Review by Stephen Brophy, photos by Sean Larkin
On a fairly wet and grey day in Nottingham the Carnival Of Madness Tour rolls into town to lift the gloom and blow out the cobwebs from the end of January. The lineup for the Tour is very heavy hitting with Halestorm, Shinedown and headliners Black Stone Cherry, along with the three piece Highly Suspect from Brooklyn opening affairs. Having seen Halestorm, Shinedown and AlterBridge in the same venue a couple of years ago I knew that tonight was going to be a great show, and there was to be no disappointment.
The least well known of tonight’s bands, Brooklyn’s Highly Suspect, are introduced to the assembled crowd and get stuck into their set with little fuss. Although they have been on the go for six years, last year saw the release of their first album. A three piece rock band they are a little hard to pin down style wise; there’s a bit of a punky element, and at times they reminded me of Sublime, but there’s certainly enough there to pique the interest, but tonight there’s a thought that not all of the ingredients are in place just yet. This is a band that have been nominated for ‘Best Rock Song’ (‘Lydia’, which is in the set tonight) and ‘Best Rock Album’ (Mister Asylum) in the 2016 Grammy’s, and that’s great for any young band. They sound their best on the more aggressive tracks, such as the new song aired tonight ‘Seratonia’ which has a really gritty feel to it, when Johnny is introducing tracks with “you probably won’t know this one, but you probably don’t know any of them” it may not be too long before people know them, definitely a band to keep an eye on. Twins Rich and Ryan Meyer on bass and drums respectively and Johnny Steven’s guitar and vocal have that ability to make a proper racket so it will be interesting to see how their sound develops. Of the six tracks offered tonight probably the best known is ‘Lydia’; a polished piece, with touches of indie, rock and touches of reggae, and it works well for a band that you wouldn’t automatically think of when putting together tonight’s lineup.
Halestorm literally storm the stage, flying out of the blocks to an expectant crowd. Lzzy and the guys have become a monster live band, with Lzzy spearheading everything, and her voice is, as always, just awesome. She appears to be so natural singing at a level others struggle to scream at. In addition, they just have a bigger presence on stage now than they did a few years ago, the confidence is higher and the ability to work the crowd is there – a band I will always watch when given the opportunity. Having played a lot of shows in the UK over the last five years it is no surprise that they have built up a growing support base, and the reaction they receive throughout their set supports this.
Much as I enjoy watching Arejay playing I would still question the logic of having a drum solo in a support slot irrelevant of who you are, but they have always had it this way, so just enjoy what he does, he’s always interesting to see so it’s no big deal. Tonight sees a good mix of tracks from the most recent Into The Wild album alongside some fan favourites, and although the new tracks do come across a bit heavier in the live arena the balance in the set is good. Tracks like ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’, ‘Apocalyptic’ and the powerhouse new single ‘Mayhem’ balance nicely with ‘I Am On Fire’ with Lzzy playing the a beautiful Gibson double neck guitar. The set just flows really nicely and ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘I Miss Misery’ make a strong end to the set and it’s once again sad to see them leave the stage, always a really enjoyable band to watch live and tonight is no different. They have really raised the bar for the other two bands tonight and as with BSC they just seem to be getting better as they go along and growing into their own skin. Bigger stages hold no fear for them and it won’t be too long before they are higher again on a bill like this. One thing that is wonderful about Halestorm/Shinedown/Black Stone Cherry playing on the same bill a number of times over the last few years is that you get to see the changes, development and strides forward that they are making.
Shinedown are just class, ok some may have been a little perplexed by the Introduction to Meditation piece before the band arrived on stage, but that’s irrelevant to what follows; you have a four piece band where everyone brings something to the table, energy oozes from their pours and they always sound great. Kicking off the set with ‘Black Cadillac’ from last years excellent Threat To Survival album they just push through their allotted time with little pause for breath. It’s crazy how a nine track set as a main support band can be both very fulfilling and seem criminally short all at the same time. Touring on the back of a new album as you would expect there’s a significant amount of tracks from Threat To Survival, four in total, and that of course means you are going to loose some of the heavy hitting classics from the set, out goes a personal favourite ‘Bully’, but time restrictions always do that, essentially it’s a cut down set of their US Tour Dates before Christmas.
