Climbing the stairs of Newcastle’s O2 Academy last Tuesday, I had no idea what to expect from a Machine Gun Kelly concert.
Despite already having two records to his name, I found the American rapper through his platinum-selling single ‘Bad Things’ with Camila Cabello last December. After another similar pop/rap effort in ‘At My Best’ with Taylor Swift-bestie Hailee Steinfeld earlier this year, I thought I had him sussed. However, the release of Bloom in May shocked me with such versatility and genuine emotion that I found myself waiting patiently in front of an elaborate, richly-decorated O2 stage four months later.
Even from the half-hour preceding the 27-year-old’s arrival it was clear that I was one of few who only came across the rapper in the last year. Raucous shouts of “M.G.K” refused to cease until the lights were dimmed and the star rose onto the stage on a trap door. The opening track off Bloom, ‘The Gunner’, kicked off the evening whilst the floor of the Academy parted to form one all-engulfing mosh pit amidst cries of “I am the Gunner!”
Just as that album is an eclectic mix of sounds and messages, so was Machine Gun Kelly’s performance. He crouches in a rare moment of silence to coolly crack open a bottle of San Miguel on the edge of the stage, which he sips intermittently between songs when studying the crowd through a pair of heavily-rimmed sunglasses.
He crouches in a rare moment of silence to coolly crack open a bottle of San Miguel on the edge of the stage.
Kelly encourages the crowd to throw their joints on stage during ‘Wake + Bake’ with a, perhaps, unsurprising success. I struggle to decide if ‘bad-boy’ moments like these are cringe-worthy or not but there is evidence that the rapper isn’t trying to be anything he isn’t. He confesses to never claim to be any sort of role model but acknowledges that he has an example to set for his fans when introducing the James Arthur-collaboration ‘Go For Broke’ which tracks his battle to succeed.
What struck me the most is that Machine Gun Kelly is so much more than another white American rapper. A touching tribute to the late Chester Bennington was paid with a cover of ‘Numb’ which showcased vocals that even Bennington himself would have been proud of. The commercially-successful ‘Bad Things’ and ‘At My Best’ were highlights of the evening but the rapper was never eclipsed by the booming of those infectious choruses. A preview of new material in ‘The Break Up’ showed that Kelly is moving with the times as a booming bass, destined for the top of the charts, shook the Toon.
Every aspect of Machine Gun Kelly’s set held his audience and with such a convincing range of new and old material that is hardly surprising. I’ve been fortunate to attend a good number of gigs throughout my life so far but never have I witnessed such a unique act. No one does what Machine Gun Kelly does and no one comes close.