Expectations were high amongst the thousands of fans who had descended on the NEC site in Birmingham mingling with visitors to the Good Food Show and Motorcycle Live 2016 taking place at the same time at the venue.
Thumbs up to the organisers who had the press passes at the ready an hour before the doors opened, leaving enough time to set up and grab a quick Guinness even though it was a silly price, a bit like the merch – £50 for a hoodie, did anyone buy one of those?
Like a Storm
Doors were at 6pm with the openers, Like a Storm over from New Zealand, hitting the stage to a somewhat restrained welcome 15 minutes or so later. The band tried extremely hard to get the growing crowd in the mood for what was to follow and it was a high energy performance, particularly from the bands’ frontman Chris Brooks who was very well supported by his brothers, Kent and Matt along with drummer Zach Wood. Apart from a cover of TNT by AC/DC the other songs all came from the bands 2015 album, ‘Awaken the Fire’ and included Chris Brooks’ waving around his didgeridoo, which made a few appearances during the short set, before tossing it off stage. Despite the fairly muted welcome, by the end of the set the crowd had warmed to the lads who had put in an entertaining set. This could be a band worth watching out for.
Like a Storm Set List:
Become the Enemy
Wish You Hell
Love the Way You Hate Me
Next up were old favourites Gojira. The band were one of the highlights of this years’ Bloodstock Festival, so much was expected. This show was part of their ‘Magma’ tour in support of their 2016 album release of the same name. Following an extended walk-on intro the band kicked off with Toxic Garbage Island from the 2008 album ‘The Way of All Flesh’ and was immediately followed by L’Enfant Sauvage from their previous alum. As usual Joe Duplantier gave a solid performance up front and central as the band got into three successive tracks from ‘Magma’, starting with Silvera followed by Stranded and then The Cell. These three songs show that Gojira remains as stable as ever and are still on top writing form while playing the songs superbly. The unchanging line-up, at least since 2001 when the name Gojira was taken on, continues to be one of the strongmen of heavy metal and this short set was completed by another trip to the archives with Backbone and finally Vacuity. With Joe up front it was left to Jean-Michel Labadie and Christian Andreu to strut the stage leaving Joe’s brother, Mario, up in the Gods keeping time.
Just like Bloodstock, this was another stunning, if short, performance which had the fans baying for more….but no time for more as the stage gets set for Volbeat.
Gojira Set List:
Toxic Garbage Island
Backbone (with a snippet from Remembrance)
Volbeat were one of the star attractions on this tour and I knew of several friends who came along specifically to see them over and above Alter Bridge, and following this performance I can see why…they were stellar! Now Volbeat isn’t a band I’d seen before and I’d not listened to much of their material but their stage presence, engagement with the audience and musicianship was outstanding and it’s a band I’ll listen to more often.
The bands’ latest album,’ Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie’, was released in June this year and they took the opportunity of introducing the fans to a fair proportion of that album kicking off with The Devils Bleeding Crown, with its high energy riffs that keep going and going in your head. Alongside this Slaytan, For Evigt, Black Rose and Seal the Deal all got an airing. This was their first album without bassist Anders Kjølholm who left the band a year ago; taking his place exceptionally well was Kaspar Boye Larsen.
Front man, Michael Poulsen, very quickly developed a rapport with the audience with his stories, comments and quips but his song-writing is what stood him apart from the others. The most recent five of the six Volbeat studio albums were represented here tonight and the diversity of styles within their music was fully demonstrated from heavy metal, to rock ‘n roll, to rockabilly, to thrash, to punk and you don’t have to listen too hard to realise all these styles are there in some very clever writing.
Former Anthrax guitarist, Rob Caggiano, also strutted his stuff around the stage, played entirely to the crowd, wagged his finger, smiled a lot and generally looked smug – deservedly so too while staying more or less out of the spotlights original drummer Jon Larsen glued it all together.
The album ‘Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies’ was represented by Lola Montez & Dead but Rising, ‘Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil’ by Sad Man’s Tongue, ‘Beyond Hell/Above Heaven’ by 16 Dollars & Evelyn (one of the outstanding songs of the night) and ‘Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood’ by Still Counting.
Volbeat Set List:
The Devil’s Bleeding Crown
Sad Man’s Tongue
Dead but Rising
Seal the Deal
Many people walked away saying that Volbeat were the band of the night, were they right, let’s see.
There’s plenty of hype attached to Alter Bridge, particularly to Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti as both founders and engine room; was that hype justified tonight? I’m not certain it was. Don’t get me wrong the band, as a whole, play some damned fine music, Tremonti, in particular, throwing out some fantastic guitar breaks. But, and there’s always a ‘but’, the sound seemed a little rough at times with Kennedy’s vocal getting a little thin and whiny occasionally. That may have been the general sound quality but it did little to lift the band and solidify the headline status.
The set kicked off with The Writing on the Wall from their current album ‘The Last Hero’; a thumping start to the final round with Mark Tremonti prowling around the stage area. After this it was a look at the back catalogue as they get through Come to Life from 2007’s ‘Blackbird’, Addicted to Pain from ‘Fortress’, Ghost of Days Gone By from ‘ABIII’ and Cry of Achilles, also from ‘Fortress’. A return to ‘The Last Hero’ gave us My Champion followed by Ties That Bind, another one from ‘Blackbird’, Ties That Bind being one of the best tracks of this set.
After Water Rising from ‘Fortress’ and the title track from ‘The Last Hero’ it was a distinct change of pace as Myles Kennedy donned an acoustic guitar to give an emotional rendition of Watch Over You which had the crowd singing along enthusiastically. A great song. The relative peace was short lived as Alter Bridge returned to from the rock cave with Isolation from ‘ABIII’ followed by Blackbird.
The end of the long set, and a very long evening, was drawing close as the band play Poison in Your Veins from ‘The Last Hero’ then finish with Metalingus and Open Your Eyes. Much cheering and gnashing of teeth brought the band back for the obligatory encore which consisted of Show Me a Leader from the new album and finally, from ‘Blackbird’ Rise Today.
So, did Alter Bridge live up to the hype and deserve their headline status. Not quite; I felt that Volbeat took them on stage presence, crowd engagement and musical diversity but that’s not to say Alter Bridge were, in any way, bad, they weren’t but Volbeat were just that little bit better. Mind you, Gojira weren’t far behind!
The Good Food Show and Motorcycle Live crowds were long gone as generally happy music fans trudged out of the arena to catch buses, trains, taxis or cars back home. Tonight was a good night.
Alter Bridge Set List:
The Writing on the Wall
Come to Life
Addicted to Pain
Ghost of Days Gone By
Cry of Achilles
Ties That Bind
The Last Hero
Watch Over You
Poison in Your Veins
Open Your Eyes
Show Me a Leader