It is never a bad thing to end a year of great music watching an arena show featuring two of your favourite bands, so I was more than a little chuffed to be able to catch Alter Bridge and Shinedown on the penultimate night of their UK tour.
Originally, Sevendust were due to open the evening, but due to illness affecting Morgan Rose they were replaced at the eleventh hour by The Raven Age. Now, if you are given an opportunity like this you have to grab it with both hands and BOY did The Raven Age do that!
The crowd was certainly a little sparse when they burst on stage, but they grabbed those there by the dangly bits, and refused to let go for the entire duration of their thirty minute set.
Melody can sometimes dilute metal but here it is blended beautifully. The two guitars of Tony Maue and George Harris trade licks and harmonies. Matt James cajoles the crowd into receiving every song with huge enthusiasm, and Matt Cox and Jai Patel lay down a rhythm that literally shakes the arena floor. For our three songs in the pit, myself and the other photographer sensible enough to be there early kept looking at each other and mouthing “Wow” as we worked almost as hard as the guys on stage to capture as many poses and key moments as we could given the whirlwind of movement. The highlight for me though was after we had left the stage. I was waiting stage left for assistance with a photo pass problem when The Raven Age exploded into “Seventh Heaven”. If the apocalypse comes with a soundtrack it would be the opening few bars of this song! A gentle, eerie opening as the world goes about its business followed by the most crushing power chord as it is blown apart. I couldn’t tear myself away!
If you are looking for a band who seem to keep getting better and better live, then the list should start with Shinedown. Opening with “Devil” and then straight into the impossible-not-to-chant-along-to “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)” their energy is simply off the chart. So much so that I pretty much give up trying to get any shots of the bandana masked Zach Myers or yellow suited Eric Bass, as whenever I got focused on them they had run off somewhere else! Add to that a lighting rig designed to trigger epileptics as far away as Swansea, and it is an overwhelmingly powerful and intense experience.
Brent Smith calms things down to chat with the crowd before “Enemies”, coming down into the pit to seek our hands, which, being a huge fan of the band, was an absolute bucket list moment for me. There are far more people to get to know though, so he heads off into a channel ploughed through the now huge crowd, all the way to the mixing desk and back before the band explode into “Enemies” accompanied by a sea of jumping bodies. Meanwhile I am singing along like the most rabid of fans as I finally get shots of Zach and Eric.
“Monsters” darkens the mood before the softness of the intro to “Get Up” lulls the crowd into a false sense of security. Before long they are bouncing again to “Cut the Chord”. “Second Chance” gets one of the loudest sing backs I have heard, so it is no surprise when the response to Brent asking the crowd to join in “Simple Man” is almost as loud as the national anthem on an international day just down the street. The set is closed off by “Sound of Madness” and finally “Brilliant”, which on the album I wouldn’t have seen as a set closer, but live, it leaves a sense of real camaraderie as the band take a bow and leave the stage.
Easily one of the best sets I have seen from Shinedown (although I was lucky enough to be at Exeter University a good few years ago when Brent and Zach performed the most extraordinary version of “Simple Man” I have ever heard. Check it out on YouTube and marvel at the sheer power of Brent’s performance).
So, to Alter Bridge.
In the past I have struggled to be energised by their headline show. Not in any way because the music is lacking, but because four, unassuming if brilliant musicians, have left me looking for something to visually focus the music on if I have not been right at the front. Tonight though they have bought a stage show that keeps the crowd occupied visually as well as aurally. A band of computer controlled displays from floor to ceiling coupled with strobes and spots, not to mention smoke cannons. It is quite mind blowing and truly state of the art.
Whilst the chat to the crowd is minimal it is heartfelt and genuine, and at one point there is even a chance for someone to leave with a guitar! It allows the four to do what they do best. Send out wave after wave of power, backed by intelligent and thought provoking lyrics. In that, they are utter masters. Myles Kennedy’s extraordinary range, Mark Tremonti’s effortless playing and occasional singing, Brian Marshall’s ground shaking bass and Scott Phillips, way back from the others, moving the walls back with each fusillade of blows.
“One Life” brings them onstage before they explode into “Wouldn’t You Rather” with its Eastern melodies. “Isolation” is simply massive and followed by “Come to Life”. Alter Bridge are fascinating to watch on stage. Nobody hogs the limelight. Instead occasional duos or trios form up in the middle of the stage before melting back. Even Myles position stage right rather than centre makes him blend into the background somewhat. The music however is rightly front and centre.
“Pay No Mind”, “Ghost of Days Gone By” and “Crows on a Wire” are sent out across Cardiff with minimal fuss but maximum power. The set then runs through a series of songs that blend, almost as if just listening to one piece of music. “Broken Wings” introduced slowly and gently, segueing into “Native Son” and on into “Rise Today”. “Cry of Achilles” with it’s stunning guitar intro and video background is immense and raises the game even further before “Waters Rising” and my favourite song – “Watch Over You” (complete with a superb singalong).
Closing out the main set with “Blackbird”, “Open Your Eyes” and “Metallingus” is one of the strongest pieces of set planning I have ever heard as it gets even the most tired punter singing and rocking along. Encores? How about “Godspeed” and “Addicted to Pain” to ring in your ears as you head home?
Band of the night? For me, being perfectly honest, it was Shinedown. The sheer energy and stagecraft worked for me. Alter Bridge, with their incredible musicianship and superb stage show made that a really difficult call though.
Review and images – Rob Wilkins