Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Lisa Billingham
Despite only one support act being listed on The Academy’s website, two played tonight. The fact that it also read: “Starting Time: To Be Confirmed” was further aggravated by a phone service offering no further information. Thus, The Smoking Hearts beat to their own rhythm, and I walked in hearing what sounded like a cat drowning, only for the singer in DayShell to apologise for suffering from a cold. Any other day, I’m sure they’d all have been great, but right now, my mood isn’t good. I need a shot of professionalism.
It’s 9.15pm, the house lights dim, Halestorm’s logo backdrop turns green and a screaming guitar echoes out. “I Miss The Misery” sings Lzzy Hale, mocking my current frame of mind. Firing with the big guns right from the get-go it receives a positive response: the audience scream, shout, wave their hands and dance – at least where they can because the place is packed to the rafters, with folk of all ages but a good percentage out late on a school night.
Up on stage, the sound is good, the band’s working it: bass player Josh Smith also subbing on keyboards for the first number, though Hale’s voice sounds a little hoarse and I’m wondering if there’s a bug going round backstage that might end up ruining the evening. It doesn’t. She just needs a couple of songs to warm up, and then we’ll receive some silver-throated delights to ease our worried brows. Thus, let us go with the fashion notes: Miss Hale is wearing regulation rock star shades and a new coiffure this evening; a trim denim jacket opens to reveal a heavily ornate necklace over a black bra, while the black & white leggings were previously modelled by Steve Harris and Pete Way… Amazing the kind of things a bloke’s failing eyesight can still pick out standing at the back of a hall. The guys in the band wore routine dark/black gear, I think. No, seriously, this is a band, despite the female at the front having a great voice, and the band taking its name from her and her drumming brother’s surname.
Carrying on with the smooth talking ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’, Lzzy takes a brief guitar solo, followed as the tempo changes with a longer one by Joe Hottinger. The backdrop’s also changing colour as they move from one stiletto heeled pop metal anthem to another with a gaggle of young girls singing along and clapping their hands in time right next to me.
A wonderfully raucous musical rendition of ‘Freak Like Me’ issues forth and in hollering out Hale’s voice is now well exercised and indeed exorcised of its earlier rawness. Then the differences in the audience start to show: Rapping about being asked to play on the This Is Your Life Ronnie James Dio tribute album a cheer and devil’s horns hand gestures are hurled high in the air from front to three-quarters back, and they play a strong rendition of his ‘Straight Through the Heart’: but it doesn’t swing like Halestorm’s homespun numbers, and there’s a good percentage of this crowd who don’t know the song. Likewise a roar will go up at the mention of Judas Priest, but ‘Dissident Aggressor’ will divide seasoned rockers from those only wanting the hits, despite which the latter still get off on ‘Get Lucky’ performed during the encores, while I was impressed with the country & western twang given to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
Similarly, when drummer Arjay Hale goes into a visually entertaining drum solo there’s loud applause from the faithful, but at the back the younger fans can’t see over the taller folk and even start playing games on their mobile phones. For a band whose strength is in well constructed concise hook-laden songs it’s a curious traditional rock holdover to have in a set, and possibly asking for trouble in the city that gave the world the likes of John Bonham and Carl Palmer.
Halestorm affect a laidback, party attitude but they’re well rehearsed and know this is a business: big on Dave Lee Roth patented in-between-song-spiel (“This is our best show of this tour!” exudes the singer, with “Birmingham” being name-dropped often), they cut to the heart of the matter come the songs, rarely extemporising beyond the recorded versions, but giving some added beef and exposing hidden melodies during song conclusions as strong power chording from Hale allows Hottinger to solo purposefully while Smith offers notes in a different tonal range. Lyrically, they’re like Alanis Morissette’s younger cousin without the long-term hang-ups and if they continue to grow and still have a message the young things beside me can relate to then they’re quids in; the onion-breathed bloke sharing the smell of his dinner to my right is committed to them regardless, singing all their songs.
But it is the hits that get the most reaction, and to continue to scale rock and roll’s slippery-when-wet ladder they may have to dispense with some of their more barroom styled bonhomie attitudes, and ditch the covers. Some way down the road, the marketing men are also going to start bugging Hale to record a solo album, but that’s for then; sure she shines when sitting alone on stage at the piano during ‘Break In’, less convincing in a rock scenario just holding a microphone; plus a good part of tonight’s movements are offered by Hottinger and Smith walking either side of the stage and upfront, while Arejay’s visual antics are often hidden behind his sister’s centre stage position. But they’re minor peeves and considerations. Tonight, Halestorm are in their element, their PA is working well, they’re playing to a packed house with spirited confidence and leave their audience with the feel-good factor ‘Here’s To Us’ chiming in their ears.
Halestorm Website: www.halestormrocks.com
1. I Miss the Misery
2. Love Bites (So Do I)
3. It’s Not You
4. Freak Like Me
5. Straight Through the Heart
6. You Call Me a Bitch Like It’s a Bad Thing
8. Don’t Know How to Stop
9. Rock Show
10. Gold Dust Woman
11. Break In
12. Familiar Taste of Poison
13. Drum Solo
14. Dissident Aggressor
15. Mz. Hyde
16. Daughters of Darkness
17. I Get Off
19. 3 Get Lucky
20. Here’s to Us