Album review: Alter Bridge – Live at the O2 Arena + Rarities
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The 24th November, 2016 was a great day to be a rock lover in London. Why? Because that was the day that Like a Storm, Gojira, Volbeat and the almighty Alter Bridge descended on the city’s vast O2 Arena in a four-piece collection of sensational metal antics. It was a night fuelled by big riffs, big hooks and an enormous sense of, quite simply, cathartic, energetic brilliance. Writing as an attendee of this gargantuan evening of rock n’ roll royalty, it was a true spectacle to behold. And, clearly, that night’s headliner is just as partial to that performance, because, come September 8th, they will be releasing a live CD of the concert, along with a selection of B-sides and bonus tracks, ingeniously entitled Live at the O2 Arena + Rarities. Aptly, the three-disc collection begins with the track that started the O2 concert itself: ‘The Writing on the Wall’, a somewhat left-field and deeper take from Alter Bridge’s latest record, The Last Hero (2016). The deflated start is offset by the beloved, heavy oldie ‘Come to Life’ immediately followed by the equally incendiary ‘Addicted to Pain’. A Myles Kennedy solo performance of the acoustic ballad ‘Watch Over You’ makes for the show’s emotional, “lighters in the air” moment, before the nine-minute epic ‘Blackbird’ keeps the sombre tone going, its enormous chorus and stunning, trade-off guitar solos as genuine and weighty as ever. The track always proves the highlight of every Alter Bridge show and Live at the O2 Arena certainly makes no exception to that rule. Immediately after, a ceaseless cavalcade of crowd-popping hits takes over: ‘Metalingus’, made famous by its repeated use in pro-wrestling organisation WWE, leads into the unifying anthem ‘Open Your Eyes’, its messages of solidarity and community perfectly echoing the sentiments felt by an eager, singing audience. ‘Show Me a Leader’ (the lead single off of The Last Hero and arguably the song that should have got the gig going in the first place) begins an encore completed by ‘Rise Today’, its simple yet engaging chorus generating a massive response from a crowd very audible at select moments in this disc’s mix, as always. What doesn’t survive in the album’s mix, however, are the guitars, which have an affinity for sounding muddy and even dissonant on cuts such as ‘Metalingus’ and ‘Ghosts of Days Gone By’. Given the sheer prowess of Myles Kennedy’s live vocals, and the technical perfection of both he and co-shredder Mark Tremonti, a more refined guitar tone would be a real pièce de résistance. Renditions of ‘Poison in Your Veins’ and ‘My Champion’ (both from The Last Hero, but neither of which were recorded at the O2 Arena) close out Live at the O2’s two CD’s, undoing the somewhat climactic nature of ‘Rise Today’ in the process. But, hey, that new Alter Bridge album ain’t gonna promote itself! The Rarities disc follows suit, comprised of many B-sides and hidden gems that, up until this point, have only been available in select territories. In and of themselves, these are doubtlessly strong songs, particularly the three from the Blackbird (2007) sessions (‘New Way to Live’, ‘Damage Done’ and ‘We Don’t Care at All’), which make up some of the heaviest material Alter Bridge has ever produced. The downside of this section, as is the case with many of the modern era’s “lost B-sides”-style albums, is that their exclusivity has been undone by YouTube and iTunes, which let tracks previously intended for the audiences of only one region to suddenly be shared worldwide. As time goes by and the internet becomes more and more heavily inter-connected with the music industry, discs like Rarities are going to become more and more pointless. The apex comes with ‘Symphony of Agony (The Last of Our Kind)’, Rarities’ closing track, as that song saw the light of day barely over six months ago on the international deluxe edition of The Last Hero, which remains just as readily available as the standard version of the record. However, with that said, the Live at the O2 portion of this triple album alone is worth the price of admission. As ever, Alter Bridge put on a confident, passionate concert that translates perfectly onto disc. The energy is palpable, even as listeners blast out these tracks through headphones or laptop speakers. Given a better mix and a superior track listing at its bookends, Live at the O2 would be the quintessential Alter Bridge live record. But, given what we have, it would probably be best to stick with their Live from Amsterdam (2008) set for now. Live at the O2 Arena + Rarities will be available via Napalm Records on 8th September. Alter Bridge’s latest album, The Last Hero, is out now, also on Napalm. Read our review of it here. Be sure to check out our interviews with Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti and the band’s support act for their O2 Arena show, Gojira. Alter Bridge will be returning to London for shows at the Royal Albert Hall with the Parallax Orchestra on the 2nd and 3rd October.