Having seen great success as a touring miniature festival across the pond, this year’s iteration of the Carnival of Madness rolled through Nottingham as part of an expansive UK tour. Offering four of the best rock bands America has to offer right now, Nottingham’s Rock community were out en masse to experience a show that was less a carnival of madness and more a stroke of genius.

Highly Suspect opened the show, a seemingly modest position for a band that have recently been nominated for two Grammys. The band have been nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album, for their single ‘Lydia’ and their debut album respectively. Despite this, the band had no qualms walking out on stage at 6:15pm and storming through a thirty minute set of no holds barred explosive Rock. Acknowledging their position vocalist Johnny Stevens quickly followed his announcement of a new song by saying “Well, I guess these are probably all new for you, but this one is new for us too”. A subdued crowd stood in awe as Highly Suspect unleashed a wave of fuzzy Americana, with an aggression rarely seen from bands of said genre. They remained distinct in sound from the rest of this bill, though this was not negative, every band was impressive but Highly Suspect added something slightly different that many fans might not have expected from the show. The band thrived in the live context shining as a cohesive unit underneath a full and hazy sound.

Pennsylvanian rockers Halestorm came as close as anyone ever has to stealing the show at this gig. Performing better than they had any right to, controlling the crowd as naturally as one might breathe. From the outset the band showed themselves to be Rock titans in the making. Lzzy Hale may sing about having a crown upon her head, but this show may well have been Halestorm’s coronation as the next generation of Rock royalty. ‘Love Bites’ saw the entirety of the crowd connect with the wild energy the band had to display. Halestorm’s set was the quintessential essence of a rock show distilled into a concentrated and intense forty minutes, one that left 6,000 fans begging for more. The crowd reached a fever pitch as Arejay Hale commenced his mid-set drum solo, a perfect example of his place as one of the greatest drummers on the planet today and a consummate showman. “I Miss the Misery” capped off the set exhibiting the incredible power in Lzzy Hale’s voice. This could go down in history as a career defining performance for Halestorm.

“This show may well have been Halestorm’s coronation as the next generation of Rock royalty”

By this point the bustling arena crowd were more than ready for a band that have twice previously headlined the Carnival of Madness (the strength of the line-up was one of many ways in which the organisers made this show a real treat for the British fans that had waited six years for the tour to hit our shores). Opening with “Black Cadillac”, Shinedown used the set to show their versatility as a band that have been dominant on the American Rock scene for around thirteen years. There has long been debate about the authenticity of the band’s live performances, with talk of lip-syncing and overuse of backing tracks rampant of internet forums. It was evident at this show, that the band were 100% live and sounded no less impressive than on any studio album, though it is of note that only one song from their first two albums was performed. Shinedown really found success with their intimate cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” before closing their set, rather aptly, with “The Sound of Madness”. Perhaps this is an aside, but it is commendable that Shinedown managed to put on a fantastic Rock show here without swearing once. Rock should never be censored, but at a show that truly connected many generations it was refreshing to see an example of a successful performance that didn’t use an expletive, even between songs.

“A show that was less a carnival of madness and more a stroke of genius”

The aforementioned point about this show serving as a reward for patient fans is evident in every part of this show. The ticket prices were relatively low for an arena show, especially one bringing four exceptional Rock bands from America. The line-up was incredibly well put together. While the English winter may have prevented some of the usual aspects of the festival, the organisers still ensured that Black Stone Cherry and Halestorm were available for a meet and greet signing with fans, for no extra charge. These signings left a fair few disappointed with long queues and short signing times (due to being between sets), but it was a brilliant notion that represented the community of Rock music well. The thing that made this show so special though was that each and every band seemed determined to put on a better performance than one another.

This sense of friendly competition seemed to extend to Black Stone Cherry drummer John Fred who used some spare time to put on a mesmerising drum solo with the objective of bettering Arejay Hale’s solo from earlier in the night. I suspect if the audience had been asked to decide a winner they would have been split exactly fifty-fifty. Black Stone Cherry made it clear that they belonged in their position atop this bill, with an impeccable performance of the ultimate setlist. Taking no prisoners, the band turned the Motorpoint Arena into the stomping ground for their powerful Rock anthems topped with an enviable amount of Southern soul. Slowing down in pace, Black Stone Cherry gave stripped down renditions of “Things my Father Said” and new song “The Rambler” (from an album that is shaping up to be astounding) before being joined by Lzzy Hale for “Peace Is Free”. Of course the band returned to full throttle for a few more numbers before closing with “Lonely Train” and a breakneck run through of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”. Every band at this show made sure that this was show provided a priceless experience. They succeeded.

Liam Fleming

Image: Liam Fleming

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