I saw enough Machine Gun Kelly last night
Perhaps the final third of Machine Gun Kelly’s set at the Xcel Energy Center last night was brilliant. Perhaps his recall was jaw-dropping James-Brown-level Apollo-level. The mound whose hour-plus pop-punk plod sent me out the door with at least half an hour to go? Perhaps he revealed himself as a master of showmanship, so that the boredom that preceded it was not just excused, but perfectly justified. I would never know.
Based on the evidence I have collected, I have my doubts.
I’m not in the habit of evading the shows I review, and I’ve certainly weathered the worst. But there was just something so daunting about Kelly, 32,’s packed concert in St. Paul. It wasn’t just the predictability of the music: from simplified pop punk to cliché by the Warped Tour two decades ago, with unique riffs that repeat precisely as the bass hits the tonic of each chord, almost drowned out by the battery. It wasn’t just his overreliance on backing tracks, musically and vocally. It wasn’t just his smug little homilies about believing in yourself no matter what the “internet” says about you. It wasn’t even just the fact that everyone around me liked him so much. It’s just that none of this is worth complaining about.
With a set of cheekbones on which you could slit the wrists and hipless waist of a ten-year-old boy, Colson Baker has been a potential star in search of the right galaxy to present him for a decade now. Enter Blink 182 (and everyone else) drummer Travis Barker, the punkiest Karadashian, who blamed the former rapper to pop-punk stardom with his 2020 gender switch, Tickets for my fall. But like all whiners, it just gave Kelly more to complain about. Its success should have been overnight; he should be universally admired. Last night, the man who somehow made Megan Fox seem non-erotic reminded us that all that’s been holding him back for years is his utter lack of charisma.
The show’s visual excesses were more klutzier than jaw-dropping. The evening began with video clips of two “characters” from MGK. One was the rocker himself, who needed to be rescued, as he was stuck in a cardboard box. “I think the internet has put me in a box,” he explained. (Apologies to anyone who heard me moan out loud.) The other was her rescuer, the mustachioed pilot of what turned out to be a huge pink helicopter. Impressive only in the fact that someone went ahead and made this stupid idea a reality, the helicopter hovered above the crowd until it reached the back of the room, where MGK s escaped from his box and began his performance hanging from a ladder as if escaping from Saigon.
Most of the time, however, it was a simple rock show. The stage was a pointedly titled circular chess board filled with assorted rocker-like rockers. Kelly ripped her pants off at one point and made a big deal out of the exposed flesh without ever looking flirty or sexy. When he introduced the band, his guitarist played part of the closing solo of “Purple Rain”. But really, this is all just easy-listening pop-rock for Warped lifers, as reassuring and musically reassuring as, oh, Steve Winwood’s 80s hits were to your parents .
But Stevie never demanded our love. Which brings us to the “provocative” track on Kelly’s new album, General public sale. (With an anarchy symbol replacing an A, of course.) What could this phrase maybe mean for someone under 30 today? With underground culture decimated by the capitalist realism of hip-hop, the stark alternative of pop, and the reduction of art by big tech to a commodity, the phrase even lacks irony. Who is he even supposed to taunt? Is your dad going to force-feed you side five of sandinista when you come home as a punishment?
Then again, the whole thing about MGK these days is that the world is against him, which is a very cool thing for a teenager to feel, but something an adult should discuss with a licensed professional. Worse still, it’s not even the world that wants to catch him, but “the Internet”, which was embodied last night (I don’t shit you) by a giant inflatable humanoid with a monitor for a head. “If the internet was right about Machine Gun Kelly, when the lights came on there would be no one here,” he said at one point. I am no logician, but I see flaws in this syllogism.
Regarding the lyrics: “I Had a Soul Until I Throw It Away”, “You Sold Your Soul”, “I’d Rather Be a Monster”, “Alienate Me”, “Breups Are Fun “I’m damaged/Please don’t fix me.” You got the idea. And then there’s the sex and the drugs, indulgences that Kelly sings about without taking advantage of them. Her idea of hot sex is to act like an asshole and then call her lover crazy. Kids are assured that everyone has dark times, and kids are lied to that their lives are more hopeless than they are because it makes you feel sexy and famous.
I should also mention opener Avril Lavigne (a sad phrase to see in 2022), who returned to duet with Kelly on her mediocre new song “Bois Lie.” (She also lit a facsimile of a two-foot joint for him.) Her earlier performance was enthusiastically received and short as hell — five fast-paced songs that flattered her career at its peak.
I never found out if the chopper came back for Kelly. Reviewers more committed to their professional duties (or perhaps just reviewers with bosses) tell me that the creepy internet giant man has finally chickened out. I’m sure there was a lot more about how we – big, bad media – hate it.
To which I can only say: