With so many fantastic gigs across the UK in the run up to Christmas, Rock Sins was not quite sure where our gigging year was going to end for 2019. Then the invitation came to end it with our old friends Alter Bridge, headlining at The O2 Arena in London for the second time, one we gratefully accepted.
Kicking things off tonight were UK hard rock meets commercial metallers The Raven Age (7.5). Though the first part of their set was spent navigating round the behemoth landscape of The O2 Arena to the correct entrance, what was seen was full of promise. The raw, semi untapped potential of their debut album Darkness Will Rise seems to have been solidly built upon in the intervening years. New (to us) frontman Matt James has both a very impressive voice and a stage presence that grew as the performance went on, allied to a receptive crowd where the cheers grew for each polished track. A band who had perhaps been written off already by some – if this was you, give them another go, you may be surprised by what you find.
An absolutely mammoth crowd greeted Brent Smith and the rest of Shinedown (6), who wasted no time in launching into songs like Devil and Diamond Eyes and received a huge reaction in return. A walk through the crowd and back from Brent coupled with a sufficiently motivational speech led to the floor of The O2 Arena bouncing as one for the second half of Enemies. The impressive performance continued with the likes of Cut The Chord and Second Chance but as the set went on, the issues that one can often associate with Shinedown came more to the fore.
Firstly, Brent has been giving the same preachy speech live, almost verbatim, for about the last seven years (see also anyone who’s seen Machine Head play Darkness Within for the last decade or so – at least Robb mixes up the content even if the overall theme is the same). Secondly, while their live performance has improved considerably in the six years since they last toured with Alter Bridge back in 2013, musically they still come across as very repetitive. What they do, they do well, and it was certainly very well received by the vast majority of the very well O2 Arena crowd, and if those who’ve spent their money to come and see the show enjoyed it, that’s the most important thing.
With the bulk of UK Alter Bridge fans, ourselves here at Rock Sins included, wondering just what more they have to do to finally land that elusive Download Festival headline slot, this was another prime opportunity for Alter Bridge (9) to show why they deserve it. This they did, and then some, in front of their biggest ever UK crowd outside of a festival. With new album Walk The Sky in tow, intro track One Life gave way to the first track from the album proper Wouldn’t You Rather, which in turn led to old favourite Isolation. It was a well paced start, something that continued throughout. The new material such as Pay No Mind and especially Native Son sounded highly impressive live, and fit in seamlessly alongside old favourites like Come To Life, White Knuckles and the always sublime Cry Of Achilles.
Alter Bridge have always been one of those bands who connect with their audience very well emotionally with their lyrics in certain songs. The fact they decided to unleash three of their most emotional tracks one after the other meant that there was barely a dry eye in the house. Blackbird on its own is usually capable of this, although most people seemed utterly floored by the fabulous acoustic rendition of In Loving Memory and the half acoustic / half full band Watch Over You before that. Blackbird was just the cherry on the top of the emotional cake. They then threw it back to first album One Day Remains for a double header of Open Your Eyes and the main set closing Metalingus – complete with a guest appearance from John from Sevendust.
There was of course an encore, and it wasn’t long before Mark, Myles, Scott and Brian returned to launch into Godspeed, the track that Rock Sins called the best song on Walk The Sky by some distance. It was a real highlight of the set, and instantly brought back the emotional energy in the room from earlier in the set. Things were ended on a rifftastic heavy note, as Addicted To Pain boomed around The O2, leaving Alter Bridge to celebrate the end of another enormously successful UK tour.
Having delivered another fabulous performance, and having upped the production values considerably from their previous UK arena runs, we find ourselves once again asking what more do they have to do to earn that coveted Download Festival headline spot. We remain convinced it will come one day, and when it does, we will be there.
The full Alter Bridge setlist was:
One Life (Intro)
Wouldn’t You Rather
Come to Life
Pay No Mind
Ghost of Days Gone By
Cry of Achilles
In Loving Memory (Myles and Mark Acoustic)
Watch Over You(acoustic start with full band from halfway through )
Open Your Eyes
Metalingus (featuring John Connolly from Sevendust)
Addicted to Pain