Are there any better ways to spend a Sunday evening than with some of the best bands in the world in one of the biggest venues in the country? Added onto that you have the fact that when Alter Bridge come to town, they always bring a whole host of fans and their 2016 arena tour was no different. What was different this time around though was support they brought with them. In the past, the support on these tours had been somewhat lacking and, after a lacklustre album in The Last Hero, they couldn’t afford to leave ticket sales down to chance.
Openers on the tour were New Zealand crew Like A Storm . To the majority of the ticketholders these guys would have been virtually unheard of and if you add that to the pre 6.30 set tim, you get an arena that was around a third full. The band themselves seemed to enjoy being on stage in front of the still respectable crowd and the use of a didgeridoo is a nice little gimmick and nod to their culture. In terms of what they offer musically, it all sounds like something you’ve heard before…but with a bit of didgeridoo in there for good measure. I’d be interested to see what these guys can do in a smaller venue and whether it was just difficult to see them for the first time on such a big stage. Some bands just don’t translate like this straight away. Their recent album, Awaken The Fire, is a good listen so if you’re going to be seeing these Kiwi’s soon I’d recommend giving that a go first.
Up next were Gojira  fresh from subbing the Dio stage at Bloodstock and releasing their utterly fantastic new album, Magma. Compared to Like A Storm, Gojira may as well be statues on stage with little to no movement from any of the band, but that isn’t what Gojira are about. These French metallers are all about the sound and anyone that has heard Gojira knows what an assault on the senses they are. Whether it’s the battering the ears get on record or the full frontal pummelling of bass that their live shows are becoming renowned for. Tracks like The Cell and Stranded from the new album translate so well to the big stage it is a travesty to think they’ll go back to playing smaller venues after this tour’s conclusion. Throughout the whole set I was sat in a trance like state of euphoria and, despite being massively out of place on this tour, it seemed the vast majority of the crowd enjoyed them as well. Frontman Joe Duplantier confirmed that the band would be back very soon and since the show a UK tour has been announced with a Birmingham date in there for good measure. Bands like Gojira don’t come around very often, but they have been given a huge opportunity here and they have snatched it with all eight of their hands. Gojira are easily my band of 2016 and this set was flawless from start to finish, combining material from four of their albums so coherently it could have been a playthrough of an extended EP quite easily. There’s something special brewing in Gojira and I don’t think it will be long before a Bloodstock headline slot is offered to them (assuming it hasn’t been offered for the 2018 festival already).
Given the tough task of following Gojira were a band that are more than used to playing venues this size around Europe, though haven’t quite managed to get there yet in the UK. Volbeat  were that band and as usual their set revolved around people having a bloody good time. We’re lucky in some ways that a ‘normal’ Volbeat tour sees them take in academy sized venues, we still get to see them in more intimate settings than our European kin. This was Volbeat’s first foray into the UK for a while and the start of their set would have left a few of those unfamiliar with them wondering what the fuss was all about. The Devil’s Bleeding Crown was the opener, but not as anyone that has heard their most recent album would know it. Slowed down slightly it felt a bit drawn out and weary, not the best start. Following it up with Lola Montez meant that the fans of Volbeat’s heavier were left a bit disappointed. Sad Man’s Tongue made up for that though as they made a triumphant return to the pace that has won them so many fans globally. Dead But Rising and 16 Dollars are permanent fixtures in the Volbeat setists and were received with the smallest of mosh pits.
The flow of the set was well and truly broken when For Evigt was played. All the energy they’d built up with the previous trio lost and when followed up with Evelyn with Barney from Napalm Death and Black Rose it drained the room. It’s a credit to Volbeat as a live band and just how solid they are that they got the whole crowd back onside closing with the title track from the new album, Seal The Deal, followed by Still Counting. On reflection Volbeat did everything they could on this tour to appeal to the fans on show. Tailoring their set to fit the Alter Bridge fan base is exactly what they needed to do to try and reach the next level in the UK. They were completely in sync live as always and Michael Poulsen’s vocals were as good as they’ve ever been. The only downside was a slightly watered down set list. Still if you’re new to the Volbeat party, then bear in mind they have several more gears they can move up to before they reach their potential. We just need to hope that the UK metal community starts to embrace them the way those on the mainland do.
Alter Bridge  were up next and Myles Kennedy himself remarked at how hard a job they had given themselves going on after such strong support. There’s nothing for them to worry about though, I don’t think there’s person that’s seen Alter Bridge that can honestly say they weren’t great. They only have one standard of performance and they always deliver it, the only worry can be their crowds. At Download 2015 those in attendance looked like they had no interest at all in the band and this does have a knock-on effect. At their own show this was never going to be a problem though and from the opening notes of The Writing On The Wall crowd and band merged into one. Despite not being their strongest album (by their standards I’d probably say it was their worst album to be honest) this track is a big standout and it’s the same here. Myles and lead guitarist Mark Tremonti providing the heartbeat of the band and immediately hitting the kind of form we’ve come to expect. Following it up with Come To Life cemented this bond and as usual Alter Bridge had an arena sized crowd eating out of their palms.
The setlist here was a mixed bag stretching from across all five of the band’s albums, though heavily favouring Blackbird as it so often does. Like most bands, they heavily fall back on tracks from their past with Metalingus, Ties That Bind and the modern classic that is Blackbird making an appearance as always. The latter of the trio feeling like it holds more and more importance to the band each time they play it. The power behind it and the epic guitar solo are as good as any band have released this millennium. The only downside to their set was the final track and encore. The run of Open Your Eyes, Show Me A Leader and Rise Today meant many got to leave early, but weren’t the powerful trio that they may have expected them to be. Closing their last run with Slip To The Void and Isolation felt huge but this felt a bit lacklustre. It was only a small slight on what was otherwise a really strong set and a triumphant return to Birmingham after two years.
Though, whilst their performance was strong, for Alter Bridge to take the final step up to the top row of Download Festival (which I assume is one of their desires) there is still something that still needs to be added to their shows. A spark that makes them a must watch band. Here they tried to step it up with images and videos on a big screen, though I feel this may have been better served live streaming the show, providing another dimension to the performance and maybe forcing the band to play up to the cameras. Whatever it is, it’s only a small change and something that may even be so subtle we don’t even notice it until they’re up there on the main stage. After all, it is surely only a matter of time before we see them there.
Relive the night if you were there, or even if you weren’t, by checking out Lisa’s gallery here.