Live review: Alter Bridge and the Parallax Orchestra @ The Royal Albert Hall, London, 3/10/17
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As surprising as it may be to some, heavy metal and classical music have shared a very close and symbiotic relationship in recent decades. Not only did the Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh discover in 2014 that fans of the two genres share a great many personality traits – predominantly, an affinity for the “dramatic” and the “spiritual” – but every so often, once in a blue moon, a concert like Alter Bridge’s at the Royal Albert Hall comes along. Taking after similar feats from the likes of Deep Purple, Metallica, Dimmu Borgir and Devin Townsend, the 2nd and 3rd October saw the American arena rock titans play two consecutive nights at London’s most iconic music venue, laying out a complete, near-three-hour set with backing from the city’s 52-person Parallax Orchestra, conducted by Simon Dobson. What results, above all else, is a night of increasingly high emotion, the tone of which is punctuated early on by ‘Slip to the Void’, its slow-burning and quiet opening establishing the orchestral integration perfectly before the track’s more thrashing latter half. A similar effect is achieved during the start of ‘Cry of Achilles’, with singer/guitarist Myles Kennedy’s classical guitar part being given an emotional weight beyond simply being a swanky and out-of-left-field introduction. ‘In Loving Memory’ is beyond heartfelt, its lyrics dedicated to guitarist Mark Tremonti’s late mother, and resonates with a crushingly sad yet still anthemic chorus, the packed Albert Hall audience singing directly back to front-man Kennedy on more than one occasion. ‘Fortress’, the criminally under-heard opus that it is, closes out the first half of the set, the seven-minute suite’s versatility making it a perfect fit for the orchestra, demonstrating the musical talents of every single person up on the stage as they weave from heavy rock to clean interludes again and again. After a brief intermission, the second half of the set roars to life. And it is during this portion of the night that the tone among the crowd transforms from being impressed with the spectacle all the way to being brimming with sheer investment. A big part of that shift comes as a result of an expert setlist, which begins to prize tracks similar to ‘Fortress’ such as ‘Broken Wings’ and a debuting ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’, all of which continue to bridge the hard-hitting and the tranquil while also increasingly upping the influence and impact of the Parallax Orchestra on the overall product. Myles Kennedy’s solo acoustic performance of ‘Wonderful Life’ followed by the beloved ‘Watch Over You’ sees the night hits its zenith, the simplicity of the tried and true “one man and his guitar” formula elevated by relatable, tragic lyrics, heavenly singing and, of course, the 52 people standing behind him. There is something truly striking about the simplicity of an acoustic guitar being supported by a gigantic orchestra that hit home for many of the concertgoers, resulting in a great many teary-eyed faces that only get more so when, shortly after, the eight-minute monster ‘Blackbird’ is played. With its weighty guitar solos, powerhouse grooves, deeply personal subject matter and emotive bridge, the track is resonating enough by itself, but once that guttural chorus hits home with an army of violins behind it, the sheer, epic scale of the moment is beyond compare. With both ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Watch Over You’ resulting in massive standing ovations from the entirety of the Albert Hall, it is obvious that the vast crowd felt the same, raw power of the night as well. In fact, it feels like all of the attendees – especially those lucky enough to be standing before the stage – are interactive and lively tonight, notably distraught and yearning for more still as the catchy ‘Open Your Eyes’ ends proceedings, to be met with chants of “One more song!” and the lyrics to ‘Rise Today’ (which, to be fair, is a massive omission from the setlist) as Alter Bridge and the Parallax Orchestra leave the stage. And even though Alter Bridge’s two massive concerts in London did neglect usual live staples like ‘Rise Today’ and ‘Isolation’, that is but a blip on the map of excellence that these shows crafted. Not only have the cult-adored quartet cemented their place as one of the best live rock bands of this decade, they’ve also outdone themselves in ways many fans never thought possible, taking an already lauded live show and upping the drama, sing-alongs and sheer fun, and making it look easy in the process. Alter Bridge’s latest album, The Last Hero, and their new live CD/DVD, Live at the O2 Arena + Rarities, are both available now via Napalm Records. Check out our interview with Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti here.
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