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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Concert Review: Halestorm

X103's Mayday 2011
Verizon Wireless Music Center - Indianapolis, IN
5/28/2011

Halestorm!
Lizzy Hale doing what she does best.  Picture by Sean Molin Photography
Used with permission via Creative Commons license.  
Mayday is usually a staple for my group of friends.  It's a festival type concert held at Verizon Wireless Music Center just north of Indianapolis.  The local rock station, X103, puts this show on every year, and its usually a really good lineup.  This year's lineup boasted Bullet for my Valentine (who seems to be there every year, but hey, who's complaining?) and Seether as co-headliners, along with Halestorm, Middle Class Rut, Ed Kowalczyk (from LIVE) and several local bands.

Now, going into this show, I can honestly say that it was my full intention to write a blog about Seether.  I've seen them a few times previously, and they always put on a great show, but I haven't seen them since I started writing this blog.  Seeing has how I had just caught BFMV's show the week before, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to write about Seether.  However, when I made this assessment, Halestorm really never crossed my mind.  I learned my lesson.  Never, EVER, underestimate Lzzy Hale.


The History
I first saw Halestorm on the Jager stage of Rock on the Range in 2009, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I didn't know any of their music, other than their first single, "I Get Off", but their show was really solid throughout.  The highlight was a really cool drum solo, where they dropped everything right in the middle of the set and all the members of the band, including Lzzy, formed a drum line.  I remember giving them props for doing something a bit different.  After seeing this set at ROTR, I also remember thinking that this band could go either way.  With more solid music, growth of their somewhat unique skill sets, and some further development of their live show and stage presence, they could stick around for a while as a legitimate hard rock band....they certainly had the foundation for it.  However, if they took their early exposure for granted, didn't work very hard, or let outside influences screw them over, it would be easy for them to fade into the distance as a one hit band with some surface-level talent but no real substance.  

I saw them again in 2010 at Mayday, and while I did notice that there was definitely some improvement in their stage presence and maturity, I didn't notice a whole lot of musical development.  For the most part, it was the same songs, done the same way, with just a bit more polished sound.  I can't say that I was disappointed, as I thoroughly enjoyed the show in 2010, but it didn't exactly cement Halestorm's place in the grand scheme of things for me.  I still really felt that they had a lot more to accomplish before they could be moved from the "decent/fairly good" category to the "really good/great" category.

So, enter Mayday 2011.  When I saw that Halestorm was going to play lead-in to the two headliners (thus they were the third "biggest" band), I assumed there were two options:  Either Halestorm had come a hell of a long way since 2010 (when they were one of the first bands to play), or the overall Mayday lineup was much weaker this year.  Based on the supporting bands, (I mean, be honest....who knew that Ed Kowalczyk was the lead singer of Live?  My point exactly.) I was guessing that the latter was more likely.  I assumed that the overall lineup was down this year and thus, Halestorm lucked into a higher spot.  I was glad to see them on the bill, but apprehensive (and really doubtful) that this show would be anything more than an incremental improvement over a year ago.


The Venue
Verizon Wireless Music Center, which is affectionately known as Deer Creek to those of us who have been going to concerts there since before Live Nation took over the world, is an outdoor amphitheater with 6,000 seats and 18,000 general admission lawn tickets.  Including the pit, it has the capacity to hold just over 25,000 screaming fans.  As far as amphitheaters go, Verizon is as good as they get.  It has easy access, a great parking structure, and its rural location means there is plenty of extra room around the perimeter for additional stages should the concert demand it.  (I've been to festivals here with up to 3 additional stages not including the primary stage).  The flow of people is a bit restrictive, as there are several bottlenecks to get from one area to another, but I think my familiarity with the place makes that easy to ignore.  Overall, its a great place to catch a big show, and everyone I know has been going to concerts here for decades.



