Hello all! I just got home from Orlando a few hours ago. My ears are still ringing and my neck is all kinds of sore from headbanging, but I made it back alive and really can't imagine an experience that could top this one. For those interested in a rundown of the songs, skip to the Song Impressions section below. But as always, I'll start by describing the events leading up to the main show.
My wife and I flew down to Orlando on Monday to make a bit of a vacation out of the trip. We checked into the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista and spent the day relaxing by the pool. Funnily enough Gbruin was staying at the same hotel, and we just missed him by 10 minutes when we left for dinner.
Tuesday we moved to the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Orlando to be closer to the Alter Bridge activities. In the evening we attended the pre-party that Maggie was so kind to organize for everyone. The first stop was Hamburger Mary's, a drag-themed burger bar on Church St. Inside we were greeted by 80 other AB fans who had basically taken over the entire restaurant. Laid out on a table was a giant Alter Bridge pre-party banner that all attendees were signing in sharpie. We were also given some stickers and a commemorative shot glass.
For dinner we sat next to some old friends and new acquaintances including Ashlee, Tracy, Cissy, and Elena (from Russia!). Also ran into Eric (from Austria!). Can I just say how incredible it is that I've now met some of these international fans multiple times at AB/Tremonti events?
During dinner a couple of local drag queens ran a game of bingo. Now a drag show typically would not be my first choice of entertainment, but I confess I had a grand old time. The hosts were hilarious and did a great job catering to a group of rock fans. At the end they even helped Maggie raffle off some AB-related prizes.
After dinner we all got a group photo in the street, taken by none other than Wild Bill Burkle. At this point we were also joined by fellow TABNers Ryan, Cameron, Greg, and C3. From there we headed to Big Belly, a bar just down the street, at which we were graced with a private show by Tanner Keegan. Most of you will know Tanner as the touring bassist for Tremonti, but he also has a band of his own right here in Orlando. The show was introduced by Supa Dave, a DJ on Orlando rock station WJRR.
I had never heard Tanner's music so I had no expectations at all. Let me just say that they put on a killer show! Their brand of raw, blues-based rock n' roll was perfect for this sweaty third-floor bar. They played a mix of covers and originals highlighted by Tanner's massive voice and the instrumental contributions of the band's other guitarist, bassist, saxophonist, and drummer. It's safe to say that I'll be paying attention to this band going forward.
All-in-all the pre-party was a great night. Many thanks to Maggie and everyone else who volunteered their free time to organize this event. It was so well put-together, and the extra goodies were on point!
Wednesday was show-day, but first we met up with a bunch of the same folks at World of Beer. Grabbed some lunch and explored the city a bit more before heading back to the hotel to put our game faces on. Around 5:00 we headed towards the Beacham, where the event was to be held.
Having gotten downtown a bit early, we met up with folks at the Irish pub across the street where we could monitor the line in front of the Beacham. Doors were set to open at 6:00 and the line was already down the sidewalk and around the corner. Of course no phones or cameras would be allowed into the event, but Greg was kind enough to store everyone's belongings in his rental car. We planned on heading over at 6:00, but the line didn't show any signs of dying down until well after 7:00.
I think we finally made it into the venue at around 7:45. We actually entered via the Social: the adjacent venue where the Cauterize/Dust listening party was held. Upon entering we were given a listening party poster autographed by the band and featuring the album art for the upcoming record. We were also given a printout of the track list, on which we were tasked with submitting our recommendations for the first single.
By now you've all surely seen the artwork and heard that the album will be titled The Last Hero. Make no mistake, that name is Fortress-level cool. Of course the artwork has already proven to be as controversial as the shape of Mark's new custom PRS, but I quite like it. It is a departure from the band's typical grungy look. I think I shared most people's disdain for the new band logo when I first saw it on the website, but it works really well with The Last Hero's artwork. And of course the old logo isn't going anywhere.
Anyway, after receiving our posters we got in line for photos with the band. They were moving people through pretty quickly so I only had a moment to shake their hands before having my picture taken. My wife followed behind me, and I propositioned the band for a less-traditional photo with my wife. Specifically I asked for them to hold her up horizontally, "like a breakfast sausage." They tentatively obliged, once again proving their willingness to cater to their fans.
