Review by Melanie Brehaut for MPM
Mention Volbeat in Northern Ireland and you’ll get one of four responses: 1/ they’re ok, 2/ who? 3/ love em! And 4/ ooh I remember the last time they were here…
As per the latter: yes, back in October 2019 aul’ Volbeat didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory when they left the stage barely one song into their set, later citing “technical issues” as well as ongoing problems frontman Michael Poulsen was having with his voice.
So tonight’s rescheduled gig must have felt like a bit of a baptism of fire for the band (imagine being a fly on the wall backstage at the Ulster Hall…). Will Belfast have forgiven them? Will they take the band back into their hearts? Or, post-pandemic, are Belfastians so starved of gigs that they’ll let bygones be bygones and pack the venue, just for the chance to see some actual live music?
Unusually, there is no support act for the night; doors open at 6pm, so by the time our headliners finally take to the stage promptly at 8.30pm to the dulcet tones of Motorhead’s ‘Born to Raise Hell’ the crowd is both restless and primed for action. Kicking off the festivities with the swaggering ‘Devil’s Bleeding Crown’, Volbeat seem determined to FORCE forgiveness from those present by simply rocking their socks off.
Thankfully there’s no sign of either technical difficulties (their light show is a sight to behold) or any vocal issues with Poulsen, whose rolling, rich bellow utterly beguiles the crowd. After a brief address (“Belfast, let’s see some horns!”) they fire straight in ‘Pelvis on Fire’, a rocking ass-shaker if ever there was one, then charge straight into new track ‘Temple of Ekur’.
They finally take a minute, with Poulsen rather bashfully addressing the crowd before testing the waters with a quick joke (“hello Belfast! We have one song left”); which luckily goes down a treat.
The previous infraction discussed and dealt with, he adds “we truly appreciate you coming”, which is nice, before they fire back up again with ‘Lola Montez’, prompting the first huge singalong for the night.
They barely pause for breath for the rest of their hit-packed set, swinging from a thunderous ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ to tracks from 2021’s Servant of the Mind like ‘Shotgun Blues’ (no, not the Guns n Roses one) and a thumping ‘Wait a Minute My Girl’, which causes the crowd to go wild with delight.
Poulsen is the consummate rocker, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and encouraging them to participate in all his rock star party tricks (chanting “hey! Hey!”, pumping their fists, proudly holding horns aloft). After his initial introduction there is very little further heard from him; clearly the band want to cram as many tunes in as possible to their one-hundred-minute set.
A noticeable deviation is when he stops to ask a youngster in the balcony what age they are and reaches up to provide them with a t-shirt (“that will be twenty dollars, mum” he quips). It’s a nice touch, and it certainly made one eight-year old’s night.
Following a barnstorming ‘Doc Holliday’ then exit and re-enter the stage for the obligatory encore, The haunting intro and chugging, determined riff of ‘Sacred Stones’ is the closest the band get to slowing down all night.
After a quick band intro and a request from Poulsen to return (“can we come back to Belfast, please?” he asks, to a huge, affirmative roar from the crowd), they launch into ‘Still Counting’, prompting another bellowing singalong.
A joyful moshpit breaks out on the floor, and it’s easy to see why Metallica’s Lars Ulrich brought them out on tour all those years ago: damn, that’s a riff! Fists are pumping, horns are high, faces are beaming…the boys have done good.
Volbeat are one of those bands that never (alright, almost never) disappoint live: slick and polished but never cheesy or choreographed, fantastic musicians and beautifully in sync with each other, they put on a show and a half, sounding crisp, clear and sharp enough to cut glass.
Their glorious combination of heavy metal and rockabilly means that, at any one time, half the crowd are shaking their booties and the other are banging their heads – and who could begrudge them that. So: are they forgiven? It would seem that the answer is very much in the affirmative.
Photography by Darren Mcveigh for MPM