First up were The Defiled. Post-glam, metal, thrash, groove, industrial metal, it was difficult to put a finger on what they were, but as far as the line-up on the 27th September was concerned they were ill-matched with the following acts. Genuine no doubt, but perhaps better seen on a different billing. Potential, yes, but the bar called; after all we had to prepare for Alestorm…
Comedy? Yes. Musicianship? Yes. Stagecraft? Yes. Fun? Most definitely so!
Alestorm, on the surface, are a joke. A bunch of Scots, with one token Northern Ireland member, singing hyper speed sea shanties, two keytars and not exactly verging on the safe side of sobriety.
But the joke on record elevates itself to the very finest vaudevillian levels. The crowd are in on the joke. This is a band who are poised on the precipice of disaster, pulling the crowd with them perilously close to the rocks.
Captain Morgan didn’t have this much fun before he endorsed rum. But above all Alestorm showed that they can balance a set. After ripping through the opening few songs the speed was cranked further with Buckfast Power Smash. And then the crowd was taken to Nancy’s Tavern for some, errr, comfort. Whores and Mead were definitely available…ironic given the number of under-18s. Still, pirates did start young in the 17th century.
Keelhauled, Captain Morgan’s Revenge, and take a bow Alestorm; because as a far as support slots go this was as good as it gets.
Were Dragonforce to disappoint? Much mutterings in the smoking area and bar before about whether they could top Alestorm.
A thinking rocker, would have taken the time to consider the similarities between the bands. Ridiculous posturing, marginally insane lyrics and superb musicianship.
This time Dragonforce hit the stage with a point to prove. No beer bottles littering the place; no stumbling and fumbling. They brought the force.
Hudson has relaxed comfortably into the role, roving the stage, engaging with the crowd and delivering a vocal performance par excellence: although some of the higher notes on Heart of a Dragon were beyond his range.
Sam Tottman was contained, using his riffing and harmony solos to counterpoint Herman Li’s exuberant shredding. Predictably they did the 'who is better than who' routine...
Opening with Holding On, they shifted Hero of Our Time impressively, before second track of their most recent album Power Within, the subtle song Seasons.
Mini-pits were breaking out all over the middle of the hall, before they dug deep into the back catalogue for Heart of the Dragon. Through the Fire and the Flame was reborn with Hudson’s delivery, while Cry Thunder was an immense closer.
With encore Valley of the Damned Dragonforce laid any doubts redundant and proved, perhaps to themselves most of all, that they are a potent force.
Hudson took the time to say that Belfast was special to his memories as the support slot with Maiden at the Odyssey had been his first ‘proper’ set with the band. Here’s hoping they’ll be back soon.
Overall, gigs can have their own dynamic, when the package is mixed right. The Defiled seem good enough in their own right, but the party roared into top gear with Alestorm, before Dragonforce laid waste. Bowling for Soup once opined that rock is funny when it tries to be serious. Alestorm and Dragonforce proved that the show, the party, the beer and the damn good music means that heavy metal has alternatives to the earnest bands, with prominent power, laughs and a good time.
Footnote: as this was an over-14s gig admission to the bar was for those with wrist bands only. Which meant that the under18s had no access to refreshments. If they did not have a parent or family friend with them there was no way that they could access water. QUB SU needs to closely examine the implications of this. Given the energy some of the young people expended the was a risk of dehydration for some of the young people. Hopefully QUB SU can resolve this, as many of the young people will be future students and gig goers at the Mandella and the SU should protect their future and the young people’s health.