Richard Colson Baker, better known perhaps by his stage name Machine Gun Kelly, is an American (Cleveland, Ohio) rapper and rock artist who kicked off his UK tour at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. MGK’s sonic mixing of rap and rock combined with his gritty counter culture attitude have attracted a throng of people who, like MGK, feel misunderstood and misrepresented in today’s popular stream. In between shots of Hennessey and joint breaks, MGK delivered an undeniably passionate and assertive show.
Machine Gun Kelly’s tattooed body was draped in a pinky orange jacket and patterned buttoned down shirt, not perhaps the usual get up for someone linked to his ferocious music and identity. MGK though has made a career doing this his way, and so far it is working. After finishing a summer of festivals, in which MGK donned some very pink dungarees exposing his intricate tattoo pieces, he and his band are taking to UK stages much to the excitement of fans worldwide. After a DJ set, Machine Gun Kelly opened with “The Gunner.” The dark ambient intro shifted wildly, as a rock intrusion brought about a surge of energy. As MGK rose from below the stage, fans went berserk, it was about to be a good time and everyone knew it.
“Golden God,” “Wild Boy,” and “Can’t Walk” followed the introduction. Each song seemed to display some of the typical sonic elements that have become synonymous with MGK. Introspective rap covering a gambit of topics and emotions, forceful aggressive rock structures, a breathless array of fast moving parts that present a roller coaster of speeds and sounds. In the breaks of the set fans lavishly chant “MGK,” adoration given to the leader of the night. MGK responds to the love, chatting and connecting with each fan. The energy is high, but takes a sombre turn when Machine Gun Kelly pays homage to Chester Bennigton with hit “Numb.” It is a poignant moment, MGK was set to open for Chester during Linkin Parks’ tour; the admiration from MGK is obvious both in his tribute piece and in the construction of his music which uses rock beats that were obviously influenced by Bennington’s career.
High octane “Kiss The Sky” finds the crowd throwing their hands up in approval. Pop tinged “Go For Broke,” with its simple structure and repetitious chorus, throws a dash of fun into the otherwise heavy set. “Alpha Omega” returns again to the hard-hitting rap rock, its aggressive nature stirs a mosh pit. The pit subsides as “Sail,” a rap tune that has a tinge of house, breaks through followed by “Trap Paris.” As the songs collide the pink lights begin to flash, a key colour for MGK. At the request of MGK the next few songs bring the audiences middle fingers up, chanting in their countercultural slew of songs that include fan favourites “Her Song” and “Bad Mother F*cker.” It is clear that MGK and his songs have come to really epitomize so many of the listeners’ feelings of anti establishment and counter normality. This rage against the capitalist machine is then flamed and backlit by MGK’s songs.
It is not just the music that seems counter cultural, it is also the actions of Machine Gun Kelly that prove such. In an instrumental and musical break MGK lights up a joint smoking on stage. A young fan who happened to find his way to the stage is “knighted a bad mother f*cker” by MGK who uses a Hennessey bottle to do the honours. Drinking and smoking, parading around behaviour that may be suitable for a rock star but certainly not for modern societal norms, become the bread and body of MGK’s stage actions. Fans love it for in MGK they find themselves, smoking and drinking, counter to the normality of acceptability.
In between hits of his joint MGK roles on performing bangers such as “Bad Things” and “Rehab,” wrapping the night up with “Till I Die” and tour track “27.” While there is no formal encore, Machine Gun Kelly and his band perform for almost two hours in the insanity and tumult that surrounds the Academy.
Machine Gun Kelly seems to be defined by poles. On one side he delivers aggressive and rambunctious rock and rap, on the other pole he continuously states how music is healing and salvific. His actions are counterintuitive for the straight-laced and yet there is an enduring boyish quality to his enthusiasm and excitement. These poles meet with the acceptance that Machine Gun Kelly is a voice to those who appear to be voiceless. In the milieu of life MGk understands the transformative purpose of music but does not back away from his forceful poetic nature. Machine Gun Kelly delivered an absolutely outrageous show that kicked off what promises to be an astonishing UK tour.
Reviewer: Kylie McCormick
Photographer: Adriana Vasile