Over the course of four solid albums and the better part of a decade on the concert trail, Detroit punk quartet the Suicide Machines have proven superior to much of their more popular competition, with Saturday’s excellent hourlong set at the packed Whisky just the latest local example.
So the same big question continues to dog the band: What’s it going to take for these guys, who were equally impressive at the Roxy last year, to break through to more than small club gigs and barely there retail sales?
Opening fast with the two-toned “Break the Glass,” a favorite from the band’s 1996 debut “Destruction by Definition” (Hollywood), the Machines set a manic pace from the start and never let up on the throttle. Singer Jason Navarro delivered his vocals of disillusionment, justice and strength with a red-faced intensity matched by the rowdy young crowd’s furious mosh pit.
“This doesn’t have to be a physical war,” shouted Navarro during the spastic, minutelong 1998 entry “Hating Hate,” whose lyrics take on added meaning in light of recent events. “Reverse the ignorance to which we were born,” he added. “Fight hatred!” the kids screamed back.
The title track from group’s latest Hollywood Records issue, “Steal This Record,” railed against the purveyance of commercialism in modern society, and was one of the evening’s highlights. Bowing as an all-out punk slammer, the soul-searching, four-minute song (long by band standards) evolved midway into a slow and relatively quiet refrain, a strong example of the Suicide Machines’ versatility.
The hard rock of “The Air We Breathe,” another standout from the new album, was a bold examination of what it means to be patriotic, and the self-critical lyrics fueled a particularly frenzied swirl of fans in front of the stage. “We’re all free, or so we’re told,” the band and crowd sang in unison. “A country with a corrupted soul.”
Show ended, sans encore, with the band’s 1996 single “S.O.S.,” a ska-inflected plea for peace and unity.