Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Adventures in Sao Paulo, Part Three

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If you've missed the other installments, please see Adventures in Sao Paulo, Part One, where I trained jiu-jitsu with a world champion, and Adventures in Sao Paulo, Part Two, where I partied with rock stars.

And now for part three, in which our hero attempts to review a concert that rose above mere experience and became something almost religious.

Sepultura have become something of an institution in Brazil. In heavy metal circles, they are hometown heroes, growing from their humble beginnings in Belo Horizonte almost thirty years ago (fuck, I'm old) to bring their specific brand of Brazilian metal to every corner of the world. They have their own beer, "Tribal S"-branded sunglasses, havaianas (flip-flops), surf shorts, and are cited as an influence to every modern heavy band worth their salt. Seeing them on "hometown" soil, so to speak, is really something special.

The first time I'd seen the band in Brazil, back in 2005, they played a stadium with Slipknot. This second show was a bit more intimate, taking place at Via Funchal--a smallish music hall with a capacity of 6000 bodies--and was conveniently located next door to my hotel. By next door, I'm not kidding; my bedroom window on the ninth floor looked down on the venue's roof.

Local boys Threat opened the show, and when my friend explained that two of the members also played in a Pantera cover band, I wasn't surprised. These guys wore their influences on their tattooed sleeves. Incidentally, the guitarist Andre Curci - a sort of Brazilian Dimebag Darrell - also plays in Musica Diablo, the thrash metal brainchild of Nitrominds' Andre Alves, whose self-titled album featured a certain Derrick Green on vocals. (An album which, if you haven't already, you must buy right now. You hear me? Right now.)

When the lights went down for Sepultura, the atmosphere immediately charged, as if an electrical storm was building. The band opened with the one-two knockout punch of "Arise" and "Refuse/Resist," and the crowd responded in kind by turning the entire floor into one big moshpit.

Sepultura's been having a good year. To say their latest album, "Kairos," is the band's strongest work since 1993's "Chaos A.D." is true, but that's not to diminish the albums released between then and now. "Kairos" showcases a focused, on-point Sepultura knowing exactly who they are and what they want to accomplish. The result is a encyclopedia of old-school thrash riffs, blistering guitar solos, the most well-rounded and explorative vocals of Derrick Green's career, and a rhythm section so heavy it will make your head hurt in the best way possible.

And they didn't skimp on the "Kairos" material, playing to a crowd that enjoyed the new songs almost as much as the old. Bottom line, Sepultura delivered a set worthy of a headlining gig. In any other circumstance, the show could have ended there with no other band able to follow.

But Machine Head followed, and they did so with aplomb.

I've seen Machine Head almost twenty times now; the east coast of the U.S., all up and down the west coast. I watched them perform in a tiny club to a handful of people, and to an arena as direct support for Metallica. I've partied with them in Paris, and shot the shit with them in Tucson. But nothing compared to what I witnessed at Via Funchal that night.

From the moment Machine Head walked on stage until well after they left it, the Oakland quartet owned Via Funchal. Supporting their latest--both musically and technically most proficient--release, "Unto the Locust," the band prowled the stage like a massive, aural bulldozer, laying waste to everything and everyone in their path. Robb Flynn recently stated that some of the new material was so complex that he wondered how they were going to pull it off live. They pulled it off. And then some.

Machine Head opened with the classic "Imperium," and proceeded to stomp their way through a set that represented the wide berth of their career. Among the highlights were the live debuts of two new songs, "I Am Hell (Sonata in C#)" and "Darkness Within," the latter of which closes with an a cappella outro that the crowd continued to hum long after Flynn had stopped singing. While the voices of several thousand Brazilian fanatics roared strong and showed no signs of faltering, the vocalist stood before us all and just watched, his face lit up with emotion, completely lost in the moment.

I would have been perfectly happy seeing either of these bands on their own. But together, in this place and at this time, Sepultura and Machine Head carried with them a magical element that still rings deep in my ears. And that's not just the tinnitus talking.

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