LIVE REVIEW: Halestorm, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London 13/03/2022
It’s easy to get lost in the moment. Too damn easy sometimes. Especially when the archaic music hall you’ve sardined into is crammed with a disparate crew of OG Motör-metalheads, millennial Riot Grrrl Revivors, and mini-misfits no older than six or seven. Originally designed for thespians and variety show performers, you can’t help but wonder how the quaint architecture continues to withstand the onslaught of distorted guitars and over-excited rockers.
Frankly, we’ve never seen a venue so full! As if starved, the Empire continues to absorb each new guest until bodies are stuffed in every nook, seats on both floors filled, and even more packed into the aisles. Yet, we somehow manage to secure our place at the centre of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, waiting for the two-part extravaganza, An Evening with Halestorm, to commence. No support. No setlist to Google with frozen fingers as you wait until doors finally open. No clue. Somehow, they’ve managed to recapture the anticipation of pre-internet gigs and we are living for it!
Enter front woman, Lzzy Hale. Alone. Hang on, where are the blinding lights? The thunderous guitars? The deadly nine-inch heels?! Instead, with a promise of “the boys [being] out later. But for now, you’re mine” she flirts as her fingers float across the keys. Cue Break In, a ballad we never thought we’d hear live, despite having seen the band more times than we can count. This is the moment we get lost. The moment where we forget we’re here to do a job. Gone were the critics and instead stood wide-eyed dreamers, being reminded of why they fell for the magic of live music.
Despite the intimacy of the occasion, the crowd still sing at full-force. Some remain spellbound whilst Hells Angels’ are biting back tears, momentarily swapping personalities with the mini-‘Freaks’ restless for the rock show they were promised. Especially when Lzzy Hale shares personal anecdotes and her struggles as a woman in the industry, introducing Dear Daughter as her song to those fighting a patriarchal system. A song for her future daughter, who, after an excited gasp from the audience, clarifies isn’t “on the cards any time soon“.
But fear not children, for here comes guitarist Joe Hottinger in his trackies, shortly followed by firecracker Arejay Hale and Josh Smith in his Sunday slippers to liven up this stripped-back set. Think Nirvana’s MTV performance, an acoustic set with so much edge it might just make you reach for your retired eyeliner and box black hair dye. Tonight “anything goes. An Evening with Halestorm means we can do whatever the fuck we want!“. From impromptu bad dad jokes provided by Arejay, to an off-the-cuff blues rendition of the usually fervid Apocalyptic.
Somehow, despite the venue’s seams splitting, each moment feels up-close-and-personal, a sensation that continues for a further 45minutes. Dipping into all eras of their extensive discography, they also play a never-before-heard cover of The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go? which came with a warning in the form of nervous giggles, “We picked this out of a hat an hour ago, so we might just screw up!“. But aside from an altered second verse commemorating the final night of tour, either done out of improvised forgetfulness or planned no one knows, it goes down smoother than a tumbler of neat whiskey.
A favourite has to be their acoustic version of Mz. Hyde though. Despite being stripped back, Lzzy’s vocals soar unrelentingly, packed with attitude and grit.
Following a small interlude in which we fruitlessly scribble down illegible notes, the band return in a burst of red lights. The once tranquil space erupts into anarchy as Lzzy has swapped her combat boots for those deadly heels, and piano for her signature Epiphone. This is the Halestorm we know. The other side to Mz Hyde. The pit opens as 40+ year old rockers are desperately trying not to trample the seven-year-olds who are now screaming every word and headbanging so hard we’re surprised they’re not suffering from whiplash. So apparently, they aren’t just here because parents couldn’t get babysitters.
Meanwhile, Hottinger and Lzzy politely battle for the shredding spotlight. But can we ask, how the hell does she do it?! We can barely walk in flats without tripping over thin air, yet here she is, a guitar goddess owning every inch of the stage like she isn’t balancing on knitting needles! Her playfulness prevails and child-like joy frequently breaks the rocker façade, making her even more heartening to watch. She seduces the boundaries between vulnerability and empowerment, challenges conventions of femininity and sexuality, proudly embodying individuality. No wonder her influences upon Millennials to Gen Alphas is so undisputed.
From here, it was hit after mighty hit, but not the conventional ones. After all, an Evening with Halestorm suggests this is a night for the Freaks, new and old. Sure, anthems such as I Get Off and Love Bites are played, but it’s fan favourites like Rock Show and Freak Like Me that make up most of the set.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Halestorm show with Arejay’s ten minute drum solo. It sounds like nine minutes too long, but when you combine Keith Moon‘s energy and Phil Collins‘ musicality with Robin Williams‘ comedic, outlandish style, it’s entertainment at its loudest. The crowd don’t know whether to laugh or be in awe as he flawlessly plays with sticks half his size. And despite almost sending his suspended microphone hurling towards his head. He is one of few drummers who can hold an audience as well as any frontperson without a flashy setup. Sure, Tommy Lee has a literal roller-coaster of kit, but does he have comically large drumsticks?
Finally, after two-and-a-half-hours – two sets, a four-part encore – Halestorm vacate the stage. As we stumble out the doors, groups buzz with leftover adrenaline. Others hold a dazed expression as if awakening from Wonderland. No one can quite comprehend what has just happened. Love may bite, but so does reality. 10/10
Written By: Corey Plant