The only significant downfall to Verizon is the negative aspects that all amphitheaters share....for example the "general admission" standing area is behind the seating area, meaning no matter how stubborn we get, we can't push our way to the front and get close to the band.  In addition, I really don't like how slanted the lawn area is....I get it that you want to have some sort of downgrade so that people can see over the people in front of them, but this majorly sucks for two reasons:  1.  Mosh pits get really dangerous, especially if the ground is wet.  People flying downhill often have a tough time stopping, and slam into the bottom "ring" of the pit circle, usually injuring someone like me or sometimes even falling into the concrete aisle way between the lawn and the seats.  2.  It KILLS my back to stand at an angle like that for hours on end.  By the end of the show, I am in a ton of pain and looking forward to sitting down.  All in all thought, I have a great time at Verizon.


The Show:
As I mentioned earlier, I had seen Halestorm before, and had been impressed but not blown away.  From the very first song, and all the way through the encore, this show was a completely different story.  Both musically and production-wise, this show was head and shoulders better than the two previous shows I had seen.  Really, there was no comparison.  It was like the first two shows were the JV team and this was the real deal.  There was new music, better production value, major upgrades in the lights and stage set, and an overall "finished" quality to the show that made it seem like it had years of practice behind it.  It came across as very planned, very well-executed, and overall just had great production value.  I was somewhat blown away.

Right off the bat they upped the ante, by starting the show with a great new song from their upcoming album called Love Bites (So Do I), which is a really hard rock song that showcases both Lzzy Hale's guitar playing ability as well as her brother Arejay's skills on the drums.  There was a specific moment towards the end of the song where Lzzy dropped the guitar and stood up on top of a monitor speaker and just crushed the last chorus vocally that I remember thinking "Dayum.  Lzzy Hale showed up tonight."

Halestorm
Picture by Razvan Orendovici Used with permission via Creative Common Licese

The next two songs they played are two of my favorites, It's Not You and Dirty Work.  At the end of Dirty Work, while Lzzy was playing the shit out of a solo on her Gibson Tribal Flying V guitar, and Arejay was playing a drum solo while practically standing up and hitting cymbals with his elbows, I made the decision that I didn't care how good Seether was going to be, that I wanted to blog about Halestorm.  I immediately started taking notes and focusing more on the show's elements, which provided to be more and more difficult as the show got better and better.

The next thing about the show that really stood out to me was the song American Boys, which is also a new song off of their yet-to-be-released album.  I didn't love this song in and of itself, but it was really fun live.  Lzzy set it up well, got the crowd going, and then the song itself (which is upbeat and sort of Bon Jovi-ey) kept the crowd going.  It also seemed to be a relatively easy song for the band to play, so they could really get into it.  This is a great example of a song I won't dwell on when I get the new album, but a song that was a great addition to their show, and I'm glad I got a chance to see them perform it.

And now we get to the next two songs, which were, for me, hands down the best 15 minutes of music that happened at Mayday that night.  First, they completely changed the pace of the show, by slowing it down and playing "The Familiar Taste of Poison", and then they absolutely killed what has become their trademark - the drum solo.

Starting with "The Familiar Taste of Poison......The lights went out after American Boys, and Lzzy slowly walked to the front of the stage.  She picked up a bottle marked "poison" and calmly and cooly said "Shall we drink the wine together?"  The audience's screams told me that they knew what was coming, and while I was still sort of deer in the headlights, I now know why they were screaming.

As the guitar started to strum the opening measures of the song, Lzzy Hale totally transformed from a singer/guitar player in a band to the character that was being portrayed in the song lyrics.  Through the use of emotion and vivid facial expressions, along with her nearly flawless voice, she turned in a downright jaw-dropping performance of a woman who obviously knew that this "poison" was killing her, but she just couldn't say no.  The performance started slow, with her on her knees, a hooded sweatshirt covering her face in embarrassment and shame.  The pain her character was experiencing was evident through both her movements and the vocals of the song, which spun softly and flawlessly in her high register.  She used long pauses, (that were filled with screams from the crowd) to help the song build, and as we watched her emotions turn from sadness to fury.  As her movements built, the song built as well, adding drums and guitar to make it bigger and better.

