Spirits are high at London’s O2 Arena as local Metallers The Raven Age pave the way for two of America’s biggest and best in Alter Bridge and Shinedown. Last minute replacements for originally scheduled openers Sevendust, they don’t let the occasion get to them and kick off the evening in fine style.
Words: Dany Jones
Pictures: Steve Ritchie
Shinedown roared out of Jacksonville, Florida in 2001 and have established themselves internationally with a fresh, original crossover sound drawing on several influences, from hard and classic rock to pop and electronica. The band have been on a high since going multi-platinum with their single ‘Second Chance’, part of album no three ‘The Sound Of Madness’, and are currently on the road showcasing their most recent work ‘Attention, Attention’.
Their introduction to the stage can easily be compared to a rollback of the years, to when you were a child and your parents would take you to the circus. The master of ceremonies would jump out and around and then ask you to sit back and fasten your seatbelt, since you are about to witness the greatest show in the world. First song on the Shinedown menu this evening is ‘Devil’.
Barry Kerch hits his drums with such vigour that his dreadlocks bounce at every beat, Zach Myers and Eric Bass play a sleazy dirty riff in a loop, while Brent Smith shouts in a crescendo “Pick it up, pick it up, pick up the phone”. With an ever infectious dubstep type of groove, that despite the slow tempo causes the whole arena to head-bob like crazy, this song has already reached anthem like status and certainly makes for a great opener.
They follow that with a vintage rock sound turned contemporary thanks to the addition of backing tracks, the juxtaposition of bottom heavy classic guitar riffs skilfully played by Myers, industrial type loops married to Kerch’s signature marching beat and the explosive ‘Diamond Eyes’ is born. The chant-like chorus makes you sing along and all rise with the “Boom-lay, boom-lay’ boom”.
Brent Smith at this stage pauses to talk to the audience: “Listen up before we go on, give each other a high five”, and people turn to their neighbour and slam hands into one another. “We are honoured to be in the greatest city in the world and this is for you.” introduces the first notes of ‘Enemies’.
This is a track that evokes the straight, yet ever so effective groove of contemporaries of the likes of Halestorm’s ‘Freak Like Me’, with big, chunky riffs and a relentless beat you can’t help but jump to. Fists are up in the air, moshpits take shape, people sing along and it simply feels like one big party.
However, it is soon time to mellow down and ‘Monsters’ creates a true emotional experience. The initial downtuned riff, enhanced by a phaser that gives it a tremolo effect, the deeply cutting vocals rounding the equally poignant lyrics and Myers’ tasteful haunting guitar solo, render this song nothing short of epic. This is the track that makes you want to reach out for the tissues, while the O2 is submerged by a sea of lights.
” What an absolutely astonishing audience we have before us tonight. Thank you for allowing us to play for you.” says Smith before getting people in their seats to stand up and raise their lights “So that we can make some magic together.”.
‘Get Up’ is a song containing a message of hope: the strength to, no matter what, believe in oneself and make things happen and, if one should fall, to get up and keep on moving. Probably their most poptastic number with a super catchy chorus, this sees the addition of a piano part played by Eric Bass while remaining in charge of the bottom end of the sound and Zach doubling up on acoustic guitar. Between the incredible light show and the sea of hands waving their lights across the arena, this is another uplifting moment.
A film noir style motif, sounding as old as a scratched up vinyl being spinned for the hundredth time, provides the intro for the ear splitting relentless groove played by the ever so energetic dreadded drummer for ‘Cut The Cord’. With a choir of voices in unison that fill the room, this track is simply meaty, loud and catchy AF.
Back to 2008 and the song which put this band on the map. Unequivocally radio friendly and beautifully showcasing the singer’s ever so compact clean tone, ‘Second Chance’ is an autobiographical song about Brent leaving home to follow his dreams and a touching one indeed for him to sing.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ is an absolute bluesy classic, with clean voice and guitar, where the rhythm section only kicks in on the second half of the song and which takes no prisoners in terms of shivers. The audience know it well too and are invited to actively participate on the choruses.
The last two songs of the set pick up pace again and we see ‘Sound of Madness’ going for that signature steady yet heavy marching beat, fuzzy guitar and even a solo by the maestro, as Brent himself describes him, while ‘Brilliant’ has a cathartic feel to it which makes it the ideal closing number.
Shinedown never skipped a beat. A band that play straightforward, in your face, no frills contemporary rock and deliver with the precision of a Swiss clock. Their attention to detail is remarkable even in the image, where they are all suited in black and yellow, the emblematic colours of the band, and in perfect coordination. The show did feel rather rehearsed and the long chats and the excessive praising felt preachy and fell a tad flat. I think their set could benefit from a bit more variety too but with over ten million sales worldwide, Shinedown are certainly doing something right and tonight was a true testament to that.
