ARCHIVE POST – Caught Live: Halestorm, o2 Academy Liverpool 17 August 2015

Ronnie writes: This is a post from the archive of my old music blog reposted on the new site. I will repost old content periodically on here when time permits. 
In May, I received a Facebook message from a Halestorm devotee friend which was short and to the point: ‘You Got Your Wish’. That wish was that Halestorm, a band I first encountered five years ago would return to the venue where that gig took place. Back then, they were still unknown in this country and certainly to this fan, but after a fantastic set of about 50 minutes they went off to massive cheers, and caused a commotion at the merch stand afterwards as they were all there for an impromptu meet and greet. Since that tour (supporting Canadian rockers Theory Of A Deadman) their profile has grown markedly and they’re now considered a ‘name’ band themselves. I’d seen them several times since that momentous show in 2010 but never in Liverpool again, until now. This show was one of only two they were to perform in this country; billed as ‘A Wild Evening With Halestorm’ there was no support act and there were to be two sets, one of which was the whole of the ‘Into The Wild Life’ album played live. When I saw Halestorm earlier in the year at Leeds, that album wasn’t yet released and so only a handful of songs from it got played that night. With there being only two shows this time, both dates sold out quickly.
I’d broken into a week’s holiday in North Wales to attend this show, having wanted to see them again in my city for so long and so I got there to find a massive queue snaking around the block, almost back on itself. The line was so long that it took over 30 minutes to get into the venue itself once the doors opened, and the front was long since packed out. This show was billed as having the ‘Wild Life’ album played live first, then there would be a second set of tracks from their other albums. However, anticipation grew as the start time of 8pm came and went (with the lights being dimmed prematurely) and the venue (by now packed out) grew restless. Finally the band emerged, and the first surprise was that singer Lzzy Hale had no guitar, and Joe Hottinger was wielding an acoustic guitar. This was to be an acoustic set, and from the start it was clear that they were in the mood for some fun and games. Opening with ‘Freak Like Me’ there were numerous incidents of joking about between drummer Arejay Hale and Joe Hottinger, occasionally breaking into other band’s material. One of these resulted in a verse or two of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’, and another saw Arejay pick up on the intro to ‘Enter Sandman’ and take the mic himself to sing the first part of the song! ‘Never give the drummer a mic’, observed Lzzy (!) They played usual set closer ‘Here’s To Us’ in this part of the show, then came the treat for their hardcore ‘freaks’: ‘Rose In December’, a song off their first EP, and one much-requested by their fans but had never been played in the UK before. This was performed solo by Lzzy, playing keyboards as she sang. After this there was an interval of about 15 minutes.

The second set was the promised rendition of ‘Into The Wild Life’ in full; the album has been a bit of a Marmite record even with their own fans as some praised the change in direction while others (myself included) were hoping for a heavier record to capture their live sound better. They played the album in order, but there was a marked difference with this material when presented live. Without the polished production, and with just the four of them, the songs took on a whole new form. One of my main gripes about the album was that Joe Hottinger didn’t get unleashed enough – no such worries here, his guitar was right up there adding much-needed weight to the tracks. Even on the slower songs such as ‘Dear Daughter’, he came out and delivered a tasteful solo after Lzzy performed the main part of the song accompanied by just her keyboard. On some songs, bassist Josh Smith provided additional keyboards, he usually fills that role and it was unusual to see Lzzy play anything other than her guitar.

The thing I took from that live performance of the album was that it was much more of a band delivery than the record, which came across to me more like a Lzzy Hale solo album. This was the real Halestorm, and whether this record would have benefitted from less production sheen we’ll likely never know, but I found myself playing air guitar to these songs live whereas the recorded versions had me leave it on the stand. After ‘I Like It Heavy’ Lzzy said they weren’t going to do the usual encore business of going off and playing two more songs, instead they’d just do a few more to save a bit of time. She then gave the stage over to brother Arejay, who proceeded to do his usual manic drum spot incorporating a bit of vocal and of course, the over-sized sticks! ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ then followed, and in this part there was another treat: they played ‘The Hand’ from their ‘One And Done’ EP. After ‘I Miss The Misery’ they then took their bows and we all thought that was it as they exited. Except they didn’t quite leave the stage; Joe Hottinger was handed a guitar emblazoned with the Union Flag and the rest of the band ran back on for one last treat: a near-Thrash rendition of ‘A Hard Days’ Night’. Even after 50 years, American rock bands still acknowledge The Beatles whenever in our city. Then that really was it, as the packed venue made its way out of the upstairs part of the o2 Academy.

It’s been five long years between first seeing Halestorm in this venue as an unknown support band, then seeing them progress into headliners and finally seeing them return to this place as headliners of a sold-out show. At least it will not be another five years before they’re back here, as they will play as part of a four-band bill on an arena tour in 2016 which calls at the Echo Arena. But they won’t get a slot this long to play rarely-played songs for their devoted fans on that tour, this was a privilege to be at and a real pleasure for me personally to see such a special show in my own city.