Gig review: ALTER BRIDGE – O2 Arena, London, 21 December 2019

Gig review: ALTER BRIDGE/Shinedown – O2 Arena, London, 21 December 2019

Oh, what to make of Shinedown. Despite their second-billing on this tour, the multi-million selling Floridian quartet smashed out their anthemic tunes to an enthusiastic O2 Arena. The music mostly went down well. My problem is Brent Smith’s grandstanding audience participation antics.

I saw Shinedown support Iron Maiden a couple of years ago and tonight was a word-perfect repeat of his previous laborious, over-indulgent, clichéd cajoling of the crowd to stand, jump, wave and shake hands with their neighbours. Two tracks in and he was off in to the audience, glad-handing Santa hat-wearing punters and spouting all sorts of cringeworthy nonesense.

Smith brings out my cynical streak. And it’s a shame because Shinedown, at their best, have a knack for finding infectious vocal and guitar hooks mashed up in genre-hopping arrangements that bring in metal, rock, rap, pop and even shades of drum ‘n’ bass. Take ‘Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom)’ which touches on all the above, welded around a thrilling descending chorus. ‘Enemies’, from the band’s strong 2012 showing ‘Amaryllis’ is a powerful, energising and multi-layered track; and the pairing of ‘Cut The Chord’ with ‘Second Chance’ created a big impression on the assembled masses.

The quartet of newer material from ‘Attention! Attention!’ garnered  less fervent results. ‘Get Up’ sounded lightweight and underpowered; and ‘Devil’, ‘Monsters’ and ‘Brilliant’ were not wholly convincing in a live setting.

As if to emphasise the contradictions in this band, the set highlight saw Brent and guitarist Zach Myers choreograph an uplifting, crowd-powered cover of Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’. The rest of the band soon joined in to deliver few minutes of undiluted joy.

Shinedown had a generous hour in this slot and won ardent reactions from plenty of devoted fans. I am clearly a curmudgeon in the minority who wishes Smith would curtail the showboating and give the music more of a chance.

In comparison, Alter Bridge were uncluttered, uncomplicated and all class. The stage itself was refreshingly clean, stripped of risers or ramps; and backlit by a double row of modest screens projecting lights and images.

This gave Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti and Brian Marshall space to strut and parade their wares. Opener ‘Would You Rather’ kicked in with a strong, balanced mix into which Tremonti stamped a searing, flange-heavy solo that set the bar high for the rest of the show. The band cut straight into an older crowd favourite in ‘Isolation’, with Marshall striking a power-lean as he wrapped himself around his four-string slung so low it scraped the stage.

‘Come To Life’ was unleashed next, the first of five from 2007’s ‘Blackbird’, a track on which Kennedy’s superb voice noticeably came to the fore. The vocalist/rhythm guitarist’s first chat with the crowd was to promise ‘Santa’ Tramonti’s PRS guitar to whoever in the crowd went the most crazy during ‘Pay No Mind’. The track was another slab of sumptuous, layered hard rock where for the first time the synth, used extensively on ‘Walk The Sky’ album, cut through to add colour and (even more) depth. As promised, Kennedy picked out a cheery bloke from a few rows back and presented him with the signature axe. He made off stage-right with a wide grin and an expensive souvenir.

ALTER BRIDGE – O2 Arena, London, 21 December 2019

The band delivered a change of pace with ‘Ghost of Days Gone’ by where Kennedy properly let rip on the dramatic chorus accompanied by a full-throated Arena on backing vocals. Many will tell you that Kennedy’s voice is just about the best in the business right now. For this type of music, I totally agree.

AB have been tweaking the set list as this tour has progressed. Tonight saw the inclusion of an incendiary ‘White Knuckles’ at the expense of ‘Crows On A Wire’ from the previous evening. This meant 2016’s ‘The Last Hero’ was not represented at all. A shame from my own perspective, but that album has not stood up the way that others in their canon have. And the flip-side is that mixing up the set keeps a fresh, dynamic vibe.

‘Native Sons’ is also a recent tour addition and Tremonti took it by the scruff of the neck with his foot up on the wedge, hammering out a murderous riff. The simple stage set up helped to underline the strength of the music and the absence of frills or gimmicks.

Tremonti was in full flow by then and ‘Rise Today’ wound up with scintillating solo – proper hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff, which is the point when my internal barometer signals the occurrence of something special. The needle spun off the scale for ‘Cry of Achilles’ next up: a near perfect immersive experience of dense, layered riffs over shifting powerful rhythms and soaring vocals. Bombast at its very best. Scott Phillips was wonderful on the drums here; and Kennedy and Tremonti shared the lead breaks. The former offering something more measured and controlled in comparison with the latter’s screaming fireworks.

The intensity levels peaked with ‘Waters Rising’ where Tremonti again found a filthy guitar tone dark enough to have been plucked from the Thames sludge on this mucky night outside the venue’s back door. This trio of standout tracks hallmarked a mature, confident and intuitive sense of dramatic, almost breathless show-building. There was only one way to go: the acoustic interlude.

From intense to intimate in a couple of minutes. Marshall and Phillips left the two principles to lean on stools and take the audience through a tender ‘In Loving Memory’ and half of ‘Watch Over You’ before the band rejoined to close out the simple, effective track with power and precision. ‘Blackbird’ is a great live favourite and the emotion on this excellent track flowed freely. Kennedy’s extended solo segued into Tramonti’s with electric conviction.

ALTER BRIDGE – O2 Arena, London, 21 December 2019

‘Open Your Eyes’ followed these three nuggets and then John Connolly joined for a furious ‘Metallingus’. Connolly’s band Sevendust were originally due to open the shows on this three-band bill. However their drummer fell ill and they had to swerve. Raven Age stepped in.

The encore paired the haunting ‘Godspeed’ with a massive ‘Addicted To Pain’ to cue extended thank-yous and stage selfies. This brought the curtain down my last and best gig of 2019. Indeed my last gig of the decade – and if I’m not able to say this was the absolute best in those ten years, it easily makes the shortlist. Absolute class. Alter Bridge are simply unrivalled in what they do.

Review and photos by Dave Atkinson

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