July 6th, 2016. Just three weeks earlier, the city of Orlando, Florida was rocked by the worst mass shooting the history of the United States. The theme park capital of the world was understandably and undeniably glum. People needed an excuse to cut loose, to smile, to put the bloodshed behind them- and hometown heroes Alter Bridge stepped up to the plate.
Although the band is not releasing their new album until October, they decided to host an exclusive listening party and performance for a very select number of fans. Of course, I Probably Hate Your Band was on hand for the festivities, but not in the way you might think. Okay, we were there in the exact way you might think, because we spoiled it in the title.
My father likes to jokingly refer to himself as “Alter Bridge’s oldest fan”, which demonstrates that he doesn’t quite grasp the concept of dad rock. He’s very proud of his virtually encyclopedic knowledge of their catalogue, which he culminated (and celebrates) by blasting it through the house at every opportunity. He would probably go gay for Mark Tremonti, and who would blame him? Well, the guy who committed the aforementioned mass shooting probably would, but that’s neither here nor there.
As you’ve probably gathered, he bought a ticket to this event, and thanks to his rabid fandom, he was the perfect candidate to cover it for us (no press was allowed- we checked). Although devoid of any journalism knowledge or experience, his experience as a lawyer has cultivated a strong memory, so this account is based on an interview I conducted with him immediately after the event concluded.
The event took place at the historic Beacham nightclub in downtown Orlando, a small venue that had completely sold out. Not only had Alter Bridge fans gathered from throughout Florida, but from the farthest reaches of the country and the farthest reaches of the globe. China, Japan, Paraguay, and Taiwan were amongst the countries represented by this international crowd (and no, China, I’m not acknowledging Taiwan as a sovereign state, please don’t ban our website). It was truly a gathering of this band’s most dedicated fans (that could pony up the considerable cash to attend).
Before even entering the venue, one couldn’t help but notice the remarkable amount of security on hand. Every attendee was subject to a metal detector wanding and an airport security-style pat down. Whether this was a reaction to the recent terrorist attack or already planned to prevent leaks is subject to conjecture. No cell phones, recording devices, or anything that could be used to take notes were allowed. My dad was only able to bring his wallet and car keys inside.
The newly violated concertgoers were immediately shuffled to a meet-and-greet with the band upon entrance. Everyone was allowed a brief interaction with the band and a photo taken by a professional photographer, as cameras were banned. Event staff then handed them a questionnaire and a crayon (how metal); throughout the evening, they were asked to note what they thought of each song and what they thought the first single should be.
The evening began with an on-stage Q&A, where the band fielded questions from a local radio host. Some decent tidbits of information were gleaned from this: the album would be called The Last Hero, it would be released on October 7th, and that while the titles of every track were definite, the order was still being debated. Like just about every album due to be released this year by an American band, the main lyrical inspiration stems from the ongoing (and immensely frustrating) presidential election. Unlike their previous album, Fortress, Tremonti would not take lead vocal duties on any songs, just backing harmonies.
After this wrapped up, the real fun began. Moving their chairs to face the audience, singer and guitarist Myles Kennedy (with occasional input from the rest of the band) introduced each song on the new album, detailing all the boring things songwriters like to talk about when releasing new material. You know, inspiration, tone, feeling, all that jazz. I highly doubt anyone who was in attendance can recite what he said for each track from memory.
It didn’t matter, because the crowd ate up every track with the insatiable appetite of a homeless man at an all-you-can-eat steakhouse. “I’ve never seen people so appreciative to hear a recording played out loud,” my dad told me. Each of the first few songs were followed by several minutes of applause, disrupting the flow of the event. No one cared.
As I said before, the city had been looking for an emotional release following that devastating shooting. This crowd found one in The Last Hero. It was an opportunity to scream, shout, applaud, and bond to the tune of their favorite band. It was a very cathartic evening.
So what did the album sound like? In a word, heavy. “[The Last Hero] is the heaviest album they’ve ever put out,” I was told. A solid split between hard-hitting cuts and more traditional ballads, every song utilizes a mix between crushing rhythms and an underlying sense of melody, more reminiscent of Tremonti’s solo material. I was told that some songs were “almost speed metal,” which I believe my dad was confusing with thrash. “You know,” he clarified, “That double bass pedal stuff.”
The sound system at the venue was “blasting”, so the nuances of the mixing escaped. However, it doesn’t sound as dark as Fortress; instead, it feels more like the band’s sophomore effort, Blackbird. While some tracks are obviously geared towards radio rock, the band gives themselves room to demonstrate their songwriting chops. The seventh song played, Kennedy told the crowd, goes on for exactly six minutes and 48 seconds.
So what was Alter Bridge’s oldest fan’s final verdict on the album? “It sounded fantastic. Three or four of those songs are going to do well commercially, but is it their best album? No.”
Alter Bridge performing at the event. Image courtesy of Shockwave Magazine and William Burkle.
Following the listening party portion of the evening, the band retreated behind their instruments and played a set for the die-hard fans that gathered. I probably shouldn’t have used that figure of speech considering the timing of the event. Sounding studio perfect, they didn’t play any of the new material, but ran through a comprehensive 12-song overview of their greatest hits. Unfortunately, there was no moshing reported. Was it due to the length of the event, the age of the attendees, or the demographic that’s able to drop so much money on such an event? I don’t have an answer for you.
In the end, it was a night of fun, a night of healing, and a night of ear-pounding pseudo-metal. “It was a night I’ll never forget,” my dad said, which I believe will hold true until he inevitably contracts the Alzheimer’s that runs in my family. Alter Bridge has released the first single from this album, entitled “Show Me A Leader”, and you can listen to it at the end of this article. If this single and this first-person account are anything to go by, believe me when I say I can’t wait to hear this album for myself.
Based on my father’s memory and the accounts of other people present at the event, this is what the album’s track listing will most likely be:
1. Show Me A Leader 2. The Writing on the Wall 3. The Other Side 4. My Champion 5. Poison Through Your Veins 6. Cradle to the Grave 7. This Side of Fate 8. Losing Patience 9. You Will Be Remembered 10. Crow on a Wire 11. Twilight 12. Island of Fools 13. The Last Hero 14. The Last of Our Kind
Confirmed heavier songs: Show Me A Leader, The Writing on the Wall, Poison Through Your Veins, Crow on a Wire, The Last Hero
Confirmed softer songs: This Side of Fate, You Will Be Remembered, Twilight, The Last of Our Kind
I Sent My Dad to Review the New ALTER BRIDGE Album