machine gun kelly mgk 2019
[Photo by: Jordan Wozy]

Machine Gun Kelly has gone from raging in clubs to rocking arenas and festivals, but the passion he puts into his live shows has never wavered. Leaving it all on the stage with each set, he continues to raise the bar on his live shows. 

Proving his creativity knows no bounds, he’s resorted to hotboxing in his car and taking advantage of the acoustics in his bathroom amid the current pandemic. But when armed with a mic and a crowd, MGK takes that to a whole new level.

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From his humble beginnings to present day, here are 10 of Machine Gun Kelly’s most iconic performances that show he’s always down to rage.

1. Making the whole room a stage

Like many, Machine Gun Kelly paid his dues by starting off at smaller clubs. With rooms packed to the brim, the rapper stormed the stage to give it all he had. Not one to be held back by the confines of your typical stage, MGK often crowdsurfed his way across the room (sometimes literally with the help of producer and hype man Brandon “Slim” Allen and fans), scaled balconies and beams and then dived back into the sea of fans below. While EST and the venues have since grown larger, he still maintains that same level of interaction, crowdsurfing and scaling stages in a whole new way.

2. Throwing down at Warped Tour

Machine Gun Kelly only played a handful of shows on Warped Tour in 2011, but he certainly left his mark with an energetic set and a hilarious nod to blink-182. He returned in 2012, earning his rightful place among the lineup and proving he can throw down with Warped veterans. Kells later hit the stage with Sleeping With Sirens for their collab “Alone” the following year. It didn’t stop there as he joined Linkin Park for “Bleed It Out” in 2014 and We The Kings for a Jimmy Eat World cover and “Wild Boy” in 2016. He even popped up at the final Warped show alongside YUNGBLUD to help close the chapter on 25 years of the punk-rock summer camp.

3. Representing the underdogs at WrestleMania

Back in 2012, MGK landed the performance opportunity of a lifetime thanks to John Cena. Having incorporated MGK’s “Invincible” on the road to WrestleMania 28, Cena brought the rapper out during his WWE Raw monologue. He invited him to play him to the ring in Miami before he took on The Rock. Joined by Skylar Grey, MGK and Slim hit the stage at one of the biggest annual sporting events. Ending with a speech of his own, MGK took the opportunity to stand up for the underdogs like himself despite the reaction he got from the crowd.

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4. Performing with an orchestra 

Joining the likes of twenty one pilots and Brendon Urie, MGK hit the stage at the inaugural Alternative Press Music Awards in 2014. Backed by the Cleveland Contemporary Youth Orchestra, he threw himself into a cathartic performance of “See My Tears.” Literally laying it all out on the stage, MGK and his band upped the energy with electro-charged riffs and emotional delivery of the Lace Up track that blended seamlessly with the arrangement.

5. Stripping down songs for acoustic takes

Machine Gun Kelly has blurred genre lines throughout his career, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many other rappers who can seamlessly transfer the flow of some of their most spitfire lines to a stripped-down performance. We’ve seen the softer side to MGK over the years, and recent songs off Bloom and Hotel Diablo have certainly been strummed on an acoustic guitar, but MGK was a step ahead in 2016 when he hit Orlando’s Park Ave CDs. Backed by his band, the group brought things down a notch on a medley of high-energy songs off his Fuck It mixtape (“Almost,” “Blue Skies,” “Rolling Stone,” “Thoed Ass”) and Wiz Khalifa collab “Mind Of A Stoner.” The result proved his artistry extends beyond the need of a packed venue to connect with his base.

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6. Being direct support for Fall Out Boy

In the fall of 2018, Machine Gun Kelly hit the road with Fall Out Boy as direct support for their MANIA tour. While FOB have recruited everyone from blackbear to Wiz on past runs and MGK has hit the stage alongside Limp Bizkit, some were thrown off by the matchup. Continuing to prove he doesn’t need a genre, MGK took to the stage like it was his own headlining show. Rolling through highlights of his discography, the rapper proved to be the perfect warmup. Going down amid the infamous diss track exchange with Eminem, Kells even debuted the since-retiredRap Devil” in the former’s home state of Michigan. The move and overall energy of his tour set showed he didn’t need to go on last to prove his chops and steal the show.

7. Swapping places with his drummer for a Mötley Crüe cover

About a year ago, Machine Gun Kelly squeezed into skinny jeans and platform boots to portray Tommy Lee in Netflix’s Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt. As his first starring role, he went all out in preparation, recruiting his own drummer JP “Rook” Cappelletty as his teacher. Nailing that signature drumstick twirl, MGK took what he learned off the screen and applied it to the stage for his summer Hotel Diablo tour. Incorporating one of his standout scenes in the background, he hit the kit for “Shout At The Devil” while Rook grabbed the mic to keep the crowd hyped.

Read more: See YUNGBLUD, Travis Barker and MGK rock a Sublime cover from home
8. Hosting epic pop-ups

As we already know, Machine Gun Kelly can turn anywhere into a stage. From those balcony dives to just grabbing the mic at a bar, he’s proven his spontaneity. However, with the alt-driven “I Think I’m OKAY” gaining traction and now a Travis Barker-produced pop-punk album Tickets To My Downfall on the way, he’s gotten even grungier. From crowdsurfing into the Roxy to play the collab, teaming up with Barker for “What’s My Age Again?” at Emo Nite LA and even teasing future matchups, MGK has continued to keep us all on our toes in the best way.

9. Playing Hotel Diablo in full a month after it came out

As a scene, we’re quite familiar with tours where bands celebrate the anniversary of iconic installments in their discography by playing them front to back. Machine Gun Kelly, however, didn’t want to wait a decade or more to give fans the full album treatment, so he did it weeks after releasing his latest, Hotel Diablo. He kicked off his sixth annual EST Fest with the immersive experience. Playing through it in full one time only, he told AltPress the hometown crowd was the only place that made sense. “You really have to take a journey to get here, so you can only come if you really wanna get here,” he shares. “So, if you find it, I’ll give it to you.”  

10. Paying tribute

Over the summer, MGK and YUNGBLUD hit The Late Late Show With James Corden for an electric performance of “I Think I’m OKAY.” Feeding off each other’s energy during the high-octane set, the duo took advantage of the screen time to pay tribute to the victims of two mass shootings that occurred in the days prior. Flipping their guitars up, each musician supported Dayton and El Paso, respectively, by etching the cities with tape. The move showed the rapper isn’t afraid to use his platform to make a message be heard loud and clear.

What’s your favorite live performance moment from Machine Gun Kelly? Let us know in the comments below.