Who’s the best vocalist currently working in rock music? We could argue that one all day. It’s the kind of debate music fans love and of course we’d never get a definitive answer. But we can be pretty sure that if it came to a vote then Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, a man who was twice considered for Led Zeppelin duties and doubles up as vocalist for Slash’s touring band, The Conspirators (QRO live review), would be at or near the top of the poll.
It can’t be very often that the pre-eminence of Kennedy’s vocal talent is given a run for its money but at the Leeds Arena on Friday, December 2nd, we were treated to a magnificent display of power and technique from not just one but two vocal greats with Kennedy’s crown coming in for some serious pressure from Michael Poulsen, lead vocalist of Danish rockabilly metal outfit Volbeat.
It was a 6.30 start and I had no chance of making it for hard rockin’ kiwis Like a Storm (subsequent YouTubeing indicated that I missed out, and I’ll be keeping an eye open for them in future) but I managed to catch the second half of a superlative set from Gojira. The Frenchmen certainly know how to put on a show and many critics tip them for superstardom. On this showing that sounds perfectly reasonable and they certainly know how to whip a crowd into frenzy – the ferocity of their performance being matched on the night only by a particularly terrifying circle pit.
Volbeat wear their influences on their sleeves. They referenced Johnny Cash early on at the opening of “Sad Man’s Tongue” and later welcomed Barney Greenaway of Napalm Death for a rousing “Evelyn”. As you’d expect the set was dominated by tracks from their most recent album, 2016’s Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie (there can’t be many better ways to start a set than “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown”), but the highlights came when they rifled through the back catalogue a little for a captivating “Lola Montez” and “Still Counting”, for which they brought half the audience on stage to sing backing vocals. Poulsen’s vocals were riveting throughout, particularly on the inspirational “Let It Burn”, for which phones and lighters (remember them?) were out in force.
Alter Bridge arrived quietly, sneaking onto the stage in the dark and launching into “The Writing On the Wall”. Their schtick throughout is to play down the grandstanding and showmanship in favour of being four ordinary guys playing music. That’s not to say they didn’t play a great show – they assuredly did – but it does mean that they put their energies into the performance, not into playing ‘Look at me, I’m famous,’ and they’re all the better for it. A little bit of modesty can be very endearing at times. With Kennedy on vocal and guitar duties he can’t roam the stage like some do, so he has to make up for some visual riffs in favour of musical ones – he’s a pretty good guitarist too, although he did seem happy to be released from instrumental duties and to interact with the front rows on “Metalingus”.
Alter Bridge are anthem rockers at heart and they have a knack for coming up with great melodies that give Kennedy something to really lean into. On songs like “Ghost of Days Gone By” and “Farther Than the Sun” he gave it that unique blend of passion and controlled power that made him famous back in the Mayfield Four days, but it was on “Blackbird” that he really showed just what makes him the best in the world with an extraordinary blend of power and emotion, accentuated by Mark Tremonti’s guitar work. On “Waters Rising” Tremonti took the vocal while there was a solo acoustic performance from Kennedy for “Watch Over You”. Among the many highlights were a hard driving “Addicted To Pain” and the anthemistic “Rise Today”, which closed the show and sent the fans home happy.
On this showing Alter Bridge are definitely shaping to be one of the major arena rock bands of the next few years and you should definitely catch them if you get the chance.