HALESTORM have a ball in Brixton.
HALESTORM AVATAR BRIXTON ACADEMY, LONDON Lzzy Hale’s exhilarating rockers step closer to stadium status
When you go to watch AVATAR, you know you’re going to get a proper freakshow. They’ve previously toured with circus performers, and at Download this year they brought a hydraulic throne for guitarist Jonas Jarlsby – the ‘king’ of latest concept album Avatar Country. So tonight it’s disappointing to see they’ve shown up with neither, and bassist Henrik Sandelin is absent due to family matters (the “resident stage ghost” is playing “invisible bass”, aka there’s a backing track). But the Swedes soon prove they don’t need those bells and whistles; they’re weird and wonderful enough as it is. Johannes Eckerström is a seasoned ringmaster by now, twirling his cane, drinking from a petrol can, stroking guitarist Tim Öhrström’s hair and playing his role with a leering satisfaction rivalled only by Ghost’s Cardinal Copia. “Horns in the air, horns in the air, horns in the air and keep them there!” he rhymes, like a demented Dr Seuss. They’re thunderous when they hit their groove, the runaway train stylings of Avatar Country earning them a score of new fans.
On Facebook Live right now, Robb Flynn is dropping the bombshell of Machine Head’s ‘farewell tour,’ but the crowd are oblivious, caught up in the fantasy of these facepainted lunatics. Once you’ve entered Avatar Country, reality no longer applies. “It feels like we’re destined to do this forever, London!” yells Johannes. And with a headline tour announced a few days later, including a date at the 2,000-capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire, who’s to say he’s wrong?
Machine Head may be having a wobble, but hALeSToRM prove there are still bands out there operating at the top of their game. Tonight’s show is the culmination of years of hard work, from plugging away at the church and farm circuit in rural Pennsylvania, to headlining shows at the capital’s Koko and Roundhouse venues, to more than doubling their capacity at tonight’s 5,000-strong Brixton Academy. Opening with the title track from new album Vicious is a statement of intent – they’re here, they’re armed with their most raw and urgent album yet, and they’re going to put on a proper rock’n’roll show. Lzzy Hale is the quintessential rock star, sporting her Joan Jett half-mullet, a fringed leather jacket, and hammering her guitar under the spotlight as though her life depends on it. Everything about her screams ‘attitude’, while her actual screams are throatily powerful, bordering on histrionic but with a grit that belies the foursome’s US rock radio credentials.
The crowd, ranging from schoolkids to retired couples, also scream from the off – and Lzzy wastes no time working them into a frenzy. They do everything she commands, including holding their phones aloft to light up a mighty I Am
The Fire. “London! What can I get you to do?” Lzzy teases, dominatrix-like, before Amen. “Anything…?” The band extend the chorus, with Lzzy’s call of, ‘Can I get an Amen?’ becoming more and more like the impassioned exhortation of a Southern Baptist preacher, while Joe Hottinger’s guitar wails uncontrollably and a throng of willing disciples throw the horns. With the band now based in Nashville, there is a slight country vibe to proceedings, both in the music and sartorial choices like Joe’s hat and Lzzy’s flares.
With such an accomplished performance, it’s a little weird when everyone leaves the stage so Arejay Hale – dressed in a short leopard-print suit and shades – can sing part of The Offspring’s Why Don’t You Get A Job? and perform a solo. He whips out his trademark giant drum sticks, and though the bit is well received, it does seem goofy; he’s literally and figuratively the little brother. Lzzy returns to crank up the momentum with Freak Like Me, Uncomfortable and Takes My Life, during which she falls to her knees and delivers a foundation-rocking squeal. In keeping with Brixton’s theatrical trappings, she wrings a performance out of every second she has onstage. Before recent single Black Vulture, their best yet, she takes a beat to acknowledge the significance of the evening. “Since we were kids – I was 13 years old and my brother was 10 – we’ve dreamed of playing in London, and you guys have made our dream come true tonight”, she says with sincerity. “Thank you so much.”
Their confidence in Vicious is such that seven of its tracks appear in the 15-strong set, all upbeat apart from
The Silence. Lzzy and Joe perform the ballad alone, lit from behind, almost like a gospel song in a church. But normal service resumes with the high-octane double-hit of I Miss The
Misery and Here’s To Us, along with a toast to the road crew, closing out what’s essentially been an arena show in an Academy venue. They’ve previously supported Shinedown and Alter Bridge at Wembley, but surely a headling billing there is the next step for Halestorm.
Johannes eckerström has a taste for the theatrical