In concerts, especially indoor ones, it’s pretty hard to make out what a singer is actually saying. The combination of overblown acoustics with the instruments that hit the exact registers as the vocals makes it so that, even in songs that rely heavily on songwriting, the live experience is mostly about the vibe. Studio versions of Mountain Goats songs that are restrained and contemplative roar to life when John Darnielle is ten feet away from you.
For Machine Girl, it’s all about the vibes, and the vibes are immaculate. The combination of live drummer Sean Kelly who sounded straight out of a metal show and frontman Matt Stephenson who continued that spontaneity with the controlled precision of someone whose set revolves around pounding electronic beats. Every strut, leap, and individual howl was scripted spontaneity, a balancing act that’s very hard to achieve and intoxicating when done right. A guitar came out and immediately fit right into the soundscapes being sculpted, and the ending where Stephenson leapt onto a speaker set high above the crowd felt so right, the perfect way to cap off a wild night.
As the show went off the chain, the energy of the crowd rose to the occasion. The pit was wild; during the most hype moments everyone just started sprinting in circles like a running of the bulls. The absolute climax of the show involved someone climbing into the rafters and later being told over the PA system that they could have broken $20,000 worth of equipment, which sums up the vibe at the time better than I ever could.
The opening acts fit this manic metaltronic energy to a tee. I arrived part way through No Parking’s set, a bouncy house set with a healthy amount of screaming. While it was early on and people weren’t as hyped, the fun beats and especially the engaging stage presence kept everyone swaying and anticipating what was to come. And my favorite part of the show might have actually been the second act, Austin’s Johnnascus. Their first song involved walking onstage with bandages on their head and slowly peeling them off, and this hard-hitting dial-to-11 brand of trap was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had at a concert. Towards the end of the set I found myself thinking “how is Machine Girl going to top this?”, and I don’t think they did, instead taking a different approach that ended up being just as satisfying.