Slowly but surely Alter Bridge have dragged themselves up from playing small sweaty venues through theatres and then onto shared-bills in the larger venues in the UK. However for The Last Hero tour Alter Bridge are, even with Denmark's hot-stuff Volbeat and France's underground heroes Gojira in tow, undoubted headliners in Scotland's largest venue, the Glasgow Hydro. All that was left was for them to prove that they've managed to become the consummate arena rock band along the way.
First up however came Gojira, a band who fuse a groove mentality to a progressive outlook and deliver it with a death metal intensity. Not only did this four-piece look immediately at home in the circular enormodome, but impressively the barrage of pinpoint aggression never for one moment got lost in what could have been a soulless cavern for them. Even though they may not be the most mobile band on stage, the vibrancy of their attack kept the surprisingly numerous faithful they had in the crowd enwrapped, while quickly winning over those, such as myself, who'd never encountered this outfit before. The vocals of Joe Duplantier really are a thing to behold, rounded, controlled yet a steamroller of power. Whether through the technical hit of "The Cell", the full force smash of "Toxic Garbage Island" or roaming force of "Vacuity", his approach proved irresistible. In truth the same could be said for the whole set, the band's excitement and enthusiasm at playing to a surprisingly full hall contagious. With a clever use of stage lighting, a deep hunger to make the right impression and a set of songs that both creep up behind you and grab you by the throat, Gojira were very impressive indeed.
Volbeat however area different proposition entirely, the feel that you've entered an all-singing, all-dancing metal cabaret both welcome and distracting. If there's one thing you can't accuse the band of, it's being reserved or shy, singer and guitarist Michael Poulsen cavorting round the stage, cajoling the crowd and throwing shapes. Add in the madman antics of bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen and super cool poses from ex-Anthrax man Rob Caggiano and what's most surprising is the whiff of cheese that dominates proceedings, all of Volbeat's moves telegraphed and a decidedly derivate set of songs struggling to hold the attention. Banjo accompaniment arrives for a couple of songs, a cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" tries to change the tone, while the crowd are invited on stage for closer "Still Counting" and yet the feel your left with is that Volbeat need to employ all these tricks just to keep things ticking along. Something made all the more apparent when Napalm Death's Barney Greenway steals the show with a great vocal performance on "Evelyn". Whether through "16 Dollars", "Seal The Deal", or "Slaytan" the one thing you can't help but do as Volbeat go through their paces is play guess where the riff came from, Kiss referenced one minute, Sex Pistols the next and while it's all good fun, everything Volbeat do is a little throwaway and forgettable. Ten out of ten for effort, enthusiasm and belief – and for having a really strong core support – however in the grand scheme of things Volbeat came, they saw and they were quickly forgotten.
Something that certainly won't be said for tonight's headliners Alter Bridge, the band majestic in the way they controlled a crowd in their thousands; every demand from singer Myles Kennedy to clap, sway, hold phones in the air and sing at the top of voices obeyed as though in a collective trance. And no wonder, "The Writing On The Wall" and "Come To Life" a mighty opening hit that ensured the whole crowd was on side from the off. With a sound issue (an almost complete lack of bass in the first two songs) suddenly rectified during the bombastic "Addicted To Pain", four string man Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips set about building a mighty base from which everything good about Alter Bridge begins. However it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the real stars here are Kennedy, who later in the set would give a quite remarkable solo performance of "Watch Over You" and guitarist Mark Tremonti. "Waters Rising" saw the guitarist step forward to take lead vocals, his deeper more metal-based voice a clever counterpoint to Kennedy's clear soaring tones. However the man known mainly as a singer was also given ample chance to prove what a superb guitarist he is, Kennedy's intro to "Blackbird" rather special.
For most bands, airing five tracks from their newest album (in this case The Last Hero) would be folly, but with the strength of the awesome "Crows On A Wire" and "You Will Be Remembered", for Alter Bridge this move creates genuine set highlights. Something confirmed as "Show Me A Leader" hit the bull's eye as the first encore, while "Rise Today" closed the night out in fine fashion. With amazing stage presence, captivating backing videos and a huge light show, it's immensely to this band's credit that the two things that really stand out about Alter Bridge are their musical skills and their fantastic songs. Add in 10,000 or so dedicated Scottish fans and it would appear Alter Bridge are proof that quietly going about your business and staying true to your beliefs can indeed create the consummate arena rock band.
Photographs courtesy of Katie Reid