Alter Bridge at Royal Albert HallSupport: Parallax Orchestra
October 2, 2017 at Royal Albert Hall
Promoter: PFA Media
Rising from the ashes of Creed in 2004, Alter Bridge have spent the last 13 years steadily increasing in popularity and climbing through the ranks of the rock world. Alter Bridge have never exactly set the world alight with their music, which is possibly partly due to the fact that their sound lies somewhere in between rock and metal, but through their professionalism and quality musicianship, they have nevertheless built up a very dedicated core following which has helped them on their way to headline shows at some of the UK’s biggest venues and sub-headline slots at Download Festival in 2014 and 2017. It was at their last outing to the prestigious Donington Park that Alter Bridge announced their imminent return to the country with two very special shows joined by the Parallax Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, following in the footsteps of the likes of Deep Purple and Metallica. Fearing this may be a one-time opportunity to see one of their favourite bands in a different light, Alter Bridge fans responded quickly, selling out both nights at the venue within twelve minutes. The countdown to the night began, and by the time we entered the venue, the sense of excitement around the famous concert hall was palpable.
Going into the night, I had seen enough of Alter Bridge’s past live shows to know that they were more than capable of rising to the occasion in terms of their performance, but I was intrigued to know what the actual sound would be like in this context, as their songs never exactly struck me as conducive to the classical music treatment. The band had hinted beforehand that their set-list may be somewhat different from the standard shows; but even with this news, it was difficult to gauge how many of the songs were going to work with an orchestra. ‘Slip Into The Void’ proved a very astute choice of opener, as the Parallax Orchestra’s string section gave added depth to the song’s slow build and eased the audience into the idea of this orchestral interpretation of Alter Bridge’s sound, before culminating in a thunderous chorus that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The band then launched into one of their heavier songs ‘Addicted To Pain’, which did not benefit quite as well from the addition of the orchestra; as with a thrashier song like this, all it was really possible for them to do was provide the backing to a song which was otherwise played in the exact same way. Perhaps for the sake of the whole evening though, times like this when the band themselves could take centre-stage were necessary. A whole set of songs in the same vein as ‘In Loving Memory’ (which is a rare addition to the Alter Bridge set that definitely allowed the orchestra to come to the fore) would have become tiresome after a while.
By far the highlight of the first section however was ‘Cry Of Achilles’, which was able to find that perfect balance where the orchestra was able to add to the progression of the song without the band themselves having to take too much away from their own playing. The enduring moment of this song which encapsulated this was the powerful string and percussion segments which made Brian Marshall’s bass solo even more emphatic than usual. A similar feeling is garnered with the first part’s closing number ‘Fortress’ which, like ‘Cry of Achilles’, is a longer and more epic song than the standard numbers, and therefore seems to get the most out of the Parallax Orchestra as they take Alter Bridge’s arena rock up to a stage that even some of their most die-hard fans did not realise was possible. Alter Bridge left a gobsmacked audience behind for the interval, which barely gave us the opportunity to process what we had just witnessed before they were back out for the much longer second part, which would promise more of the same. It was definitely the band’s epics which continued to be the highlights, and explains why they chose to bring a few more skeletons out of the closet, such as the never before performed ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings’. Even some of their more common songs though, like ‘Ghost Of Days Gone By’ (which often falls flat on a large noisy crowd during a normal Alter Bridge show, due to its intricate structure) were given a new lease on life with the acoustics of the Albert Hall bringing out every harmony to excellent effect.
Not all of the additions to the set-list worked as well though, it must be said. ‘The End Is Here’, ‘This Side of Fate’ and their 2016 album’s title-track ‘The Last Hero’ all were undoubtedly performed well by both band and orchestra, but really are just not strong enough songs to be able to function as anything other than fillers between much bigger and better pieces. If the performance had one weakness, then it would be the inclusion of these songs at the expense of a few crowd favourites, with ‘Rise Today’ and ‘Isolation’ probably the most notable absences. In reality however, these were barely even blips in an otherwise flawless night from Alter Bridge. Guitarist Mark Tremonti was is scintillating form on fretboard and seemed to be inspired by the presence of quality musicians behind him to pull out all the stops to prove (as if there were any doubt) that he is one of the finest rock guitarists of the modern era. Both he and frontman Myles Kennedy seem to be having the times of their lives on the Albert Hall stage. Their obvious joy at performing in such a venue was infectious. Myles Kennedy in particular had every right to be joyous as he put in an incredible performance on vocals from start to finish. His acoustic performances of ‘Wonderful Life’ and ‘Watch Over You’ along with beautiful supporting melodies from the Parallax Orchestra made hairs stand up on the backs of everyone’s necks in the crowd.
Even this though, was eclipsed by the song that I imagine every Alter Bridge fan looked forward to hearing the most tonight – ‘Blackbird’. A moving enough song to begin with, the rendition of it performed tonight was something I feel genuinely privileged to have witnessed. ‘Open Your Eyes’ was the only song left before the band bowed out, which added yet another highlight to the long list throughout the night, as the sounds made by crowd, band and orchestra filled every corner of the hall. I must admit to being somewhat apprehensive at the start of the evening, but this apprehension turned out to be completely unfounded. Alter Bridge went out on a bit of a limb with this performance, but gave everyone there a night they will never forget. A truly stunning performance from start to finish, and proof that the world, and possibly those in charge of booking festival headline slots, really need to start paying more attention to Alter Bridge.