Review: Alter Bridge/Halestorm/Mammoth WVH – OVO Hydro, Glasgow

With the live music scene coming out of the worldwide lockdown only to be met by the cost-of-living crisis, it makes sense for headlining bands to go out together on multiple-band line-ups. And with so many rescheduled tours now kicking in, thus bringing the dreaded gig clashes, it also solves the potential problem of asking fans to choose which act gets their hard-earned money. An Alter Bridge tour with Halestorm along as special guests is a no-brainer as, to an extent, both bands share the same fanbase, and add to the mix the UK debut of the much-lauded (and rightly so) Wolfgang Van Halen project Mammoth WVH, then you have all the makings of a hot ticket, and a tour to remember.

Kicking off in Hamburg on November 1st, the European leg of the ‘Pawns & Kings Tour’ successfully ran through the entirety of November until it ended in Amsterdam on December 1st. Quite a feat considering how many UK and European tours by American acts have sadly been cancelled recently due to rising costs and the logistics involved in keeping a band on the road overseas while still navigating the choppy waters left by Covid. The money shot for all three bands arrives on December 12th when the convoy of tour buses and articulated lorries park up outside the O2 Arena in London for the last night of the tour. For tonight though, said buses and lorries have made the journey North of the wall from the previous gig in Nottingham, and are parked up outside the cavernous OVO Hydro in Glasgow where the temperatures are hitting the minus figures (still the usual nutters walking about in cargo shorts though).

It’s been ten years since Wolfgang Van Halen last played a gig in Glasgow. Playing bass as part of the earliest incarnation of Alter Bridge Facemelter-in-chief Mark Tremont’s Tremonti project, he brought the bottom end to the much smaller Garage venue in Glasgow and alongside him in the engine room that night; the machine known as Garret Whitlock, who also happens to be behind the kit tonight as part of the incredible vehicle that Wolfgang has put together to bring to life on the live stage the material he created on his own in the studio.

With the exception of Kilmister, there is perhaps no other surname as synonymous with the world of hard rock and metal as Van Halen, and it’s clear with Wolfgang (or as he refers to himself during the band introductions; Wolf) that the apple does not fall far from the family tree. Surrounded by one hell of a team of players that also includes two more guitarists – Frank Sidoris from Slash, Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators fame, and Jon Jourdan, as well as bassist (and non-stop ball of energy) Ronnie Ficarro, and the aforementioned Garret Whitlock, it is easy to forget that it was Wolf alone that played every instrument on the critically-acclaimed self-titled debut album from Mammoth WVH. Extremely comfortable in the role as frontman, Wolf is instantly likable as he sets out to make sure that those savvy enough to get out of the bar early enough to catch the short thirty-minute set are converted to the cause. Modern rock in a similar vein to Foo Fighters and Queens of The Stone Age is very much the order of the day, although opening track ‘Mammoth’ hints at an Alice In Chains influence. Arena-ready tracks such as the catchy-as-hell ‘Mr. Ed’ hit the target and showcases the chops that Wolf possesses as a guitarist, with a fiery solo getting the nod of approval from the musos in the audience. With its bass-heavy intro, ‘Epiphany’ is a standout moment from the short set, and it’s a nice touch when Wolf opts to play the short keyboard parts himself rather than using backing tapes. Ending on the buzzsaw riffage of the rollicking ‘Don’t Back Down’ the only thing the audience has left to do is hit the all-important “follow” button on the bands’ social media pages and cross their fingers that headline dates will follow in 2023. Simply put, an incredible set.

It is a tad strange catching Halestorm in a special guests capacity in an arena that they headlined a few years back, but as touched upon in the opening above, it makes good business sense that the Grammy-award winners (still feels good saying that) combine pulling-power with another headline act and give them a run for their money while knocking the crowd for six. Besides, it was only nine months ago that Halestorm were wowing sold-out audiences in the UK with their “Evening With Halestorm” tour.

No chance of Halestorm dialing it in though. With the exception of Arejay Hale’s drum solo and a set-stealing guitar solo from Joe Hottinger during a jaw-dropping extended version of ‘Familiar Taste of Poison’, this was Halestorm in lean mode. They had a job to do, and from the instant that Lzzy Hale took to the stage vocalising the intro to ‘The Steeple’ until the last strains of ‘I Miss The Misery’ some fifty minutes later, Halestorm refused to take their feet from the accelerator pedal. When Lzzy declares with outstretched arms midsong on ‘The Steeple’ that she is “…back where I belong…”, the smile on her face lights up the room, and with her red signature Gibson Explorerbird catching the revolving spotlights, she really does belong on the live stage. To her left is Mr. Reliability; Josh Smith on bass, behind her atop his drum riser and smiling like the Mad Hatter on blue Smarties is the always-mesmerising Arejay Hale – who later announces that he “just drank some Buckfast”, and to Mz. Hyde’s right is Joe Hottinger. How good has it been watching Joe grow over the years into this guitar hero that makes it look effortless? His playing ability knows no bounds (as does his confidence) and he plays with such joy that he makes it look easy.

