Because, once again, I left it late to get a ticket for this gig, all that were left on the night were balcony spaces. Which was better than I got at Manchester, because that sold out some time ago and I missed it! Alter Bridge's popularity is increasing all the time in Great Britain and after a two-year absence from these shores there was huge interest in these dates. While they've been away, singer Myles Kennedy has played shows with Slash, raising his profile even higher, while across the pond the other three reunited with Scott Stapp and took Creed back out on the road. That was controversial and enough has been written about it, suffice to say I was pleased that Alter Bridge did return as they promised (!)
The o2 Academy in Birmingham is a new venue to me; it replaced the old venue across town (which was demolished last year) and this new place is sited alongside one of the main roads leading to the city centre. There was an enormous queue at the venue when I arrived and I would guess that the place held close on 3000. What I could see of the downstairs looked completely packed and there were plenty filling the small seating area in the balcony as well as plenty more opting to watch from the back. It's been a while since I was obliged to be seated at a concert so I was unusually comfy and with a clear view of the stage when support Slaves To Gravity came on. They played for around 45 minutes and were good live, but their material didn't do a lot for me. They made all the right moves and their singer (a good vocalist, I have to say) said all the right things, most notably bigging up the headliners, but despite an enthusiastic, energetic performance, I wasn't hooked. Of course, with a crowd as partisan as Alter Bridge's, any band not called Logan are going to have a hard time opening this show (Logan supported in 2005 and 2008, and because they have a similar style, went down well) and these guys were received politely at best.
It was a good half-hour before the headliners emerged, while the increasingly restless crowd chanted the band's name, and a huge roar went up when the lights finally went down and the singer appeared. They opened the set with 'Slip To The Void' from the new album, before giving us TWO tracks in succession from previous album 'Blackbird'. The set was loaded more towards the older material than the new record, which was a little bit surprising as when they toured in support of 'Blackbird' in early 2008, they played a lot of songs from that album. This time round, we got most of the favourites from that album again!
It's not a complaint since I actually prefer the last album to the current one, but I did wonder which record they were promoting! So out for another airing were 'Before Tomorrow Comes', 'Buried Alive', 'Brand New Start' and 'Blackbird' (preceded as ever, by a snippet of The Beatles' song of the same name) among others, but no 'Watch Over You'.
That was intended to be played in the encore, but when the guitar tech brought on the stool only to remove it again almost immediately, it was apparent they'd changed things around a bit. At several points during the show, Kennedy apologised for not being at his best, although he was hitting high notes in places, there were others where he almost 'talked' through the words. I thought he sounded in decent nick generally, though (those songs must be extremely hard to perform night after night), but he was quick to acknowledge the vociferous 'choir', proclaiming that they 'kicked his ass'.
It was noticeable that although the new AB III songs were cheered, the older songs were greeted with a roar that almost lifted the roof off the new venue. Maybe the new songs are not that familiar yet, but perhaps it isn't just me that isn't 'feeling' the newie quite like the previous records. Alter Bridge at their best are capable of raising the emotions in the most hard-bitten rockers, and songs like 'Broken Wings' and 'Brand New Start' certainly do that, while the likes of 'I Know It Hurts' aren't quite at that level. They ended the main set with 'Isolation', before playing what I now know to be a truncated encore, first playing 'Open Your Eyes' complete with crowd participation, and culminating with 'Rise Today'. (They have been playing both 'Watch Over You' and 'Wonderful Life' acoustically on the other dates.)
Nevertheless it was still a long set, with almost everything I wanted to hear performed I had little to complain about. The other thing I observed from high up in my lofty perch was how much Kennedy has become the figurehead of this band; he's no longer the unknown singer in Mark Tremonti's project, he's very much the leading light of the group now. The Slash gig plus those Zeppelin links (it's now known he did rehearse with Page and co) have transformed the previously slightly shy frontman into a rock giant. If the Creed thing does take hold across the Atlantic once again, Kennedy won't be left high and dry.
However such speculation is for the future; for now let's hope they mean it when they promise 'Don't forget we're here to stay' in their song 'Come To Life'. If they are, arenas beckon next time round.