Alter Bridge | Review
Ulster Hall, Belfast • 21 June ’17
By Emma McKinley • Photos: Tremaine Gregg
The longest day of the year feels just that little bit longer knowing that tonight Alter Bridge are playing the Ulster Hall. A band renowned for consistently brilliant live performances combined with a live venue so atmospheric that it boasts the first ever performance of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It sounds like a formula for a pretty spectacular evening to me. Touring to promote their new album The Last Hero as well as hitting festivals such as Download, Rock am Ring and Hellfest this summer (to name a few) the band finally arrived to a sold out show in Dublin’s Olympia last night before venturing north to another sold out show at this historic venue. The Floridian hard rock band comprised of Myles Kennedy (vocals), ex Creed band members Mark Tremonti (guitar), Brian Marshall (bass) and Scott Phillips (drums) have released five studio albums and toured extensively since their inception in 2004 whilst also working on their own personal side projects. In return they’ve earned themselves an ever expanding loyal fan base which is plain to see as I arrive to a somewhat orderly sea of Alter Bridge and Tremonti t-shirts lined up the whole way around the building.
As the hall begins to fill Ohio’s Red Sun Rising take the stage and it’s pretty clear from the opening of ‘Amnesia’ with tight three part harmonies from Mike Protich (vocals), Tyler Valendza (guitar) and Ricky Miller (bass) that we’re in good hands. For a band playing for the first time in Belfast, they come out with so much enthusiasm that they make it hard just to stand their listening. Before long I turn around to see the the hall filled with people joining in with their prompts to clap and sing along which, in itself, is an achievement that shouldn’t go unrecognised for a support act. Protich’s energy is contagious; he’s running around the stage while somehow giving such a strong impressive vocal performance through anthemic crowd pleasers ‘The Otherside’ and ‘Emotionless’. Just before they leave, Protich shouts, “Don’t be forgetting about us!” As the crowd cheer intensely, it’s safe to assume that after giving us that opening we’ll not be forgetting them any time soon.
So, it’s finally time for Alter Bridge. Lights lowered, floor boards vibrating under foot and very little room to move around, the band come out one by one to roaring applause and with no introduction they blast straight into ‘Come to Life’. What a way to open. It’s pretty plain to see from the offset why this band is such a popular live act. Firstly, we have Kennedy who is widely considered to be one of the best voices in rock at the moment, having worked with Slash and considered good enough by Led Zeppelin to replace Plant. It becomes clear as the set progresses that he’s not going to miss a note and with such an incredible range and tone he glides seamlessly through ‘The Writing on the Wall’ and ‘Addicted to Pain’ holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. It’s so impressive.
Despite his amazing talent as a frontman he is so relaxed and humble on stage that you can’t help but feel drawn in. Every couple of songs he stops and has a chat with the crowd but nothing is ever forced and usually ends with an awkwardly delivered gag which lands perfectly every time. Then, all we have to do is look at Tremonti’s position on stage and see the corresponding crowd members with their hands up in the air. He has always claimed that Alter Bridge are very much a live band and it’s pretty obvious why. As far as Kennedy’s vocals are impressive, Tremonti’s riffs and solos are equally tight and well delivered. From anywhere in the room it would be impossible to miss his permanent grin throughout the gig; he’s loving it and the crowd are loving him.
When you look around and see the crowd here you realise the extent of their appeal to a broad range of people from every age group. It’s great to see. They’ve cracked into a seemingly demising rock scene and proved to everyone consistently that the fans are still there if bands would stand up and fill that void. Alter Bridge are by no means doing anything ground breaking and they don’t claim to be either. They’re here as some of the greatest talents in rock to give us melodic, well-written and perfectly delivered songs and they do that time after time.
The set list has something for every fan. We have hard-hitters like ‘Ties That Bind’, ‘Cry of Achilles’ and ‘Ghost of Days Gone By’ that then give way to a little sentimental solo acoustic break mid set. It’s all a very tender moment as the entire hall sings along with Kennedy through ‘Wonderful Life’ and ‘Watch Over You’. Kennedy alludes to the fact that Mark jokingly refers to this as “the sh*t part of the set” and, to an extent, everyone is aware of that but all the same these songs are big crowd pleasers.
They wrap everything up with ‘Isolation’, ‘Blackbird’ (with a nod to The Beatles in the introduction) and ‘Metalingus’ before exiting and returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Fortress’, ‘Show Me a Leader’ and ‘Rise Today’. It’s hard to think of a more perfect way to end this set. The crowd, at this point, are all crammed into all of the available space singing at the top of their lungs and applauding the band. No one wants the gig to end.
Somewhere in the middle Myles announces, to the great satisfaction of the crowd, that the band intends to return to Belfast 08 October this year. Again? And so soon? This is going to be another gig not to miss. So if you missed out this time remember to get your ticket straight away; you’ll not regret it.
(Tickets available now on ticketmaster.co.uk