Tales From The Stage – Sevendust and Machine Head, 1999

One thing I want to start doing more is to look back at concerts and shows I’ve been too. It’s nice to remember them – as the time and distance gets longer from when I saw the show the details start to get fuzzy. And also in the pandemic age where I’ve been to one whole live show since late 2019, it’s nice to remember the concert era.

The show I’m going to look back on today took place in October of 1999. It was a strange time, as nu-metal and boy bands ruled the roost. A lot of newer bands who would shape the new millennium were coming on to the scene. More established acts were also getting in on the nu-metal thing, as was the case with the bill I was going to see that night.

The concert line-up was Sevendust, Machine Head, Orange 9MM and Chevelle. I was going for Machine Head, and also for something fun to do on what was Halloween weekend, I think this show was on the 29th. This was a bit of a mini-tour – this group played St. Louis and then our town, then joined up with Slipknot and others for two shows further south over Halloween weekend.

The venue for this show was a bit different than the typical metal bar. This was a large bar that could easily hold over 1,000 people. There was a bar in each corner of the building and a large dance floor for people to make fools of themselves. When holding shows a stage to one side was used as opposed to the dance floor in the middle.

The bar was mostly known for Thursday nights when people could pay a $5 cover and then enjoy $1 drinks. There was a “power hour” during the night where beers were free. The custom was to get a beer at one bar then wait in line in the next corner, drinking one beer then getting another. It was a dirt cheap night out. The place wound up closing years later due in part to several booze-fueled incidents, to the shock of no one.

But none of this was the case for the concert. I don’t recall the crowd size exactly – it by no means filled the huge building but plenty of people did come out for the show. Sevendust were getting a name for themselves by this point and Machine Head was a draw for fans of heavier fare. Chevelle were just getting out in the world and it’d be a couple of years before they garnered widespread interest. Orange 9MM were a known name but not someone I was radically familiar with.

Chevelle were interesting. They reminded us of Tool to some degree and had maybe a bit different sound than what they’d become known for a few years later. I never really “got into” the group much but it was kind of cool to see them go from opening a Midwest honkytonk to multi-platinum success.

Orange 9MM had a bit of headway going into 1999. I guess it wasn’t enough because the band broke up a year later. But they had their name out a bit in the mid-90’s as the alt-metal and nu-metal thing was picking up steam. I thought the group was interesting but their set didn’t move me to further exploring them.

The reason for the season, or at least for my attendance at this show, was Machine Head. The band had come up with two pretty heavy albums in the earlier part of the decade and were now touring on a controversial third record. The Burning Red saw a stylistic shift toward “rap metal” that was the in sound at the time. Limp Bizkit had exploded in popularity in 1999 and it seemed like Machine Head was along for the ride.

Of course the band stuck with plenty of their older material. Davidian, Take My Scars and Ten Ton Hammer were given prominent space in the set, alongside the rap-metal single From This Day. That song had even caught a bit of radio play and we wondered if Machine Head wouldn’t catch more fire in the nu-metal scene. For a lot of reasons, that didn’t happen.

For that night in 1999 though the setlist was fine and Machine Head put on a nice show. The crowd were really into it and very active through the show. One friend of ours who wasn’t into metal but wanted to hang out lost one of his shoes in the moshing fray. It was a lot of fun to actually get into something for a bit.

Sevendust came out to close out the show. They were really building a name for themselves around this time and were on the cusp of breaking out big. They were already on the way with that, the song Denial was getting a lot of airplay around the time of this tour. Their set was well-executed and enjoyed by the crowd. Machine Head did a nice job setting the table and Sevendust took the momentum and ran with it. I chilled out in the back for their set, having expended my energy on Machine Head.

We tried finding our friend’s shoe after the concert but had no luck. One of the perils of heavy metal, I guess. It was a good time and looking back it’s interesting to note the trajectories of the bands involved. Sevendust and Chevelle would go on to quite a bit of success in the new millennium. Orange 9MM would not join them, not lasting another year after this show. Machine Head had an ugly controversy around the September 11th attacks that nearly ended the band. The group would retool and enjoy a new golden era with a more straightforward metal approach than the nu-metal they were offering in 1999. They’d have other twists and turns later on as well.

