Warning! The Machines Have Taken Over Charlotte. This Is Not A Drill!
Pretty Hate Machine and Enrage Against The Machine Battle It Out At The Underground
Do not adjust your screens! The machines have indeed taken over the Queen City but don’t worry this is not a warning of an imminent apocalypse or even a trailer for the upcoming Matrix movie. This was just the latest musical stop on The Road To Grungefest as two of Charlotte’s premier tribute bands, Pretty Hate Machine and Enrage Against The Machine played to a capacity crowd at the Underground.
Now before I get into the nuts and bolts of what went down, I feel compelled to address the whole idea of tribute bands. Someone, who shall remain nameless, asked me what show I was going to and when I told them, their response was ‘Oh, that’s just a bunch of cover bands.” So let’s straighten this shit out right now, shall we? First of all, there is indeed a definite difference between a cover band and a tribute band, the main thing being a cover band plays songs from a variety of artists and a tribute band is dedicated to the music of one artist. Secondly, both are made up of many, super talented musicians whose skills will often wow you. In the case of Pretty Hate Machine and Enrage Against The Machine, both bands are giving you a true tribute experience and they put on one hell of a show. The bottom line is to educate yourself and give great live music a chance, you may be more than pleasantly surprised. Okay, now I can step off my soapbox and get to it.
First up was Pretty Hate Machine, Charlotte’s best Nine Inch Nails tribute act, named of course after NIN”s 1989 eponymous debut album. Fun fact, did you know that NIN mastermind Trent Reznor wrote and recorded that album while working as a janitor in a Cleveland recording studio? So, dreams really can and do come true. Anyway, NIN is one of the biggest industrial rock acts ever to grace a stage and the brainchild of creative genius Reznor whose talent really knows no bounds. Their music is technical but also magical and brooding, layered in sounds and extremely hard to replicate mixing in aspects of alternative and electronic music as well. For a band to undertake this kind of challenge successfully, they must possess mad skills. This is where Pretty Hate Machine comes in and really shines. Fronting the band is lead vocalist Adam Nelson who everyone knows (and if you don’t, shame on you) from Something Clever. Throughout the set, Nelson does a superb job exercising vocal control. NIN’s musical style is so different from that of his own band, but Adam nails it with everything from all-out metal screams to poignant, hushed whispers. His Something Clever bandmate Kelly Flusk provides the searing guitars along with Danny Candia of Falling Through April who also takes on drum machine duties. Joining them on bass is Killakoi’s Jordan Mattachione who runs, jumps, spins, and is a constant whirlwind of motion on stage. Rounding out the lineup is production specialist Ian Staer on keyboards and synths and everyone’s favorite club manager, podcaster, and all-around music guy, Brandon Hinson on drums.
The stage was very dark with a mix of mostly red and blue lighting adding to the pensive mood of much of the music. Technically everyone was on their game as the band ran through a set full of NIN classics. The crowd was enjoying every minute of it as was the band as they fed off each other’s energy throughout the evening. They saved the best for last, ending their set with a rousing version of “Head Like A Hole” that had Nelson laying on the stage toward the end with Flusk holding her guitar up to the sky. It was a great performance with the fans singing along “No you can’t take it…” and “Head like a hole. Black as your soul.” as Adam writhed around the stage. You couldn’t have asked for a better ending than that!
After the requisite intermission, it was time for Enrage Against The Machine to bring it and bring it they did. Of course, they are Charlotte’s Rage Against The Machine tribute band and fans were pumped and ready to go. RATM got their start back in 1991 with their self-titled debut album that rocked and shocked the world. Their new blend of metal with rap and hip-hop along with punk influences has a beat that can not be denied. Accompanied by their anti-authoritarian beliefs ad frontman Zack de la Rocha’s outspokenness, RATM has always been revolutionary, giving us one of the most famous protest songs in history with “Killing In The Name.” The group disbanded in 2007 citing creative differences as the reason but have recently announced a reunion for a 2020 tour.
Before the band hit the stage, a video of Zack de la Rocha speaking out on political issues was played on the video screens, ramping up the excitement for what was to come. The band came out fists in the air as the crowd followed suit. It was then an explosion of music from start to finish. The band was on fire with rhythm section Carsten Christgau on bass and Chad Longsworth on drums driving the relentless pace. Guitarist Todd Langdon was the embodiment of Tom Morello clad in a baseball cap, mirrored sunglasses, and slinging a guitar decked out with all Morello’s slogans including Arm the Homeless. He even unplugged his guitar and used the cord to play off his hand in true Morello style.
Frontman Timmy Fasano was a whirling dervish as he jumped, slid, and ran all over the stage. He even took to the barricade during different songs, letting the fans sing the chorus. Their set lasted an hour and a half and just when you thought the crowd was starting to lose their energy, Fasano would ask them to dig a little deeper and so they did, crowd surfing like crazy and keeping the mosh pit going all night long. They too saved the best for last as they lit up the crowd one final time for “Killing In The Name.” There really is something quite cathartic about pumping your fist in the air while yelling “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”
And just like that, the battle of the machines was over and we are one step further down The Road To Grungefest. My name isn’t Morpheus and I’m definitely not The One but I will ask you to swallow the little red pill to learn the truth and check out what an amazing music scene that Charlotte has to offer. The next time the machines take over, get your ass to the show!