Rock am Ring 2010 / Halestorm
Picture by Autumn Cannibalist Used
with Permission via Creative Commons License

Tens of thousands stood nearly silent as she performed a masterpiece.  The pinnacle of the song was the last time through the chorus, as she belted out powerful words like "I breathe you in again, just to feel you underneath my skin/Holding on to the sweet escape is always laced with the familiar taste of poison."  You could see on her face that she ultimately realized that she had no power to resist this poison...that she was just tired of trying.  As the guitar played the last few notes, she chugged the rest of her glass of poison and threw her goblet into the audience.  With the same timidness she started the song with, she repeated one last time "The familiar taste of poison" a capella as she kneeled.  The lights and sound went out, and Verizon ERUPTED.  I looked at one of my friends prepared to make a comment about how good it was, and before I could, the person said "Holy shit dude, that was AMAZING".  Hands down the best 5 minutes of Mayday for me.  Anyone that can bring a Broadway-like acting job to a concert and flawlessly interweave it with hard rock songs is a once-a-generation type talent in my book.

So, the next question becomes, how in the world do you move on from that?  As the lights came back on, she stood up, smiled, and said "Thank you guys.  Now, everyone say hello to my brother Arejay," and the drummer's spotlight came on as he started the percussion set with a killer drum solo.  What a great way to get right back into the rock.  Almost as if he was trying to match his sister in the previous song, Arejay not only played the hell out of the drums, but really got the crowd involved as well.  Eventually,  the percussion set got bigger and bigger, until Arejay was using giant drum sticks the size of baseball bats and there was a percussion line that involved all 4 band members playing on trash cans visa vie Stomp!.  Now, I don't usually love drum solos because they are way too long and get boring quick, but this was relatively short, and just really really well done.  (Here's a quick clip of what I'm talking about, although the sound is saturated, so be sure to turn down your speakers).

They could have ended the show right there and I would have been thrilled, but I was glad they had a few more songs to resolve the show a bit.  They finished off with three really solid songs in a row:
First, a cover of "Slave to the Grind" by Skid Row, then their song "What did you Expect", and finally (of course), they closed with "I Get Off", which is always a crowd favorite.

Overall, I have to say I was completely blown away by this show.  I think you'll find that I don't get blindsided by shows very often like I did with this one...I know enough about the bands I go to see that if a show is going to be really good, I usually know it going in.  But I had no idea that Halestorm would pull off a show like this.  I'm honestly comfortable saying that they have one of the best live shows that I've seen in a while in terms of diversity, raw talent, song quality, and overall production value.  Lzzy Hale is an absolute game changer - not only is she fantastic, but she's getting better.  Coming from someone who doesn't consider Halestorm even close to my favorite type of music, I'd recommend this show to pretty much anyone, including those who don't usually listen to hard rock.  It really was good enough to span several genres of music

Notes:
  • As if Lzzy didn't think that her awesomeness was solidified in my mind, during Seether's set, she came out and sang Broken with Shaun Morgan.  Typically Amy Lee's part (who I also very much respect as a singer), Lzzy added a great amount of rock to the song that Amy Lee's sweet (but powerful) voice was lacking.  I very much enjoyed this version of the song, and at the very least, thought that Lzzy sounded every bit as good live as Amy Lee does on the album.  Quite impressive. 
  • I also love how anti-Amy Lee she is.  Amy Lee is great, but there's a reason she's had 34 lineup changes.  Evanescence is not a band.  Its Amy Lee and her backup musicians.
  • I think it is very cool how Lzzy and her brother Arejay are so close.  I've read several blogs about how she always is so thankful to have family on the road with her, and how proud she is of her little brother.  Very cool to me    
  • My friend Shane met Halestorm one time back stage a few years ago.  He talks about it every time anyone says the word Halestorm (or any combination of the word hail or storm).  In fact, I'd put money that he was thinking it pretty much the entire time he was reading this blog.  He also offered their underage drummer a beer.  Good work Shane   
  • Ed Kowalczyk was just really bad.  His voice sounded awful, and he had a severe case of Chris Cornell-itis.  "Blah Blah blah talk talk talk I wrote this song for Live because I was that whole band blah blah blah I'm the greatest singer in the world"
Mayday 2011 Crew

That's all for now.  Until next time.  Cheers!

"I've got someone who has raised the bar.  I've heard it all before, stop spinning your wheels, I'll show you the door.  No hard feelings."



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