Home Gigs Gig Review : Halestorm – Back From The Dead Tour 2023 With support from Black Veil Brides and Mothica OVO Arena, Wembley, London

Gig Review : Halestorm – Back From The Dead Tour 2023 With support from Black Veil Brides and Mothica OVO Arena, Wembley, London

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

“This is my armor,

This is my anchor,

It’s been a long road outta Hell up to the steeple,

For this is my church and these are my people.”

The Steeple’ – Halestorm

Surveying the glorious scene of a sold-out arena Halestorm’s effervescent front-person Lzzy Hale broadly smiles and, with both hands, forms the shape of a heart. It’s endearingly sincere, of that there’s no doubt, and directly from her very heart. This is the gentle soul at the very epicentre of a raging beast that rollicks and rolls but is forever under control. With the hard rocking behest of one of modern-day rock’s bona fide legends Halestorm, in the form of the co-founding Lzzy, possess the consummate focal point.

There’s been over two decades of struggle and strife in the rock n’ roll cauldron since, a then, 13-year-old Lzzy and her younger percussive powerhouse sibling Arejay took to the stage at Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County Fair. “We did lose to the tap-dancing cowgirl” quips Lzzy, beneath the light of a single spotlight at the onset of the encore, about their debut outing, adding “She was far cuter than us!”

Halestorm has reached a notable pinnacle. There awaits loftier summits but this is now, this is a moment to absorb and savour. Moments prior to signalling her love to the massed faithful Lzzy comments “We’ve got some celebrating to do!” furthering “It’s been a long road to Wembley!” This beyond any discussion, debate is complete unnecessary.

The last date of an extensive five-week tour criss-crossing the European continent, the 24th show spanning an incredible 18 nations – from Scandinavia to the Iberian peninsula and a legion of locations in between, it’s been one hell of a schedule. A lengthy highway for sure but this evening’s ‘church’ is a cathedral amongst chapels. Tonight, a five-figure crowd rammed into the fabled environs of London’s Wembley Arena represents Halestorm’s biggest headline show in the UK to date.

Once the largest indoor arena in London, until the repurposing of the Millenium Dome as The O2 Arena in 2007, Wembley deservedly retains its reputation as a leading live music venue. Hosting the greats of the industry, including the legendary Status Quo an incredible 46 times (!!!), the grade II listed former Empire Pool, dating back to 1934, poignantly displays a respectful tribute to the recently departed Pogues’ vocalist Shane MacGowan – 1957 to 2023. I like to think that Shane, described by Irish president Michael D. Higgins as “one of music’s greatest lyricists,” looking down upon the masses queueing out front would give his approval.

Dry ice billows across the stage beneath an arch of white spots that illuminate a filling Wembley. An array of blue lights pierce the miasmic setting. Around the arena advertising boards proclaiming scream “Bring the energy.” Something each of this evening’s three acts deliver in absolute shedloads, each in their own inimitable style.

Opening act Mothica, the on-stage alias of Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter McKenzie Ellis, is a relatively unknown musical commodity to a good percentage of this evening’s audience. Come the end of a compelling 40 minutes of angst-ridden and emotion-filled pop-punk emo crossovers we’re left in no doubt of her shining qualities and her fragilities. Worn on her sleeve these intensely negative life experiences – a victim of assault in her early teens leading to a subsequent failed “unalive” attempt – have been turned on their collective head.

‘Forever Fifteen’ explores that suicide attempt “I’m so glad I failed so I could fucking play Wembley” emotes the 28-year-old vocalist as she introduces the emotive atmospherics that emit the darkest trauma fuelled sentiments of the soul. A ‘purgation’ via the medium of sensitively despatched rock n’ roll, carthesis if you so wish.

Aside from appearances at this summer’s Leeds and Reading festivals opening this tour for Halestorm and Black Veil Brides is Mothica’s first serious foray into the rock maelstrom this side of the Atlantic. Judging by the reception received this is a name to keep a watchful eye upon. Flanked by a drummer (whose name evaded me) and guitarist Alex, whose parents had flown in specially from their California home, Mothica is right into her stride with the catchy set-opening ‘Casualty’ off last year’s ‘Nocturnal’ lp.

Cutting a gothic Alice In Wonderland styled character Mothica muses upon her choice of outfit “This is the biggest show we’ve played, and I don’t know why I’ve decided to wear three corsets!” The cover of Bring Me The Horizon’s 2013 single ‘Can You Feel My Heart?’ is full hard-driven kinetic; on bended knees Mothica surveys the front rows.

Commanding the stage, prowling and stalking like the predatory feline as the gentle guitar strains of ‘Vices’ meshes a pop-punk emo vibrancy. McKenzie’s forthright openness upon her anguishes is engaging and the loud cheer that she receives announcing the nu-metal fringed ‘Buzzkill’ “A few years ago I got the courage to my abuser as a sexual predator, 13-year-old me didn’t have the words’ she illuminates. 50 million plus streams on Spotify in less than three years speaks volumes. “This is the beginning of the price you’re gonna to pay” forewarns Mothica. Haunting to the nucleus.

