Alter Bridge at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Saturday 7 October 2017
In the days preceding Alter Bridge’s return (after only a very brief absence) to the Olympia Theatre, news rolled in from the UK about their two shows in the Royal Albert Hall. Accompanied by a 52-piece orchestra, those not in attendance can only wonder at the power such a sonic fusion must have held. Surely YouTube videos, courtesy of the camera phone contingent, simply cannot capture what The Guardian’s Dom Lawson dubbed a “sumptuous triumph”.
Hoping against hope, common sense dictates that there will be no space on the Olympia’s modest stage for such an arrangement. Fortunately, given the natural power of their songs, and the charismatic live treatment they are given, in retrospect all of these extra sonic layers seem superfluous to the needs of the band.
Opening tracks Farther Than The Sun and Before Tomorrow Comes demonstrate the symbiotic relationship between the band and the audience. Wide grins often colour the faces of Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti as they absorb the crowd’s energy. Concluding the latter track, the audience helps the band bring it home with the uplifting coda “We could be so much more than we are”.
Just as fluidly as the band works the stage, with Myles Kennedy operating from different stage positions throughout the show, the band effortlessly conveys a powerful blend of anthemic rock and heavy metal. Kennedy’s soaring vocals and melodic instincts give an exciting edge to Tremonti’s never ending supply of riffs. Ample evidence of this chemistry is provided by Ghost of Days Gone By, where the bittersweet ballad disintegrates into a dark, menacing palm-muted riff that eventually spills over into Kennedy ominously howling “I don’t wanna die!”.
This momentum is maintained by Addicted to Pain, which witnesses Mark Tremonti’s first major guitar moment of the evening. A blistering solo pleases the guitar aficionados, who fruitlessly attempt to emulate the speed of his left hand with their own air guitar version.
Kennedy, the more understated guitarist, puts his instrument aside for Broken Wings and subtly works the crowd knowing exactly when they are going to want to sing along. His charm is surely a contender for the coveted position of Nicest Man in Rock, currently held by Dave Grohl. After allowing Tremonti to finish the song, he confesses that he thought they would be facing an empty room after such a quick return to the venue. For those who weren’t at the June show (it didn’t seem like many), Kennedy welcomes them to the family.
Speaking of family, before his solo rendition of Watch Over You, the audience offers a warm welcome to Kennedy’s parents who are sitting comfortably in the boxes. Conceding they may be a bit bombarded by the decibel level, he offers them a brief recess from the madness. “This is kinda like Simon and Garfunkel. This is for you”.
Not long after this, Kennedy teases The Beatles track Blackbird, before an impassioned performance of their song of the same name. Nowhere is their depth of feeling toward their art form more convincingly portrayed than in this evocative song that is built for live performance. In many ways a masterpiece of musical catharsis, each member offers up a bit of themselves to ensure it’s a blistering rendition that the audience will not forget.
The show might have peaked here if not for what followed. A heart warming delivery of Open Your Eyes brings the crowd together, before Metalingus brings the crowd to its knees. Literally. Everyone in the pit, and beyond it seemed (with the exception of two objectors), at Kennedy’s request, took to the floor to await further instruction from the song. When the moment comes, the crowd emerge enthusiastically from their positions and join Kennedy on vocal duties.
The main set concludes with Show Me A Leader. Tremonti loves the crowd response to these riffs. The encore features perhaps the most civilised, gentleman-like guitar duel this writer has ever seen. With both Kennedy and Tremonti using this opportunity to demonstrate their virtuosity, both men prompt cheers for the other. Not so much a duel as a mark of mutual respect.
“You ready to Rise Today?”, asks Kennedy, before meekly asking his parents the same question. The crowd certainly were anyway. Alter Bridge know their fans better than most. They effortlessly engage with the crowd throughout, with winks, nods, smiles and the occasional thumbs up. Their endearing charm offensive is disarming when coupled with their striking abilities as a four-piece. They create the intimacy of an acoustic show with their stage presence and crowd interaction, while the wall of sound they can create with their songs and instruments sometimes makes it feel like they are being backed by a 52-piece orchestra.