Brent Smith [vocals]
Zach Myers [guitar, acoustic guitar]
Eric Bass [bass, keyboard]
Barry Kerch [drums]
DIAMOND EYES (BOOM-LAY, BOOM-LAY BOOM)
CUT THE CORD
SOUND OF MADNESS
When Orlando rockers Creed parted ways with singer Scott Stapp in 2004, the three musicians were in the market for a new singer to start afresh. When Myles Kennedy came into the picture Alter Bridge were born and have since released six studio albums, live releases and more.They have also toured tirelessly, with a regular three year cycle for each album, building a career that has taken them to arena headlining status tonight to celebrate latest album ‘Walk The Sky’ which has topped the rock charts worldwide.
The show begins with the intro ‘One Life’, which is an ethereal slow tempo interlude with Kennedy’s dreamy vocals echoing in the room, during which the boys take their positions. Armed with smiles and a burst of energy,you can tell that they mean business as soon as the very first notes of ‘Wouldn’t you Rather’ start resounding around the room.
‘Wouldn’t You Rather’ is a bombastic number marked by Tremonti’s signature chunky riffing, a stop / start groove greatly showcasing the rhythm section and an ever catchy chorus you can easily sing along to. It is heavy and loaded with character and one that indeed sets the mood for a forthcoming utterly exhilarating experience.
Fog jets trigger on the first notes of the anthemic ‘Isolation’ from third album ‘ABIII’ with ‘Flip’ Phillips surprising us with a heavy double pedal breakdown on the riff interlude. Myles then goes: “I wanna hear you screeeeeam”, while Marshall takes centre stage for the middle eight and it is heavy duty all around with this song.
Tremonti’s Heavy Metal background married with Kennedy’s more theoretical jazzy approach and his pure vocals, create the perfect formula that renders this band so unique and equally appealing to a diversified type of audience. Ranging from the most hardcore of Metalheads to the more melodic type listener and anything in between, Alter Bridge really cater to everyone’s taste.
A clear example of that is the next track, this time from ‘Blackbird’. ‘Come To Life’ has a melodic and catchy vocal line laid over a huge Heavy Metal riff, even featuring the famed Zakk Wylde squeal, and only further enhanced by Marshall’s doubling on the lower octave, hence the use of the five string, while Phillips provides steady barrage all the way through. This song is classic Alter Bridge; solid, yet ever so singable and everyone joins in.
Time to greet us and a rather excitable Myles, finally goes: “Good evening Londoooooon. How is everybody doing here this evening?!”. He then thanks the support bands and introduces ‘Santa Tremonti’, who will very kindly offer the Tremonti signature PRS guitar he is about to play for the next song as a Xmas gift to ‘the craziest mother****er’ in the room.
A peculiarity of this band, is that Kennedy and Tremonti like to constantly experiment with tunings and you will be hard pressed to find two songs with the same architecture. Come the new album, they decided to take it a step further and venture into totally uncharted territory, by embracing a much wider sonic soundscape.
‘Pay No Mind’ introduces the use of synths, skilfully played by the multi talented musician as well as guitar tech Jeremy Frost, who is wearing a bandana kamikaze style on this occasion, while loving every minute of it. Inspired by a John Carpenter synth-pop type motif, as Tremonti himself explains in several interviews, this theme recurs in few songs of the album and ‘Pay No Mind’ is one of them. Eerie and kinda solemn, it certainly deviates from anything that they have done before.
The song is over and it is time to choose the winner. Myles gets elected for the pick and the deed is done; the guitar goes to a longstanding fan. Lucky guy indeed!
‘Ghosts Of Days Gone By’ follows suit and it sounds like the whole arena knows the words. Breezy and simply uplifting, it nicely gives way to another Alter Bridge meteor, ‘White Knuckles’. Back in the fast lane and more Metal sounding, this track from the ‘Blackbird’ album, is a classic in the AB set list, while ‘maestro Myles’, who seems to be in a truly cheeky and mischievous mood tonight, starts conducting the audience and we, of course, eat from the palm of his hand.
An absolute personal favourite from the new album is ‘Native Son’ where Mark gets his Stella out for the occasion, the very limited edition Explorer guitar designed for him by Paul Reed Smith.
You would tend to assume that this track would be a Tremonti creation due to the heaviness of it, however, Kennedy appears to be the legitimate father of that absolutely stunning killer riff. Fantastic job also from the rhythm section, who remain as tight as ever. It did feel like a hint more attitude and slightly faster tempo in the live rendition wouldn’t have gone amiss, however the song still sounded solid.
The singer keeps teasing with some guitar licks and it is time to travel back in time again to 2007 when he asks: “Are we ready to ‘Rise Today’.?”. Another staple in the live set and very much loved by the fans, once again you have the whole arena clapping hands and singing along.
Their darkest and heaviest album to date, ‘Fortress’ gave birth to the gem of a single ‘Cry Of Achilles’. Spotlight on Myles, who starts the initial riff solo, then the whole band erupts into this absolute blinder. The rhythm section really shines on this song, especially in the breakdown where you have a stunning bass line in a loop played by Brian Marshall at the forefront. Follow wailing guitar solos played by Kennedy and Tremonti in turns that simply make you quiver and glorious choruses where all arms are up in the air and even Myles himself is left speechless.
