Alter Bridge & The Parallax Orchestra – London, The Royal Albert Hall – 3 October 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Saturday, 14 October 2017 04:00

Bands seldom achieve greatness through solid album releases alone. For every great band that has come before, for every great album, a reputation for solid live shows and (if the conditions are just right) iconic performances is a near-constant pre-requisite. Be it AC/DC or Slipknot, Marilyn Manson or Thin Lizzy, each iconic band has built their craft around the combination of Great releases and phenomenal stagecraft, etching a legend which paints the act as a fully realised artisanal machine. Every now and again, these moments are captured, like lightning in a bottle; AC/DC at Donnington. Nirvana Unplugged. Motorhead any given night of the week. It is in this spirit that Alter Bridge arrive at the Royal Albert Hall in early October, seeking glory and entrance into the pantheon of legendary, top-spot rock bands.


Alter Bridge 2

Formed in 2004 following the disbandment of punchbag radio rockers Creed, Alter Bridge have built a steady reputation as an act that could very well trouble the greats that have gone before them. Across their five albums they have proven again and again that the musicianship of the band is nothing short of spectacular, the team of Tremonti, Kennedy, Marshall and Phillips (the line-up unchanged since 2004) building a strong back catalogue of songs which has seen them grow from steady academy rock heroes into arena conquering behemoths. The band’s latest effort, The Last Hero offered the first genuine signs that the band were looking to conquer the airwaves, each of the album’s 13 tracks feeling like a fully realised anthem, propelling the band’s songwriting to whole new realms.


And yet, for a millisecond, it seemed like the band had hit a wall, halting their progression. An impressive run of stadium dates in the UK in November 2016 seemed to all but earmark the band for a headline spot at the following summer’s Download festival, yet when the full line-up was announced Alter Bridge were shunted into the (still impressive) spot of sub-headliner to Aerosmith; the exact same position they played in 2014. There’s no denying that Alter Bridge have grown considerably between 2014 and 2017, yet somehow that moment of pure realisation, that iconic sense of achievement still eluded them – until tonight.


Playing the second of two (mostly) sold-out dates at the Royal Albert Hall, Alter Bridge have enlisted the talents of the 52-piece Parallax Orchestra to bolster their performance in the UK, offering fans the opportunity to engage with the band in an entirely new format. With no support act to divert attention away from the band, the Royal Albert Hall is already packed out as the orchestra begin to file out onto the stage in preparation for the evening’s event. The atmosphere in the room is electric; this show isn’t just another achievement to add to the band’s impressive resume, it is an opportunity to do something very special, a moment which (ideally) would surely be marked out as hugely important in the band’s story.


Alter Bridge 5

The buzz of excitement in the room only grows as the band begin the steady build that signals the set’s opening number, ‘Slip To The Void’. A steady prog-like riff builds tension in the room, AB vocalist Miles Kennedy delivering a trademark performance which reaffirms why he is seen as one of modern rock’s greatest vocal talents. And then, it kicks in. A minute into the song, the band explode into life, the orchestra soaring to match the energy, an enormous soar of cellos and violins signalling what every single person must have been hoping when they brought tickets; this is Alter Bridge sounding entirely evolved beyond what has come before.


None of the rampaging edge of the band is lost in the band’s conversion to orchestral arrangements. If anything, the band sound a thousand times heavier, the natural bombast of their songs given an epic flourish which sees almost every number build to colossal crescendos. Not ones to opt in for a softer, ballad-heavy set-up, AB pull out heavy hitters early – ‘Addicted to Pain’ is a thunderous clash of arena rock and thrash metal, while ‘The Writing On The Wall’ into something which doesn’t feel a million miles away from the symphonic metal heights of Nightwish.


That doesn’t mean the band are avoiding crowd-pleasers though; ‘Before Tomorrow Comes’ is a sweet number which prompts an early sing-along, earning a huge grin from Kennedy in the process. Addressing the crowd with a warmth that errs on the side of intimacy, you’d believe that AB are playing to just a few hundred fans, rather than over 5000. That doesn’t take away from the pure star quality of the musicians onstage though; Kennedy and Tremonti are both bona fide, recognisable talents within the rock world, but much could be said for the bombastic rhythm section of Scott Phillips and Brian Marshall, the bedrock foundation from which the band build their epics.