With a deluxe version of the most recent studio album ‘Back From The Dead’ set for release on December 16th, it makes sense that tonight’s set leans heavily on the fifth studio album, with four tracks from it aired and one from the deluxe version slotting in seamlessly. After witnessing ‘Mine’ live in the flesh, it’s understandable why it didn’t make the original version of the album; not because it is in any way inferior (so not the case – and it was a real highlight of the set), but it was more than likely omitted because the 80’s vibe featured on it it didn’t fit in with the uncompromising, heavier material on the album. Live, tonight, it is stunning, and what a peach of a drum sound from Arejay Hale! Think Clem Burke on Blondie’s uber-classic ‘Atomic’ and you are in the same ballpark.

Ending with the killer knockout one-two of ‘I Get Off’ followed by ‘I Miss The Misery’, this was the perfect lesson in how to give the headliners a run for their money. Halestorm didn’t get to this stage in their career through hype or trends, they got here through sheer hard work, and the ability to put on a “show” in the truest sense of the word. Having heaps of killer tunes also helps, naturally, and Halestorm has them in abundance. They also have the all-conquering Lzzy Hale…enough said really.

Not many bands could have followed on from Halestorm in full flow, but Alter Bridge pick up the baton and run with it, and in what style. Like Halestorm, the Florida-based quartet are playing these stages through merit and putting in the hard graft over the last few decades. Killer tunes – yep, and while Halestorm has Lzzy Hale – Alter Bridge has Myles Kennedy. UK and European audiences can consider themselves spoilt rotten by the fact that they are witnessing three world-class vocalists on this tour.

Easily their biggest production to date, and in support of ‘Pawns & Kings’ – arguably their strongest album since 2007’s sophomore effort ‘Blackbird’, Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti, Brian Marshall, and Scott Phillips look at home on arena stages. This is where they belong. Although, they are some of the humblest, most down-to-earth musicians that you could ever meet, no rockstar airs and graces here; so much so that Mark Tremonti has his AAA laminated pass hanging from his belt just in case any overzealous security guards mistake him for a punter. Once the house lights dim, five thin symmetrical screens flicker to life in blazing white light and the familiar Alter Bridge logo spreads out over the screens. A bank of spotlights silhouettes the four members of the band and the opening strains of ‘Silver Tongue’ ring out before an explosion of light and sound shakes the arena to its core. The gnarly animated video of the track (a track that has just been voted as the best riff of 2022 by Guitar World) fills the screens and all eyes are fixated on the multi-media assault on the senses unfolding onstage. As openers go, this is special.

No time for hanging around as ‘Addicted To Pain’ quickly follows on with huge bursts of C02 filling the stage as the large screens all change to images of static-filled TV screens. Coming up for its ten-year anniversary, the muscular track impresses today as it first did back in 2013, and the chorus sees the crowd singing as one. After the darkness of ‘Addicted To Pain’ it’s time for some light in the shape of the utterly majestic ‘Ghost of Days Gone By’ which comes with a gorgeous guitar tone from Myles Kennedy in the intro. The stage is awash with bright colours on a hugely uplifting track which for many other bands would close the show. It’s a joy to watch Mark Tremonti play, especially during ‘The Other Side’ where his right arm is thrashing away like a pneumatic drill attacking his fretboard. Hard to take your eyes off Tremonti, never flash like the textbooks say that a lead guitarist should be, face-melting of the highest order, and says more with one riff than many do with ten. Myles Kennedy is of course no slouch on the guitar, and when the pair team up to flex their muscles, all eyes are on them. Alongside them, they have one of the most underrated rhythm sections in modern hard rock music today. With the ever-sure Brian Marshall on bass and Scott Phillips on drums they really are the spine of the band. Totally non-fussy, the pair know what they are there to do, and they do it well; so much so that Phillips was named number four in the top twenty best rock drummers of 2022 over at MusicRadar, and a thunderous version of ‘Cry of Achilles’ is all down to the pair.

Highlights of the set are numerous; Mark Tremonti taking lead vocals on ‘Waters Rising’ is always a highlight; newbie ‘Sin After Sin’ is colossal, and like the opener, the screens are put to good use with the video of the track playing (who doesn’t love copious amounts of skulls?); ‘In Loving Memory’ is even more emotional after the last few years that everyone has had; ‘Metalingus’, ‘Open Your Eyes’, ‘Rise Today’…the list is endless. But, the standout moment of the set has to be ‘Blackbird’. Beginning with a few bars of The Beatles’ own track of the same name, it soon changes into what you would be hard-pressed to top as the best hard rock song of the last two decades. Full of emotion, the heartbreaking chorus is bellowed back to the band by an audience where the track will have meant different things to different people, and if you have ever heard it played at a funeral then you will know what I mean. When it comes to that midsection, Mark Tremonti retreats to let Myles Kennedy take the first solo, and after dropping the crowd to their knees, Kennedy retreats backward to swap places with Tremonti who steps forward and peels off one of the most heartbreaking guitar solos, ever. The track ends with both players side-by-side. Un-be-liev-able.

This not-to-be-missed tour has three more dates to run:

Manchester December 9th

Birmingham December 11th

London December 12th

Tickets available here.

Review – Dave

Images – Dave Jamieson

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