Fans of Mark’s singing aren’t disappointed as he takes the lead on ‘Water Rising’ while visuals of gusty waves play in the background. A brilliant performance by the riff master, whose vocals have come on by miles since the early days. Also one for the drums, where we get an impeccable shuffle by Mr Phillips, loaded with tasteful flairs and plenty of dynamics and this song indeed also goes out with a bang.
Time for the classic mid set chair and that can only mean one thing: the Mark and Myles acoustic duet. You would think that playing three mellow songs in a row would be overkill, however people seem to enjoy every minute of it and Alter Bridge sure know how to give their fans what they want. Needless to say that the whole performance was nothing short of mesmerising, where 17,000 lights rise in the sky and it remains hard keeping a dry eye. Between ‘In Loving Memory’, ‘Watch Over You’ and ‘Blackbird’ it would be surprising to see anyone not being affected.
It was amazing to get the full band join in on the second half of ‘Watch Over You’, which had not been done in a long time. Myles pays tribute to the Beatles in the intro of ‘Blackbird’ by playing the original chord progression before launching into Alter Bridge’s own tune. With one of the most haunting riffs and heart-wrenching guitar solos and including that signature Marshall run down on the bass that will get you every time, the song has become an absolute Alter Bridge staple.
“We are going all the way back to 2004” introducing another AB classic in ‘Open Your Eyes’. This usually marks the climax of the show when the lights go up, the music stops and you have a choir of ‘oh-ohs’ lifting in the air for several minutes, before the band kick in again. Myles himself calls it their favourite part of the night and the moment is truly magical.
It is such a pleasure to watch a band as highly technically skilled yet as unpretentious as this. Never ceasing to appreciate how far they have come and thank their fans for helping them get there. There is no ego, no cockiness, no rockstar diva dips; it is sheer artistry by people who simply love what they do. Visibly moved tonight, Kennedy says “This is where it kind of started for us, this is ground zero and we wanna thank you so much for the last fifteen years”.
For the ever rifftastic ‘Metalingus’ we get a surprise special guest when John Connolly from Sevendust, the openers forced to cancel, joins in on guitar. A now guitar-less Myles is free to play maestro one more time and so the ritual begins when he commands people in the audience to crouch down on the middle eight. Must admit that it has taken a while for the people in the pit to clock in, but it eventually works and everybody jumps up when the chorus kicks back in. That was fun indeed!
Is this the end? Only for a few minutes, till the band come back for the encore. Introduced by the piano intro, with keyboards back in the mix, people are in absolute awe of ‘Godspeed’. This song, from the latest album, seems to be favoured by many as the perfect combination between content and composition. An enlightened piece paying tribute to Mark’s friend Seth Luker who recently passed away, it is simply classy, dreamy and uplifting.
Alter Bridge have churned out tunes one after the other and have given us a very generous eighteen song set. What better way to finish though than with the absolute blinder that is ‘Addicted To Pain’. Myles Kennedy has cherished the Telecaster relic he received as a gift for his birthday so much, that he has preferred to mostly play that one guitar for the remaining duration of the tour. One more tuning and he plays the start of the emblematic riff. Mark then joins in with his Stella and they are off. A ton of percussive barrage provided by Flip, a huge breakdown, a facemelter of a solo by the master shredder himself, a weighty outro while the CO2 jets erupt for the last time and it is lights up. What an absolutely explosive ending to a simply fantastic set.
With an ever bigger and bolder production, with a wall of screens, fog jets and lasers beaming across the room, the upgrade in the lightshow since their last tour is truly remarkable. The band have upgraded too, using in-ear monitoring, cymbal shields and their synths.
A well balanced set was lighter on the new material than I would have liked but having said that, Alter Bridge are renowned for mixing it up and tailoring their set to what they deem the audience on the night will appreciate the most. The band simply cannot be faulted. The energy was simply electrifying from the get go, they have absolutely given their all, delivering an absolutely classy and simply superb performance. Next stop supporting the mighty Iron Maiden in the summer!
Myles Kennedy [vocals, guitar]
Mark Tremonti [vocals, guitar]
Brian Marshall [bass]
Scott Phillips [drums]
Guest: Jeremy Frost [keyboards]
Guest: John Connolly – Sevendust [guitar]
ONE LIFE (INTRO)
WOULDN’T YOU RATHER
COME TO LIFE
PAY NO MIND
GHOSTS OF DAYS GONE BY
CRY OF ACHILLES
IN LOVING MEMORY
WATCH OVER YOU
OPEN YOUR EYES
METALINGUS (featuring John Connolly – Sevendust)
ADDICTED TO PAIN
Alter Bridge / Shinedown
O2 Arena, London
Words: Dany Jones, Pictures: Steve Ritchie
21st December 2019