Halestorm, Avatar and REWS Live @ O2 Apollo Manchester (26th September 2018)

Halestorm 2018 Band Promo Photo

Over the last few years, there seems to have been a great number of so-called ‘US radio-rock’ bands starting to make bigger and bigger waves over on European shores, with the likes of Shinedown and their ilk now sitting comfortably towards the top of festival bills and playing ever-increasingly huge tours. Halestorm are one such of these kinds of bands, and now they’re back in the UK for a run in support of their fourth studio album, Vicious. We went up to the O2 Apollo in Manchester to see how the band, supported by Avatar and REWS, would fare.

Thanks to queues for the venue snaking not only around the building, but also down the adjacent street, we don’t actually arrive inside the Apollo itself until openers REWS (7) are a few songs into their set. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Shauna Tohill and drummer/vocalist Collette Williams, the London/Belfast duo’s bright pop-rock sound puts sumptuous dual harmonies front and centre to a primal sounding backing, with great effect – immediately making an impact from the first moments we enter the room. Tracks like Miss You In The Dark and Shake Shake rattle along with an infectious energy, and it takes very little time at all for the pair to get a decent chunk of audience clapping along to their material. Opening such a stacked bill, especially one as varied as tonight’s, is no easy task, but the pair are more than up to the task and provide a strong and highly enjoyable appetiser for the madness to come.

After a quick changeover, creepy carnival-like music being blasted out across the venue then heralds the arrival of Swedish melodic death-metal merchants Avatar (8) to Manchester. Led by charismatic demented-clown ringmaster Johannes Eckerström, the band are undoubtedly the heaviest act on tonight’s bill by an absolute country mile, as evidenced by the scorching guitar lines on tracks like Hail The Apocalypse and Let It Burn. That’s not to say the band’s entire schtick is 100% ferocity at all times though; in fact, some of the best moments come when the band decide to go full-anthemic on tracks like Paint Me Red – the chorus of which is so overdramatic and cheesy that you can’t help but sing along as time goes on. The absolute hammy personality of Eckerström really shines through in these more campy moments too, as he gleefully struts around the stage, cane in hand, posing and posturing at the mostly bemused audience with a impish grin plastered across his painted face. Indeed, the only real glaring omission in all of Avatar’s set tonight in fact, is the absence of bassist Henrik Sandelin from the tour (his parts instead being piped out through the PA), but that doesn’t seem to have too much of a visible effect on the band’s unique brand of vaudevillian madness, as they lumber through an utterly enthralling set so enjoyable that it seems to totally fly by. Capping things off with the stomping Smells Like A Freakshow, the band eventually depart, having clearly both pleased their already-dedicated fans, and also likely recruiting more to their cult in the process.

It feels surprising to say that, following on from such cartoonish insanity, headliners Halestorm (5) actually end up feeling a touch underwhelming compared to what precedes them tonight. Lzzy Hale and co. naturally emerge on stage to thunderous applause and screaming, before launching into Skulls from this year’s Vicious, and at first, all seems well. Packing in an early run of fan favourites Mz. Hyde, Love Bites (So Do I), I Am The Fire and Apocalyptic is reminder enough of just how hard the band can really go when they want too, and the performances themselves are as tight and hard-hitting as their recorded counterparts. The main problem though, is that as time continues, the set simply runs out of momentum by the time it hits the mid-point. A trio of newer material that opens with an acoustic stripping-down of The Silence by Lzzy and guitarist Joe Hottinger starts off interestingly enough and provides a change of pace, but also simultaneously kills off the band’s pace. Fellow new cuts Black Vultures and Vicious simply doesn’t have anywhere near the impact that the band evidently think they do either, and things quickly become a touch monotonous as Halestorm continue on. This is then made infinitely worse when the band suddenly clear the stage in order to allow drummer Arejay Hale time for his obligatory drum solo – an affair that feels as though it drags on for a hundred years, and is such a slog to sit through, that not even the by-now expected presence of Hale’s usual giant drumsticks trick can make it amusing. Fortunately, the rest of the band then return and kick into the anthemic Freak Like Me, which sees virtually the entire venue jumping and singing as one, before the main set is brought to a close with Killing Ourselves To Live. Of course, there’s still a bunch of time left though, and a final encore of Uncomfortable, I Miss The Misery and uber-ballad Here’s To Us eventually brings things to a final conclusion. Halestorm might still be a much-beloved band to a great many people within the world of rock, but having witnessed tonight’s show be such a mixed bag of the exciting and the underwhelming, there’s little doubt in our minds as we leave the venue that we may have just witnessed an unexpected upstaging of frankly crazy proportions.

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