A lot is gone from that time. One of the bands is gone, that venue is gone, and that peer group I hung out with at that time is scattered to the four winds. But this show was a great way to ring in Halloween 1999 and a perfect bill to sum up what music was and where it was going as the calendar changed.

The Social Media Abyss – Damon Albarn and Songwriting

A bit of drama from last week came up, well, at least before Neil Young and Spotify wiped the floor with the news cycle.

The battle was this – Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, said some stuff about Taylor Swift not writing her own songs. Taylor said stuff back, as did a lot of other people, and here we are days later.

Albarn was in Los Angeles to perform his only booked US concert of 2022 and did an interview with the L.A. Times while we was in town. In that interview, Albarn went into a conversation about songwriting and had this to say about Taylor Swift:

Not a very flattering portrait of Swift’s songwriting prowess, to be sure. This portion of the interview quickly took flight on social media and Taylor used Twitter to address Damon:

Taylor got a lot of support from people who have worked with her as well as others in the general music community. It wasn’t a good look for Damon, who made a Twitter apology to Taylor then played his solo show in L.A. Damon did acknowledge the snafu by dedicating Blur’s Song 2 to the writer of the Times piece, stating that the writer requested it before casting Albarn in the the “social media abyss.”

The crux of the issue is songwriting. Is there some higher plane of existence for someone that writes their own songs as opposed to a performer who either doesn’t write or has help doing so?

It does depend on genre. In country and pop, two areas that Taylor Swift has operated in, it doesn’t matter. Both openly source songwriters for the process. In rock music it’s more muddled. It’s often a sign of authenticity and credibility to write one’s own songs. It can be looked down upon to use outside songwriting help, though many of rock’s bigger acts have done so and benefitted from it.

In this instance the songwriting argument really doesn’t matter. Taylor Swift is known for a lot of things, and one of those things is writing her own music. That’s been a known thing since Taylor came on the scene and detractors began pushing back against her. It dates back to before 2010, when she was a huge force in country music and traditionalists were upset with her. She’s been accused of a lot of things, fair or not, but not writing her own music hasn’t really been one.

I don’t know where Damon was going with his train of thought in that interview, and in reading the words I don’t see where he got “clickbaited.” Nothing was deceptive in the interview, and the interviewer even seemed to try and steer Damon away from what he was saying. And of course the piece ran with that portion of the interview – not really clickbait, but more so offering up the thing that more people are going to read.

Had Damon Albarn not said anything disparaging about Taylor Swift, this interview would have gone unnoticed by anyone who doesn’t follow Damon. The Britpop nostalgia audience and Gorillaz fans would have seen it and it would have then been lost to the ether. Instead, Damon’s name was all over socials for a few days. He might not have intended for that and I would give him the benefit of the doubt there, but he did dig his own hole.

On the topic of songwriting – I used to be one of those people who hemmed and hawed about musicians writing their own songs. I have been primarily a metal and rock fan, and that “authenticity” is held up as a debate point against the excesses of pop music. But over the years I’ve learned to quit caring. I’ve gotten into genres like country, where songwriting is as much a factory as an art. I’ve also quit caring about arguing such points at all. No one really cares on either side of the argument and it just pisses people off. I gain nothing from the argument and fans of musicians who hire outside writers aren’t going to alter their music tastes based on someone condescending toward them about it.

I do think this is a bit of an odd turn for Damon Albarn. He’s normally a pretty likable guy and isn’t one to often put his foot in his mouth. I don’t know what he gains from trying to throw Taylor under a bus. His stature in music is pretty well set – Blur’s legacy is almost 30 years old and the Gorillaz have been a thing for over 20 years. He isn’t going to score points with anyone, especially when what he said about Taylor doesn’t hold water.

This is the part right before the conclusion where I had space reserved in case one of the Gallagher brothers chimed in on the ordeal. Noel has been mum and Liam said little about his old adversary Albarn. Instead, Liam appears to be a Taylor Swift fan and offered nothing to fan the flames of this drama.

I don’t have much more to add to the discussion of Albarn versus Swift. Taylor clearly “won” the argument that she didn’t ask to be a part of in the first place. Damon Albarn pulled off his Los Angeles show with a bit of egg on his face and will probably be fine as time moves on. And while Swifties likely won’t be happy with him for a long time, Damon can thank Neil Young for knocking his name out of the trending topics list a few days later.