Myles Kennedy 3

Epic is a word which springs to mind easily throughout the set, the band not so much capturing lightning bolt moments, as pulling together an entire evening of them. The beautiful tones of ballad ‘In Loving Memory’ hit so hard and deep that it feels as though the heart is undergoing a Grinch like transformation. Closing the first part of the evening with the epic ‘Fortress’ (see, there’s that word again!), the band bring the first part of the evening to a stunning close, filling every inch of space within the historical building with pure brilliance.


Returning with the stampeding ‘Ties That Bind’, Alter Bridge waste absolutely no time in blowing away any cobwebs created in the 25 minute interval. At their best, Alter Bridge fuse the best elements of Metallica and Alice In Chains – nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘The Other Side’, a track which takes the imperious military stomp of Metallica and gives it a melodic flourish which would do Cantrell and co. proud. Fusing heaviness to melody has become a staple of Alter Bridge’s sound, going full-throttle on both sides and finding a unique way to sense of cohesion between the elements. So, when an out and out ballad comes along like ‘Brand New Start’ or ‘Ghosts of Days Gone By’, the usual radio-weary cynicism that might tarr similar rock acts with mainstream appeal doesn’t manage to get a foothold, the songs feeling less like a release of the gas-pedal and more like a well timed shift of gears.


Orchestral arrangements suit the music of Alter Bridge incredibly well, the intricate shifts and swells within the songs given a whole new dimension and depth by the added instrumental compositions. Taking a selective approach to which songs from their back catalogue make the cut, AB pull out some genuine pleasant surprises with songs that either haven’t been played in years ('In Loving Memory') or some which have never been played before (the previous night excepting – ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’).


Myles Kennedy 2

Despite its newborn status to the Alter Bridge set, ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’ is one of the set’s highlights, the dual vocal of Mark Tremonti and Miles Kennedy providing the perfect interplay, with the entire song sounding enormous. While Kennedy rightly earns much acclaim for his stunning vocal, it bears worth mentioning that Tremonti has a great voice himself, his baritone on the aforementioned ‘Words’ and ‘Waters Rising’ proving to be a perfect counterbalance to Kennedy’s higher register. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to hear that dynamic more often…


That said, when Kennedy is given the opportunity to stand front and centre and really let his pipes blast, it truly is something spectacular. The performance of ‘Lover’ is greeting by a standing ovation (one of several throughout the night) and the acoustic one-two of ‘Wonderful Life’ (a track which has more than a whiff of Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’) and ‘Watch Over You’ given extra oomph with the accompanying symphony. Opting to go out with the classics, AB deliver a stunning series of knock-out blows with the enormous ‘Broken Wings’, ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’, prompting rapturous applause and a genuine sense of history unfolding before the audience’s eyes.


From their first record, there has never been a sense that Alter Bridge were anything less than a great addition to the rock world. To see the band taking genuine steps towards securing their own legend, in a foreign country no less, is nothing short of spectacular, the band making an unabashed statement to the world – we are ready for greatness. While we all wonder what acts can possibly take the crown from the old guard, Alter Bridge have been steadily working to do just that. Teaming up with The Parallax Orchestra has gifted the band an entirely new perspective, the combination of both groups creating something which truly deserves praise.


AB and Orchestra 2

While Alter Bridge have always had a mainstream appeal that puts them in the same territories as other modern arena rock heavy hitters, tonight’s performance has propelled them to whole new dimensions. Going from prom-night favourites to night at the proms wasn’t the most obvious next step choice for Alter Bridge, but it’s one that has paid off massively. There are many legendary performances and recordings which (rightly) showcase just how great our world can be when all the elements are right. As far as advertisements for our world go, you really can’t go wrong with Alter Bridge at the Royal Albert Hall – a legendary performance befitting a legendary venue. Now all that remains to be seen is where the band go next; Download headliner 2019? You’d be a fool to dismiss it…


You can check out the full Royal Albert Hall set list HERE.


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