Next we entered the actual Beacham venue next door. The room was highly impressive. Up front was a tall 6 foot-high stage with the Alter Bridge banner (old logo) suspended on the wall. Colored spotlights spun all around the room as all the fans milled about. I met up with the TABN crew near one of the bars, and we settled down to listen to the album.
Before long, WJRR's Supa Dave took the stage to introduce the first song. I'll give a track-by-track rundown below, but I'll just say that as soon as I heard Myles' voice on the first song, I got chills. There really is something special about hearing him sing on top of Mark's guitars, Flip's drums, and Brian's bass.
I'll preface my song-by-song thoughts by saying that my notes are not the most complete. I did not note any lyrics or track song structures by verse/chorus/etc. I didn't even keep track of the solos. I mainly tried to document the general feel/style of the songs while also enjoying them in the moment rather than burying my face in my notepad. So with that said, here's what I've got:
1. Show me a Leader - The album opens with a creepy, clean guitar intro. I likened it to what you would get if the "Cry of Achilles" intro met the mood of the "Slip to the Void" intro. Then we are hit with a slow, heavy guitar-driven section peppered with slow, bendy leads, similar to the intro to Avenged Sevenfold's "Beast and the Harlot." This leads into an upbeat arena-rock verse, led by a heavy palm-muted guitar riff. The chorus is one of Alter Bridge's more unique compositions, featuring an unusual on-and-off staccato timing. Near the end we are treated by a huge guitar solo with some of Myles's vocalizations layered on top. While I don't recall any specific lyrics, I got the sense that the writer is crying out for someone to lead the world out of its current myriad woes. Taken as a whole, this could be another representative song for the band, cementing their unique brand of larger-than-life, intricate, heavy, melodic rock.
2. The Writing on the Wall - Track two starts with a heavy (drop B?) intro -- a headbanger not dissimilar to "Farther than the Sun." This segues naturally into a nasty, low verse. The chorus totally faked me out; at first it sounded like a typical uplifting Alter Bridge melody, but there's a dark inflection that separates it out. Leading into the bridge, the song features a "Thunderstruck"-style guitar lead.
3. The Other Side - This one starts with a deep, slow intro akin to Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", or maybe even something out of Five Finger Death Punch. The verse features one of Myles's more tender vocal performances, pulled back into a sultry, breathy style. Layer that on top of a slow, groovy, deep guitar/rhythm section, and you've got another signature Alter Bridge moment. I didn't note anything about the chorus, but the bridge almost had a doom metal vibe.
4. My Champion - The fourth track begins with a fingerpicked guitar intro much like the intro to Tremonti's "Never Wrong." Then there's a very rock n' roll lick leading into a verse with a very sweet melody. The chorus has more of a positive vibe to it; my wife likes the darker stuff so she said it "sucks"… but she sucks.
5. Poison in Your Veins - So I can't really explain why but this song made me think of the phrase "porn rock," or maybe "stripper rock." And that got me thinking that maybe the whole album could be described that way. Go ahead and laugh; you'll see what I mean. Anyway this must be where the booze really started to kick in last night because my mind deteriorated to the point that I thought "heavy riff verse" was worth writing down. However I did also note that this song has one of the dirtiest bridges ever, and it uses a similar drawn-out phaser effect to the bridge of "Fortress."
6. Cradle to the Grave - If there's a song on this album that will bring you to your knees, this is it. It begins with a guitar intro that reminded me of the volume knob tricks in Tremonti's "Fall Again." My notes on the rest of the song follow a similar pattern: the verse, sad; the chorus, desperate; the bridge, absolutely devastating; and the solo, beautifully tragic.
7. Losing Patience - Don't ask me why, but apparently the intro sounds like suddenly being attached by a swarm of bees. The verse is has a downbeat, lost feeling, almost as if lamenting the circumstances in a fallen Soviet state. The chorus lifts the listener out of the darkness into a glimmer of hope. And the bridge is dirty and metallic.
