Manchester Arena, Manchester  UK

The three band bill seems to be the way forward in terms of doing larger arenas and providing value for money. In fact at just over 30 quid / $45.00 this show, billed as the Carnival of Madness, should provide similar value for money as The Winery dogs/Inglorious bill from a few nights previous. Even more so when you consider that an additional fourth band was on the bill called Highly Suspect whom I just caught the tail end of.
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Up first on the triple bill was Halestorm fronted by current media darling Lzzy Hale on vocals and guitar. Only having had limited exposure to these guys it’s a bit difficult to be subjective about the material on the night. The band opened with “Apocalyptic” and the crowd seemed to be into it from the off. Hale certainly knows how to link a song into the set as she proved with her introductions to “Love Bites,” “Amen” and “Scream.” The band were tight and cohesive and Lzzy fronted the band well but if I am honest it just wasn’t happening for me. This was mostly due to the fact the vocals were rather on the screeching side and from my limited experience of these guys I know that this woman can sing! Next up was “I Am the Fire” which included that first end of tour prank with a table and chairs being set up behind Ms. Hale and Black Stone Cherry hosting a singing session mid-song! This was quickly followed by an entertaining drum solo which featured the BSC drummer, John Fred Young and Ryan Meyer from Highly Suspect followed by the aptly titled “Mayhem” with so many bodies coming and going on the stage. The crowd was bouncing in unison to the intro to “Freak Like Me” which even I liked. The closing song of the set was “I Miss the Misery” which started with some great harmony guitar and brought the set to an appropriate end. Not really my bag but certainly warmed up the crowd a treat!
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Now the next act I do know about and was very much looking forward to seeing. Shinedown’s last couple of albums have been outstanding and I was intrigued to see how they would translate that sound to the live setting. Opening with “Black Cadillac” from new album, Threat to Survival, the obvious answer to how the sound would translate to a live environment was to use backing tracks. While the sound was rich and warm it sounded a little too controlled. Next up was “Diamond Eyes” which sounded great followed by ”Second Chance,” both from The Sound of Madness album. At this point I must admit I was wondering how much of the songs were being played live and what was on the backing tracks! “Cut the Chord” from the new album got the crowd going and really bounced along nicely. “Enemies” was introduced by Brent Smith asking the audience clear a path in the middle of the arena and then promptly jumping into the audience to introduce the sentiment behind the song for a few minutes and then getting back up on stage to deliver the song with great energy. “I Will Follow You Down” dipped into the more mellow side of Shinedown with a great piano introduction and building into the swinging chorus – great stuff! Another song from new album Threat to Survival followed in “State of My Head” with its pseudo trance/dance intro before erupting into the powerful upbeat chorus. The mood was mellowed again with guitarist Zach Myers accompanying Smith acoustically for a snippet of Oasis number “Don’t Look Back In Anger” before launching into their much revered cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” both of which had superb crowd participation. And all of sudden we were at the last song of the set with the superb “Sound of Madness.” What isn’t in doubt is the sheer quality of the material from the band or the show they put on – absolutely second to none. However, the nagging doubt for me was just how much of the material played was on the backing tracks. Regardless, it was a great show.

And then we were ready for the main attraction Black Stone Cherry. Opening with “Me and Mary Jane” from the Magic Mountain album the guys quickly kicked up a storm, following this with the “Rain Wizard” from the debut, which was equally if not more powerful than the opening track. The band dipped into second album, Folklore and Superstition with the opening track from that in the shape of “Blind Man” which was a little more controlled and funky. And then just to prove just how strong the material is the fourth song was drawn from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea viz the awesome “In My Blood.” Four songs – four albums! The guys then played a selection of songs from their back catalogue including “Soulcreek” and “Holding On To Letting Go” and a medley of sorts made up of snippets of “Roadhouse Blues” and “Yeah Man.” They also managed to squeeze in a new song in the form of “In Our Dreams.” The guys then took it down quite a few notches to do “The Things My Father Said” acoustically with just singer Chris Robertson playing and singing on his own. He was then joined by guitarist Ben Wells for another acoustic number, “The Rambler” and asked the crowd to pay special attention to the lyrics, with the crowd obliging much to his delight. The rest of the band came back onstage for “Peace is Free” which for the evening was renamed “Pizza’s Free” as members of all three other bands invaded the stage with a large banner and pizza to boot! In the mayhem that followed Lzzy Hale did an excellent job singing with Robertson. The band were then joined by their manager on guitar to do a Johnny Cash number, “A Boy Named Sue” with a little of Freddie King’s “Going Down” for good measure. The next two songs brought the set and crowd to a crescendo with hits “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blame It on the Boom Boom.” The guys were quickly back on for the encores and rattled through an extended version of “Lonely Train” and then into Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” to bring the evening to a juddering halt!

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And what an evening it was too. Despite my personal taste the Manchester crown clearly got their rocks off on all three bands and who can blame them? Three great bands rocking Manchester on Saturday night – what’s not to like? Even if you didn’t personally dig all three bands it was a great Carnival of Madness.

– Peter Scallan

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