Earlier this year, I had the honor to cover one of my favorite bands, Alter Bridge, at a concert they were playing nearby. When I arrived, the line was wrapped around the block, and that was five minutes after the doors had opened. And this wasn’t an arena show! So, I can only imagine how long the lines must have run outside of the O2 Arena in London when the band came to town. But what occurred outside the arena is not my concern, but rather the events which unfolded inside. I was given the opportunity to listen to the upcoming three-disc (or “that’s a lot of mp3s!” digital) collection entitled “Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities,” out Sept. 8, and I’m here to give you my minimally biased opinion – minimally, since I am a fan of the band.
Far be it from me to step on anyone’s toes, but I’m going to start with my least favorite part of this release first and work my way up. And this isn’t “least favorite” in the fanboy-sense of “it just wasn’t long enough!” Rather, there are moments, mainly during some of the heavier tracks, where the production on the guitars comes across rather muddy, or perhaps Mr. Tremonti simply lays into the wah pedal a hair too generously. This is quite noticeable in “Metalingus,” which was released as one of the promotional singles for this album. Luckily, however, this is neither a continuous nor frequent issue, and hardly takes anything away from the overall experience.
So let us broach the great and the grand now, shall we? The meat and potatoes of this collection is the two-disc live release. For those of you who are die-hard fans, you have probably already pre-ordered this album, or are sure to do so unless I say the most egregious of things. However, for those of you who have never listened to Alter Bridge and are looking for a pooling of some of their best songs, I’d say this is a great way to jump in. While most of the tunes come from the newest studio album, The Last Hero, there is a healthy dose of the previous LP, Fortress, and their sophomore release, Blackbird. The latter even sees the appearance of its title track, weighing in at nine minutes flat and standing out to me as one of the finest moments of the whole collection with its overwhelming emotionality. Also approaching the top of my list, is Myles Kennedy’s solo guitar rendition of “Watch Over You,” featuring a fully-animated audience taking control of the vocals for a portion of the song. And after all, audience-participation is the ultimate point of a concert, isn’t it?
“…I had no f*#!ing idea it was going to end up here,” admits Kennedy, in the 30 minute documentary which comes with the Earbook edition (limited to 1000 copies), beautifully put together by Sturge Media in association with Napalm Records. He is referring, of course, to the band’s exponential growth into an arena act over its 13 year career. And it’s wonderful to have such a video included, interviewing not only the band, but members of their road crew as well. From lyrical direction, to guitar masterclasses, to fan meet and greets, it bounds about and does a nice job showcasing the human element behind the culmination of over a decade’s worth of music.
Speaking of culminations, I can’t forget that we’re also treated to a whole album’s worth of rarities. Perhaps most interesting to hardcore fans will be two songs which have been unreleased up to now, “Cruel Sun” and “Solace,” both of which were recorded during sessions for the debut, One Day Remains. The other nine tracks have found their way onto special editions of each studio album released thus far, but it’s nice to see them brought together here for those who might have missed them the first time around. I honestly hadn’t realized that “Zero” and “Home” from ABIII were bonus tracks, as I’ve been wearing that disc out for years and can’t imagine the record without them. The rest of the tracks are new to me, and it’s been a welcome occasion to get better acquainted with them.
Thinking back to my own live-in-concert Alter Bridge experience, I can’t help but smile as I listen to these songs. Myles, Mark, Brian Marshall, and Scott Phillips aren’t just “musicians’ musicians” – to quote their drum tech, Shane Hall – they’re also great songwriters. And the greatness of the songs isn’t simply a melodic twist, a crazy solo, or a wicked bassline (though those certainly help), but how each of these things coalesce with meaningful lyrics which resonate with their fans. And for them, the live show isn’t about getting smashed and slamming into one another, though mosh pits have their place, but rather it’s a cathartic experience where their own inner demons dissipate with thousands of like-minded individuals, each unique in their struggles, but bonded by the shared love of these pieces. You may not personally have anything approaching a religious experience when listening to these tracks, but take the time to check out the songs, absorb the lyrics, and perhaps you’ll understand the enjoyment and connection that an entire arena in London shared on Nov. 26, 2016.