Live Review: Halestom w/ Avatar and Rews | O2 Academy Birmingham | 24/09/18

Birmingham was alive and in good spirits when UK rock duo Rews [6] kick-started the party at the O2 Academy in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the revered Pennsylvanian rockers Halestorm, wasting no time in electrifying the crowd with their terrific energy. Promptly they demonstrated just why they had been chosen to be the opening act of the evening, showcasing a fiery and engaging alt-rock performance that gorgeously complimented the headlining Halestorm. A feat that was made even more impressive by the fact that the group are made up solely of a drummer (Collette Williams) and a guitarist (Shauna Tohill).

The duo's vocal harmonies were certainly notable, with Tohill taking the lead on vocals whilst Williams backed her up seemingly effortlessly from beside her at the drum kit in a delightful melody that further captivated the crowd. Their closing song, ‘Can You Feel It’ quite aptly surmised the atmosphere they left in their wake as they unleashed an explosive and catchy anthem that got everyone in the room feeling good and eager for more, anticipating what was to come next. All in all, Rews demonstrated themselves to be a successful and immensely engrossing opener, setting the precedent for a highly entertaining evening to follow.

From the moment Swedish heavy metallers Avatar [8] appeared from the wings, they exuded pageantry and showmanship. For anyone unfamiliar with the band, it would have surely been a sight to behold as these four imposing figures assembled one by one upon the stage, dressed in their extravagant, avant-garde costumes and with great, shining letters spelling out AVATAR erected above their heads to complete the spectacle.

Opening with popular track ‘Hail The Apocalypse’, Avatar set about forging a significantly more ominous ambience than that established by their predecessors, as the chunky opening riff reverberated through the hall like a shock wave, gripping all those present with a mixture of apprehension and curious attentiveness. Once underway though, the ‘ringmaster’ vocalist Johannes Eckerström bounded into the fray and almost at once the crowd rallied behind him as he deftly exhibited his trademark flair for performance, complete with top hat and tails, a skull-topped cane and a disturbing jet-black painted grin.

For a supporting act to Halestorm, one might think this would come across as a bizarre pairing, however on that night as Eckerström began to growl and jive, the audience could not have reacted more positively. It’s hard in retrospect not to see why- Avatar displayed an incredibly awe-inspiring production, which had obviously been expertly crafted and exhaustively rehearsed to perfection, each of the members acting seamlessly in tandem. It would have been near impossible to resist such a charmingly infectious display, and as such the audience responded accordingly, Avatar are most definitely a band worthy of much more time in the limelight, and one to look out for when they next return to a venue near you.

Finally it came time for Halestorm [8] to make their big entrance. Except they didn’t. What the O2 Academy was treated to instead was a very understated, humble entrance by a lone Lzzy Hale to a dimly lit stage. Here she began with a vocal solo, much to the delight of her sea of fans, who applauded and cheered her on as she expertly flaunted her profound vocal ability. As she came to the climax, the rest of the band filed in silently behind her to their positions, and without a hitch they launched into their set with a track from their new album Vicious, ‘Do Not Disturb’.

What then followed was a night of empowerment, pleasure and good old fashioned rock n’ roll, all of which was met with very positive reactions from the packed out Birmingham venue as their evening of ever-growing anticipation finally came to fruition. The setlist did waver from just the new, with songs being featured from all across their lengthy catalogue, making it a night for all of their UK fans, both new and old.

Halestorm took off at a fantastic pace that they showed no trouble in sustaining, and Hale’s frequent, refreshing responsiveness with the audience made sure that they constantly had their finger on the collective pulse so as to control the flow perfectly. One of the most notable moments of their set was the highly enthralling drum solo performed by the other half of the Halestorm siblings, Arejay Hale - who is certainly not one to shy away from striking a visual chord- accompanied by a dazzling display of intense strobe lighting (and one pair of GIANT drumsticks- you really had to be there for that one).

The O2 Academy also got the opportunity to experience a far more intimate moment later on in the show where Lzzy Hale and lead guitarist Joe Hottinger showcased the Vicious album’s breathtaking acoustic wonder ‘The Silence’, which did draw just that from the crowd as Hale and Hottinger sat on the edge of the stage to play together in a moment of true affinity between artist and audience.

Capping off their set with fan favourite ‘Freak Like Me’, Halestorm practically toyed with their fans as they left the stage to thunderous applause and a clamouring for more, in what was a much deserved acclamation that cried testament to their simply laudable abilities as performing artists, a notion further echoed in their not one but three encores that left not one person there that night unsatisfied. And if you don't consider this to be an incredibly impressive night - your standards are too high.

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