Thursday, December 12, 2013

Concert Review: Halestorm Digs Deep Into Catalog To Deliver Relentless, Entertaining 100-Minute Performance

As Halestorm winds down the album cycle for their latest full-length release, The Strange Case Of..., they pulled into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for one of their last performances prior to beginning work on their new record in January.  When bands have been on tour for a couple of years and playing the heck out of their latest material, there's always the risk that the band will appear tired and the music will come off as stale.

Would that be the case with Halestorm?

Ask anyone in attendance at that Pittsburgh show on December 11 and their answer would most likely be "[insert favorite expletive here] no!!!"

Pop-infused hard rockers Stars In Stereo got the night started with a set that was short on time but long on energy.  They ripped through the catchiest tracks from their debut self-titled release, including "The Broken," "Violence," and "Every Last Thing."  Singer Bec Hollcraft captivated the audience with her playful stage presence and a voice that sounded even more powerful than it sounds on her studio tracks.  But the boys in her band - bassist Frogs McCormack, drummer Drew Langan, and guitarist Jordan McGraw (who bears no resemblance to his famous dad, Dr. Phil) - didn't let her entertain the crowd by herself.  They worked the huge stage with the hunger of a new band and the comfort of seasoned professionals.

Redlight King followed with a cool performance of their own.  Their music was decidedly more alternative with a bit of a blue collar feel.  Vocalist Kaz smartly developed a connection with the crowd by revealing that he hailed from the "steel town" of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that, like Pittsburgh, is all about having a strong work ethic.  That work ethic was evident in Redlight King's songs, all of which seemed to be carefully crafted with hooks that could cut through the bombast of a concert setting and engage a crowd that may have not heard them before.

But when the lights went down and the "storm" symbol on the backdrop illuminated in electric blue, the near-capacity crowd at Stage AE made it clear by their passionate roar that there was one band that everyone was there to see.  Once Halestorm ripped into "Love Bites (So Do I)" - perhaps their fastest, most brutal song - it was clear that the hundreds of shows the band has played since the April 2012 release of The Strange Case Of... didn't wear them down one little bit.

Halestorm had passed through Pittsburgh several times on the current album's cycle, the last time being as recently as May. If anyone had been wondering if they'd hear the same songs or see the same show as they had at the last area concert, they didn't have to wonder for long.  After "Mz. Hyde" and "It's Not You," which the band plays at every show, Halestorm surprisingly pulled out "Nothing To Do With Love" - a deep cut from their 2009 debut.

And much to the delight of long-time "Storm Chasers," Halestorm's set list featured many infrequently-played-but-still-amazing songs from throughout their body of work.  Highlights included "Innocence" from their self-titled album, "Don't Know How To Stop" from the deluxe edition of The Strange Case Of..., and an assortment of covers from their two cover EPs:  "Out Ta Get Me" (Guns-N-Roses), "Dissident Aggressor" (Judas Priest), "Gold Dust Woman" (Fleetwood Mac), and "Get Lucky" (Daft Punk).

Being able to cover all of these musical bases requires a longer time on stage than the band may be accustomed to after spending much of the past five years as an opening act performing 20- to 45-minute sets.  But singer Lzzy Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith, and drummer Arejay Hale didn't appear to be winded in the least bit.  In fact, Arejay Hale didn't seem to hold back for even a fraction of a second on any of the songs.  In total honesty, if Arejay Hale was the only band member visible, the crowd would still walk away from a Halestorm concert with their money's worth - and that's not including his drum solo!

An Arejay drum solo is something to behold.  Some drummers may wow an audience with their dexterity.  Some better ones may throw in one gimmick to amp up the entertainment factor.  But Arejay Hale is just on a totally different level.  Not only did he offer a slamming solo that featured superhuman speed, precision, and musicianship, he incorporated not one, not two, but three nuggets of entertainment:  jumping above and onto his drum set while playing, playing with his bare hands (i.e., no sticks), and then playing with - and twirling - two oversized drumsticks the size of baseball bats.  The drum solo was a show in itself.

Halestorm concluded the main part of their performance at the hour-and-a-half mark with their long-time anthem, "I Get Off."  However, they still had enough in the tank to return for a three-song encore that culminated in a sing-along of their crossover power ballad, "Here's To Us."

It was 100 solid minutes of relentless rocking from Halestorm.  No blown out voices.  No baggy eyes.  No weather-beaten faces.  Just pure freshness as if it was their fourth show of the tour rather than their fourth-from-last.  If they bring that tireless energy into the studio in January, Halestorm Nation will undoubtedly be treated to another killer album from this band that is obviously "born to rise" - and clearly "don't know how to stop" rising.