Following the channelling of an inner Avril Lavigne coupled with a fringing of Gwen Stefani in ‘Forever Fifteen’ the mood uplifts with a surprise rendition of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. “One thing we all share …… that’s Shrek!” smiles Mothica as Wembley erupts. Inflatable beach balls are despatched into the crowd by the energetic stagehands in a crazed Brownian motion as Alex bounces along to the hooky chorus.

The, as yet, unreleased ‘Another High’ – from the forthcoming ‘visual album’ (as Mothica describes) – is energetic before the darkened marauding of ‘Sensitive’ evokes a melding of early Britney and No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani in a kaleidoscopic cirque fantastique whirlwind to deliver the final blower of a killer set.

Whilst I ponder why there’s an individual dressed as a giant banana in the arena Stateside metallers Black Veil Brides come hollering and rampaging out of their liar purported to be somewhere in the Hollywood region. Like a bat-winged behemothic demon of the underworld they come raging out of the traps with Wembley nearing capacity.

White strip lights brighten an otherwise pitch-black stage as the cathedral-esque tones of Stephen Sondheim’s Theme From Sweeney Todd. An unseen grandiose orchestra further lifts an already titanic ardour, as expectations heighten in an arena approaching fever pitch.

As the band assume their stations vocalist, and sole remaining founding member, Andy Biersack rages “Wembley let me hear you scream!” The packed masses are compliant as the cogent incantation is cast with the supercharged anthemic ‘Crimson Skies’, one of three singles to be winched in off BVB’s most recent studio long-player ‘The Phantom Tomorrow’, gatecrashes proceedings to monumentous effect.

The beast is stirred, crazed by its lustful intent; the scent of the action has awakened its senses. The gathered ranks of the crowd, its prey, are right onside from the off indulging rabidly in the gothic-edged heavy metal intensity. There’s precious little time to draw breath, Biersack swiftly introduces the band and ‘Rebel Love Song’ the next thundering offering to enter orbit.

With criss-crossing guitarists, the long-serving six-string partnership of Jinxx and Jake Pitts, it’s rapid-fire metal with a rampaging pop-punk periphery. Extending his mic crowdwards Biersack salutes the faithful, judging by the voluminous cheers I’d estimate that’s a really significant percentage of this evening’s Wembley attendance. Mimicking their band logo Pitts and Jinxx go back-to-back as the unrelenting rampage continues apace.

With a sea of mobile phones catching the action for posterity clenched fists punch upwards with the horror edge of the likes of Rod Zombie, W.A.S.P. and Wednesday 13 ‘Wake Up’, a short sharp heavy canticle, takes to the highway with a hard-driving Sabbath orientated attitude. Sumptuous twin lead guitar pervades as contagion reaches critically elevated levels.

Three tracks in and we’ve been treated to offerings from half the long-playing back catalogue of six albums already. The chronological variance is sustained with the pummelling acceleration of ‘Nobody’s Hero’ which literally races off 2013’s lengthily entitled ‘Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones’ lp.

The added bonus of ‘Devil’, reinstated to the set after over a fortnight’s absence (last played in Ljubjana, Slovenia according to the setlist.fm website), bristles with unadulterated fury. BVB is remorseless in its onslaught, their campaign is unrelenting with wave after wave of fiery magmatic riffing venting forth.

With gleeful abandonment ‘Scarlet Cross’, the first of a brace of singles from ‘The Phantom Tomorrow, is coupled with ‘Torch’. The banshee shriek of the former contraposes the drop in tempo of the latter with its truly haunting intro. A rallying that calls the clans together with Biersack defiance burning “Doesn’t matter if what we say is true.”

Strobes flash and flames burst behind the backline as ‘The Legacy’ is ushered forth towards the frenetic cataclysm. Weighty igneous substance broils as Beirsack raises his horns encouraging the same from the Wembley crowd who respond overwhelmingly in kind. The metaphorical spot is turned upon debut album ‘We Stitch These Wounds’ with the to-die-for twin lead of ‘Knives and Pens’, BVB’s first single that announced their coming back in 2009.

‘Fallen Angels’, the band’s first single to make a dent in the UK Rock Charts, has the crowd screaming and shouting for all their worth. Their embracement delighting frontman Biersack “Thank you so fucking much” he enthuses as the tale of the rebellious angels of Revelation 12 is told. “The ultimate outcasts” in the words of Biersack. The aptly titled set-closing well-oiled V-twin engine ‘In The End’ throatily roars out onto the highway with Wembley bouncing unified; a befitting crescendo at the conclusion of 50 minutes of a high-end blend of genre-meshing metal.

Iron Maiden’s 1984 opus ‘Powerslave’ reverberates out of the arena’s PA and like a heavy metal snake charmer beckons forth the crowdsurfers. “All around is laid to waste” proffers Dickinson as a steady stream of prone bodies go over the barrier. Levels of anticipation, which have been palpably ascending throughout the course of the evening now begin to rocket. The arena is rammed and as McBrain’s percussive elements fade, so the lights darken heralding the onstage arrival of tonight’s conquering headliners Halestorm.

