So you’re standing at the bar, trying to explain that you really do only want ice in your whiskey, when the first few chords of The Band You Came Here To See float down the stairs. Time was you would have recklessly abandoned your drink, forced a way through the crowd, desperate to be in that front row, leaning on the barrier. That time has passed. You forget that there’s nothing quite like actually waiting to see a band play live, that there was that time you arrived at Twickenham seven whole hours before (ahem) U2 were coming on stage just to catch a few notes of soundcheck. Nostalgia aside, TCS Music, snobs that we are, were mystified to find fans queuing outside the Astoria from 8am to see Alter Bridge, a band thrown together from the smoking wreckage of Christian-rock band Creed.
Crammed into a broom cupboard somewhere in the maze that is backstage, TCS try to fathom how Alter Bridge inspired this level of commitment. “It’s us, creatively as a band, making the music that we really want to make,” drummer Scott Phillips decides. “The songs are all about persevering through whatever struggle it is that you may be facing that day or for the rest of you life, whatever it is, just to try and find a better place.” He’s quick to agree, though, that Alter Bridge’s inspiro-rock isn’t for everyone. “Major labels don’t see that kind of vision. They want to twist it and turn it and make it into that sort of cookie cutter, ‘this is what’s selling right now, so that’s what we want you to do’ music. It’s rare to find the opportunity to join up with a major label that lets you do what you want to do”.
But would he advocate smaller bands ‘doing a Radiohead’ and going it alone? “Independent college bands, or whatever, they’re making the music that they want to make,” Scott points out. “The play nowadays is to try and do it on your own as much as possible, because it seems like most major labels are still clinging to a formula that doesn’t work any more.”
Rock’n’roll sentiments indeed, but it took more than an interview with an upbeat drummer to convince TCS that Alter Bridge were worth the fandom. It took, well, the gig. When the band took to the stage it became impossible to distinguish teenybopper from tattooed metalhead as the sold-out Astoria audience hurled itself at front-man Myles Kennedy with religious fervour. Alter Bridge know how to move a crowd, clawing their way out of dark, distorted fills to soar (appropriately, in 10-minute epic Blackbird) on the back of guitar solos, leading the crowd in the occasional sing-along and dropping in just the right level of between-song banter. Of course, the whole thing was flawless, rehearsed and manipulated to within an inch of being mundane, but a life-affirming mini prog opera isn’t going to affect the same transcendence if a string breaks, or your front man leaves his mic on the wrong side of the stage. Following an extended encore, TCS forced its way through weeping fans with a guilty sense of power-chord induced wellbeing.
Alter Bridge’s recycled rock wasn’t quite enough to convince us to arrive ten hours early for their next gig, but we might just give new album Blackbird another, less cynical, listen.