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary Of A Madman ends sharply as Machine Head enter to thundering chants of “Machine Fucking Head!” They rip into Imperium and just like that, the final show of the Demmel/McClain era is underway. With unrelenting intensity, the band storm through Volatile, Now We Die and Beautiful Mourning. Though we’re all acutely aware of the significance of this particular show, there’s no sense of melancholy – not yet, anyway.
Under Robb’s growling commands, the floor erupts into a swarming pit of flailing limbs and throaty roars. After Clenching The Fists Of Dissent,
Phil takes a luminous solo that pays tribute to his guitar idol Randy Rhoads with a faithful nod to Ozzy’s Revelation (Mother Earth). “Friends and family, it’s been a hell of a ride. Thank you,” he says as chants of “Phil!” erupt. ConspiCuously posted throughout the venue are large signs reading, “Machine Head has requested a strict policy of no smoking of any kind at any time during tonight’s concert. Thank you for honoring the artist’s request. Any violations will result in you being asked to leave!!! Thank you for your cooperation!!” Unsurprisingly, the fans disregard these signs with gleeful disdain, causing Robb to note with a chuckle, “You’ll get a contact high up here!” Throughout the show, video clips between songs show old footage and interviews with the band. During one clip, Robb explains, “I don’t consider us necessarily a thrash band, but we’ve kept that thrash spirit alive in our music. Because that’s how fucking powerful it was.” The comment perfectly encapsulates the depth of Machine Head’s catalogue – a blistering fusion of classic metal, Bay Area thrash and modern extreme metal that sounds as potent and revelatory tonight as it ever has. They cover
Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name, followed by Locust, Beyond The Pale and a dizzying drum solo from Dave that pushes the crowd to riotous extremes. When Robb asks the audience during Killers & Kings to open the biggest circlepit he’s ever seen, they dutifully comply, setting in motion the wild, final throes of the set.
Phil and Robb fire off a siege of neck-snapping riffage that ignites euphoric renditions of Davidian, Descend The Shades Of Night and a rousing Exhale The Vile. An eclectic array of covers follows, including Metallica’s Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive, and Kiss’s Cold Gin, which prompts Robb to dryly note, “I fucking hate Kiss. God, I hate Kiss! But I’m gonna sing this song…”
Although we’ve now hit the threehour mark, it feels like both band and audience could go for another three. Yet, as that pithy saying about all good things goes, the end draws inevitably nigh on the heels of utterly breathless performances of Aesthetics Of Hate (dedicated to Dimebag Darrell), Game Over and Old. After a shout out to his kids in the balcony (“This is the longest my kids have ever stayed at a Machine Head show,” he says), Robb says what’s been on everybody’s mind all night – that tonight marks a monumental occasion, because after 23 years on drums and 15 years on guitar, Dave and Phil are leaving Machine Head. The crowd chants “Phil and Dave!” until, with one final nod to each other, the four men pile full-speed into Halo.
It is transcendent from start to finish, reducing both band and house to a heaving mass of sweat, grins and sore muscles. ‘Bittersweet’ doesn’t come close to describing the moment. As the guys, arms draped around each other, take one last bow together, it feels like an unqualified celebration of time well-spent, of an enduring brotherhood forged and of limitless possibilities ahead. Thank you, guys. The pleasure has been entirely ours.
the General’s army is halved after this evening