“Raise your horns” scream Lzzy Hale; as way of introductory announcement this is a blood-letting battle-cry The Valkyries themselves would have been proud of. Alone, with her trademark Gibson Explorerbird signature guitar around her shoulders, this groundbreaking artist despatches a scintillating acapella rendition of ‘Raise Your Horns’ as the set’s opening manoeuvre. Somewhere a latent memory stirs as I’m reminded somewhat of the charismatic Garbage vocalist Shirley Manson.

It’s genuinely stunning as a sea of raised horns greets Hale’s ardently impassioned efforts. A 2012 coupling of ‘I Miss The Misery’ and ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ – the former rocking Wembley to its core and paving the way for the full pelt hunting mode of the latter – get the full motion underway. With Lzzy’s brother Arejay quite literally sparkling, aloft, behind his drum kit and the flanking duo of guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith the scene is complete and fully engaged for the quadrumvirate to storm the ramparts for the absolute best part of 100 minutes of lofty dynamic.

Lzzy’s delight is clearly evident and before launching into ‘I Get Off’ she states her deep satisfaction in being in the same band for over 25 years and her pride in being a woman tonight. A deserved reputation for being an ‘Ambassador for rock; an advocate for mental health awareness and a role model for aspiring artists and gender equality Lzzy’s sincerity shines brightly. “I’m surrounded by my bitches – hell yeah!” she buzzes before dedicating the following track to all the ladies out in the crowd before encouraging them up on to willing shoulders close by.

Influences are worn proudly too as Heart’s ‘Crazy On You’ dovetails neatly. With just bassist Smith, on keys, for company Lzzy belts out the classic doing Ann Wilson’s vocal complete justice. Pouring every last ounce of emotion into the delivery this is simply spellbinding. The perfect consummate controlled despatch. Mesmerising and tear-jerking simultaneously.

Supersonic rocker ‘Wicked Ways’ follows in the wake laying the foundations upon which the strongarm pummelling of ‘Freak Like Me’; a track more deserving of the term ‘anthemic’ I’ve yet to hear. A rallying call, a focal point for all those who eschew the mainstream uniformity and dare to be individuals “Hey Wembley are you all a freak like me?” enquires Lzzy. An ocean of clenched fists thrust upwards; Wembley is on the march.

Following the hip shaking boogie of ‘Amen’ there’s a change of six-string to Lzzy’s recently released signature Kramer Voyager. Not content with being the first woman to be an ambassador for Gibson she has now struck out a deal with Gibson’s siblings Kramer with the dazzling Voyager becoming their first Kramer’s first signature for a female guitarist.

For the first time in the set Lzzy dispenses with her guitar completely and with mic in hand and her partner Joe on an electro-acoustic the mighty ‘Terrible Things’ is given siren-like properties. This is one alluring voice that many ocean-going crews would have difficulty not beholding to the temptations of. I elect for a silent, invisible tear as the poignant lyrics wash over me.

The first verse and chorus of ‘Rock Show’ jolt me back to reality with the tenderest of touches before the haunting passion of ‘Familiar Taste Of Poison’ chockful with raw electricity it sends shivers coursing down the spine. The roaring demon that’s ‘Takes My Life’ bears witness to Lzzy bringing the hard rock eloquence of Ann Wilson into the heavy metal arena. The sultry bluesy edges of the chorus reflect the overall higher power levels of the track in contraposition.

Normally drum solos offer the opportunity for those that wish to slip off for a few minutes to indulge. However, Arejay’s solos are something to behold and are an entertainment in their own right. Engaging the crowd the percussive wizardry elicits a great response – I’ve seen sticks inserted up nostrils before now but never have I watched a kit be battered in a meaningful way with two baseball bats and twirling ones at that!

The stirring titular track from Halestorm’s latest release ‘Back From The Dead’ is a raging torrent with Joe whittling a fine, fine solo from his olive-green Gibson SG. The defiant swagger of powerhouse ‘Bombshell’ ratchets proceedings even higher as the Wembley eruption continues unabated. The dam has been breached and there’s no going back!

The searingly infectious ‘I Am The Fire’ closes the main body as the temperature continues to rise inside the OVO sponsored Arena. There’s more to come and the band take a hard-earned breather whilst, in the darkness, a gleaming white baby grand piano is wheeled onstage. Just a couple of minutes later Lzzy returns cheekily noting “Oh no! We’re not done with you yet!” to a loud raucous cheer.

A medley of ‘Break In’, Lindsey Smith’s composition and 2014 single ‘Shatter Me’ (upon which Lzzy guested) along with a compelling ‘Raise Your Horns’ the quarter hour of encore. We all know that end must come but we’re wishing for it not too. Before that there’s time to savour the country-infused delights of ‘Here’s To Us’ and the set-ending majesty of ‘The Steeple’. The latter’s reflections proving the perfect way to draw the curtains upon this evening’s blistering to the maximum performance. “This is my church, and you are my people” enthuses Lzzy; here is band at the top of their game and in a current state of ascendency. Their next move is awaited most expectantly.

Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM

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