It’s amazing sometimes the quality of a bands back catalogue can be overlooked when they are releasing continuously high quality albums, but when you hear tracks like ‘Second Chance’, ‘Enemies’ with the floor exploding, and the title track from their third album Sound Of Madness all have something different to offer, and I think that’s what’s most interesting about this band, they never rest on their laurels, always looking for something different, and with a frontman of the ability of Brent Smith everything comes alive on stage. Barry Kerch is a powerhouse of a drummer and both Eric Bass (Bass, Piano) and Zach Myers (Lead Guitar) are always moving and ready to fly across the stage at a seconds notice, always adding to the spectacle. But it is perhaps when they strip everything back to bare bones that the electricity really runs down the back of your neck, their version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ is quite simply stunning, and there are very few voices around me not singing it out loud. Shinedown are a band with the ability to make a moment last for what seems like an hour. Brent makes a trip into the audience tonight to assure people that everyone is there to have a good time, get up and dance, move, jump do whatever, it is a Rock show afterall, in fairness they don’t need to do much pushing to get the crowd to do anything they want. Accompaniment aside the music as always is top notch, your gaze is nearly always grabbed by either Eric or Zach running or jumping around or simply playing some cracking solos or runs, the music and vocals are always to the fore at a Shinedown concert.
It was a classy touch to open and close the set with Bowie numbers, a nice little tribute for into and outro tapes through the PA. As Brent always says, it’s not goodbye, it’s until the next time – and hopefully it won’t be long before we see a Shinedown headline tour. Honestly if you have yet to catch them live, rectify it.
Black Stone Cherry really have turned into top headliners. Already a great energetic band, they now have the ability to hold the audience in the palm of their hand and lift their set to new highs. Starting off from behind a curtain, their set just bursts into life with ‘Rain Wizard’, the opening track from their debut album and still kicking things into life ten years later. There has always been a pretty much no bullshit approach from the guys; they get up there and they do what they do. They just have an ability to do it better than most and put a smile on the crowds face while they are at it.
It’s great to hear so many voices singing songs like ‘Me And Mary Jane’ and ‘Blind Man’, only three songs in, it’s already a massive success. As always Ben (guitar) is just such a livewire and he’s on fire tonight, and with Jon (bass) just has hyped on the opposite side of the stage they waste little time in swapping over and working with Chris (guitar & vocals) on their way around. The band is just so tight, and everything flows so well making the set if fly by, which is a blessing and a curse. There should always be a big mention for the man at the back holding it all together and beating the crap out of his kit; John Fred Young has developed into one of the most watchable drummers in the modern era, his technical prowess aside, he’s just an animal behind the kit, and he puts everything into every set he plays, bravo Sir, always a pleasure to see.
Tonight we are treated to a couple of tracks from the forthcoming fifth album, Kentucky, which is due out next month. ‘In Our Dreams’ is an all out rocker and at the other end of the spectrum is the album closer ‘The Rambler’ which is just a beautiful song. Honestly, their ability to tug at the heartstrings is a real gift, and they never overdo it, a simple song played with Ben on acoustic guitar and Chris singing, it’s all that’s needed and works a treat. A feverish drum solo leads us up to possibly the stand out moment of the night; an acoustic version of ‘Things My Father Said’ with just Chris and his guitar being carried along with the crowd singing is really a beautiful moment, one of those special stand out times that you know will live long in the memory. It’s a terrific atmosphere and there’s so much light from phones held aloft. A song that means so much to so many people, just close your eyes and drift along with it, or add your voice to the choir, it emits emotion even when you are trying to hold it all in.
It’s great to have Lzzy Hale back on stage to sing ‘Peace Is Free’, and again there’s a chorus line of waving arms throughout the arena, Chris and Lzzy’s voices work really well together, and it’s another cracking track in the set. It’s crazy to think that we are already near the end of a brilliant nights entertainment, two more blasting rocking monsters ‘White Thrash Millionaire’ and the anthem ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ sees the place explode into life again. Damn it never seems to have stopped the whole set, sure the two slower paced tracks found the room fall silent for moments , but that’s more out of respect than anything else, and as soon as the opportunity to sing happened the crowd obliged with gusto.
Everyone knows what’s coming for the encore, ‘Lonely Train’ has been Black Stone Cherry’s set closer for years, and it’s a fist pumping, head bouncing full steam ahead rock song; a great way to end any set, but tonight just when we think it’s all over, it’s not. To end this set with ‘Ace Of Spades’ as a tribute to the recently departed Lemmy was another touch of class. This band is here for the long haul, get on the train and enjoy this ride, having seen them in small venues to monster festivals one thing is for sure, don’t miss them next time they hit town, Black Stone Cherry are the real deal. Rare you are at any gig where each band surpasses the one that went before and they are all good, so good you could do it all again the next night.
1. Rain Wizard
2. Me And Mary Jane
3. Blind Man
4. In My Blood
6. Maybe Someday
7. Holding On… To Letting Go
8. Soulcreek (Dead Letters Intro)
9. In Our Dreams
10. Drum Solo
11. Things My Father Said (Chris solo acoustic)
12. The Rambler
13. Peace Is Free (with Lzzy Hale)
14. White Thrash Millionaire
15. Blame It On The Boom Boom
16. Lonely Train
17. Ace Of Spades (Motorhead cover, Lemmy Tribute)