Some nights are just pure magic, and music lovers know this. Years and lives can be enriched by what may very well be a once in a lifetime event. Alter Bridge Live at The Royal Albert Hall featuring The Parallax Orchestra was indeed one of these events. But a single evening was simply not enough, so they did it twice, committing it all to tape for fans to forever treasure. If it may not always recapture the exact sense, or feeling, of being there on the night, it comes pretty damn close. So much so that if you weren’t there, you’ll most likely believe you had been.
Directed by Dan Sturgess, with the live shows caught through the eye of Alex Cribbs, these two visions combine to present a one off moment at London’s Royal Albert Hall in stunning form. A set comprised of the bands biggest hits, as well as much loved fan favourites, there are also numbers that had yet to be played live, until now. Through clever framing we experience this from all fronts and corners of the stage, from the stalls both high and low, and from the rafters above which accentuate the magnificent scope of the venue from a perched, birds eye view.
Confessions of minimal rehearsal over the two days prior meant a lot was on the line, and so the opening moments of the set have most on their toes. The droning, tension building pace of “Slip To The Void” creeps in as a single spotlight introduces a surprisingly zen Myles Kennedy. When the tree finally falls in the forest, the regular four piece unit explodes into a close to sixty person wall of sound as the night begins.
Violins, cellos, French horns and baritone saxophones (to name but a few contributing instruments) erupt from the backstage platform, and with that the level of masterful thought and preparation behind the night becomes clear. The addition of The Parallax Orchestra elevates A.B classics to a new level. “The Writing On The Wall” is the first prime example of this, and before long others follow suit. By the time ‘Blackbird’ opening number “Ties That Bind” hits, the band and orchestra have shaken off all initial jitters and become one colossal force.
Alter Bridge don’t claim to be the first band to have worked with an orchestra. Metallica’s S&M featuring conductor and composer, Michael Kamen, being an obvious case in point. Yet like the aforementioned metal legends, A.B. also enlist their own rockstar conductor in the shape of Simon Dobson. Not your average stickman, Dobson conducts with a compelling, infectious energy, ushering his musicians through the lengthy set while assistant musical director, and orchestra manager, Will Harvey, an unsung hero, holds down the fort among the wealth of musicians.
If, in some cases, this orchestral re-imagining elevates, in others it breeds new life entirely. “Before Tomorrow Comes”, “Cry Of Achilles”, “Brand New Start” and the show closing “In Loving Memory” are so jaw dropping good that it becomes hard to imagine them without this immense backing from instruments such as the bassoon, clarinet, double bass, not forgetting the wonderful flutes and piccolos.
A night such as this also comes with some chilling highs. Kennedy’s acoustic rendition of “Wonderful Life” is nothing short of tear jerking, as The Parallax Orchestra turn a beautiful number into a timeless classic. Unfortunately, where they fell short was in not achieving the same with the much beloved “Watch Over You”, often overshadowing the already stripped back song and ultimately drowning it. Luckily, the live debut of the much requested “Words Darker Than Their Wings” compensates, with Kennedy rising to the challenge of its difficult vocal duties. Much to the pleasure of his band mates, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips, whose individual performances brought their own unique, essential qualities to the mix.
And all delivered in under three hours. But before you start to fret about the length, the performance is smartly broken up with interviews conducted by Ben Gazey, masterfully edited by Sturgess. At the risk of losing momentum, Sturgess brilliantly scatters behind the scenes footage and personal words from the band and crew throughout the near three hour total that bring insight and immediacy which add constant levels of freshness. Beautifully portraying the relationship between the band, their friends and loved ones and, most of all, a rather moving segment with their fans, Sturgess’ gamble is an absolute triumph. As is Alter Bridge Live at The Royal Albert Hall featuring The Parallax Orchestra
To give due credit, the evening was cited as the “brain child” of the bands manager Tim Tournier, and what an evening it was. If initially a challenge to imagine these rock titans with woodwinds, brass and percussion, upon hearing it it’s almost harder to imagine them without. Alter Bridge and The Parallax Orchestra combine to deliver these songs unlike anything you can imagine, leaving little wonder as to why both consider this to be one of, if not the highlight of their careers.