8. This Side of Fate - When asked if this album contained an epic song akin to "Blackbird", the band cited this song, noting that it's 6:48 in length. The intro is an upbeat but slowly-descending heavy riff. The verse pulls back into vulnerable-sounding vocals over a fingerpicked guitar riff. The chorus almost sounds medieval and features some double bass pedal work. There's a clean interlude, and Myles solos with perhaps the most feeling ever. The final chorus injects the song with a reassuring sense before Mark takes it home with--yes--an epic guitar solo.
9. You Will be Remembered - This track starts with a distorted, fingerpicked, major-key guitar riff that could almost find itself on a country album. The verse and pre-chorus gave me a nostalgic feeling, and the chorus brings the feels, ballad-style.
10. Crows on a Wire - I may have overdone it with the superlatives but I thought this song has the dirtiest riff ever. The chorus again reminded me of "stripper rock", and Myles takes his vocals to impressive heights. The solo is enormous. I couldn't tell, but it sounded like the song changed key after the solo before reverting back for the final chorus.
11. Twilight - Continuing on the theme of missed movie soundtrack opportunities (see also: Tremonti's "Catching Fire"), "Twilight" starts with a heavy major-key intro. The verse and chorus are positive in feeling, but not in the bland "Breathe Again" way. The pre-bridge showcases what sounds like Tremonti's phaser pedal. There's also a mega solo that fits especially well into the surrounding instrumental.
12. Island of Fools - This one starts off ominous before hitting a heavier stride. I described the chorus as Slash meets Alter Bridge's soaring melodies. The final chorus has a very "last stand" feel to it. There are also two solos, and the final one stood out to me as epic.
13. The Last Hero - Given the title, it is only appropriate that the intro and verse almost sound like a theatric soundtrack. The verse contains nice harmonies, and the bridge offers an unpredictable melody. The bridge is just brutal, such that the next chorus seems slow and deep. After this I thought the song was ending several times. I wrote "BRUTAL outro", followed by "final clean vocals", and then "another chorus - surprise!", then a solo, and then another brutal section finally ends the song. The ending fake-outs reminded me of the first time I heard "Fortress" (the song).
14. Last of our Kind - The final track starts with an ominous-sounding phaser effect on the guitar: heavy, low, and groovy. The verse and pre-chorus are creepy sounding, and the chorus features Alter Bridge's signature blend of dark and melodic. I know "epic" is an overused word around here, but it certainly describes the chorus. The bridge contains some speed-picking, and the solo make me think of a Viking funeral.
It's really difficult to get a cohesive impression of the album after only hearing it once in a concert venue. I can really only remember the chorus melody of "Show Me a Leader"; other than that I'm relying on my notes. With that said, it is going to suck waiting until October to hear this record again! If Alter Bridge had zero fucks to give when they wrote Fortress, I think they're now into negative fucks territory for The Last Hero. Their ability to write songs that are intricate, unique, and catchy only continues to amaze me. After witnessing their most recent recording process where the band recorded me of their parts separately, I was afraid the record wouldn't gel. It appears my worries were unfounded because this is another masterpiece, and certainly another step forward for the band.
Hearing the new album was so momentous that it's hard to believe we were treated to an entire live set as well. Alter Bridge took the stage shortly after The Last Hero ended. I'm sure others have posted the setlist by now, but it was a fairly standard mix of AB staples. I was hoping they'd pull out some old rarities for the die-hards in attendance or at least play some new tracks, but it really didn't matter. It was just so good to see the guys all together again on stage. Myles may have a more lucrative gig with Slash and Mark may be in the midst of building of Tremonti, but you can tell these guys are truly happy when they're all performing together.
The crowd was absolutely electric. Maybe that's obvious when you're talking about a listening party attended by many of the band's biggest fans, but it can't be understated. The audience moved along to every song and sang every word with incredible passion. Several times throughout the show the band would be ready to play the next song, but the crowd would be cheering/chanting so loud that the guys would just step back and humbly accept our admiration. You could tell they were really blown away by the energy in the room. Not bad for a Wednesday night!
All-in-all, I really can't imagine a better experience. There's nothing like getting to connect with other fans--all of whom share the same excitement and passion for Alter Bridge--getting to hear the new album, and witnessing the first Alter Bridge show in almost two years. Alter Bridge are back, TABN!!!