VFW Post 7320, Saraland, Alabama
August 20, 2016
There are many advantages to living where I do; however, a major disadvantage is the dearth of local shows. Yes, there is something of a local metal scene, but it appears to cater exclusively to more extreme styles (death/black/core/grind) that do not interest me. So imagine my surprise to learn a few days ago that accomplished Brazilian thrash metallers Machinage would be kicking off their 2016 U.S. tour by headlining a local metal festival at the VFW Post 7320 in scenic Saraland, Alabama, a 15-minute drive from my house. We’d never been to the VFW hall before and we wanted to see Machinage again, so Jen and I hopped in the car after dinner on Saturday night and headed off the gig. As it turned out, we needn’t have rushed. Machinage had been scheduled to start at 9:45 p.m., but there were still four and a half local bands left to play before them when we walked in at a few minutes after 8. That allowed plenty of time to soak in the ambience of the place, whose walls were covered with tributes to American heroism in armed conflicts overseas. Connected to the main room was a bar, which was filled with regulars (mostly aged in their 50s and 60s I would guess) guzzling cheap beer and potent cocktails while watching preseason NFL football and singing along to Patsy Cline songs on the jukebox.
While we waited, sipping on $2.25 crappy Budweiser (me) and $1.75 Smirnoff ice (Jen), we also had a good opportunity to visit with the Machinage guys. Language barriers notwithstanding, they’re some of the kindest, most genuine and big-hearted musicians we’ve ever encountered. We had seen Machinage three times before, including twice at the Warriors of Metal Festival in Ohio and once at a Pathfinder Promotions event in Marietta, Georgia. They greeted us like old friends, with smiles, handshakes and hugs. An obvious question was why there were only three of them. Every time we’d seen Machinage before, they’d been a quartet. They explained that they had experienced many headaches keeping the second guitar spot filled, with the most recent occupant resigning abruptly on the eve of this tour. So they’ve resolved to move forward as a three-piece, despite the obvious increase in workload that creates for vocalist/guitarist Fabio Delibo. Tonight was only the third show they’d performed as a power trio, and bassist Adriano Bauer confided in us afterwards that it still seems strange when they’re onstage and he’s moving around to not have an additional person up there. Still, I applaud their decision to ditch the dead weight and move forward as a committed trio, rather than trying to accommodate a fourth person who lacks their dedication. A chain, after all, is only as strong as its weakest link. The Machinage guys were also very excited about their new album, ‘Slave Nation,’ which I gather was released in their homeland this spring, but will receive a North American release via Dave Ellefson’s new EMP label on November 18. When I remarked that it was the same day as the new Metallica album comes out, Fabio laughed and said, “We got screwed.”
At 12:35 a.m., a mere two hours and 50 minutes after their scheduled set time, the stage had finally cleared for Machinage. Most of the opening bands and their entourages were long gone, taking their fancy lights, fog machines and other accoutrements with them. What was left were three Brazilian dudes on a sparse stage in a cigarette-smoke-filled VFW hall in the middle of nowhere, Alabama, playing a borrowed drumkit and a mostly abysmal sound system in front of maybe two dozen people, nearly all of whom were either in bands that had played earlier that night or were friends/girlfriends of such band members. Under the circumstances, Machinage would have been forgiven for knocking out a perfunctory six or seven songs, then getting the hell out of there. Not a chance. They got up there and rocked through a 10-song, 55-minute set like they were headlining Madison Square Garden. Drummer Ricardo Mingote, with his backwards ballcap and goofy facial expressions, was a ball of energy behind the kit and contributed loud backing vocals and exhortations for hey-hey-hey chants at the appropriate moments. Adriano was a lumbering, hulking presence on the bass guitar, but he couldn’t help himself from breaking into a smile every time he looked out at the people rocking out against the stage. And vocalist/guitarist Fabio was working incredibly hard as he managed the tricky job of singing while handling all rhythm and lead guitars. There were spots where I could tell he was struggling to juggle those various roles, but he soldiered on gamely and even apologized to the audience as he explained the missing second guitarist.
The Machinage show was great fun. First and foremost, their brand of thrash is right up my alley, not nearly as brutal as that of many of their Brazilian colleagues and maintaining enough melody and songwriting acumen to hold my interest. Their set consisted of just three songs from the ‘It Makes Us Hate’ debut (thankfully including my favorite Machinage track, “Next Victim”) plus a whopping six songs off the ‘Slave Nation’ album. It’s a risky proposition to play that many songs from an album that nobody’s heard yet, especially when I heard people at the merch stand afterwards wanting to purchase said new album, only to be turned away because it won’t be released here for three more months. From what I could glean through the aforementioned crappy sound system, the new songs sounded very strong and definitely in line with the ‘It Makes Us Hate’ material. To top off the proceedings, as Machinage finished set closer “Machine / Age of Darkness,” drummer Ricardo grinned and banged out a familiar eerie, echoing drum pattern. Before we knew out, the band were ripping into a full instrumental version of Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” whipping what was left of the audience into a tizzy. What a great way to round out the set.
Aside from the music though, this Machinage gig was special because all three band members spoke from the stage in halting English but in the most heartfelt terms about how happy they were to be here and how much they appreciated the support of their tiny audience. Bassist Adriano said, “We couldn’t be happier right now.” And Fabio later chimed in with a comment about how “you guys like us more than our own country does.” It all felt so sincere, so honest, and so disarmingly genuine that it was impossible not to love these guys. After the show, I think they must have given sweaty Brazilian hugs to every single person who had stuck around. Fabio gave Jen and me each a Machinage guitar pick, and Adriano handed us cool Machinage buttons to go along with the killer two-sided ‘Slave Nation’ shirt we bought for just $15. As we were saying our good-nights at 2:00 a.m., I poked my head into the bar area, where the VFW regulars were still going strong, singing and dancing to the old-tyme country music playing on the juke box. Yep, the Saraland VFW crew kicked the metal crowd’s ass tonight, in terms of sheer stamina, longevity and enthusiasm. Who’d a thunk it?
Machinage are an incredibly easy bunch of guys to pull for. They’re a strong live band and remarkable people. They’ll be playing gigs across the U.S. (working their way through Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, California, Idaho and other states) from now through September 17. Keep an eye out for ‘em and go support Machinage if you can. They deserve it.
Setlist: Slave Nation, Revolution, Tides of War, Next Victim, Follow Your Idols, Spirits of War (first time ever played live), Is This the Way, Rage of Gods, Machine / Age of Darkness, Raining Blood (instrumental).
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~