At The First Direct Arena, Leeds, U.K., February 5, 2016

BLACK STONE CHERRY (Live at The First Direct Arena, Leeds, U.K., February 5, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess

The first big tour of the year hit the North of England with the arrival of the Carnival of Madness in Leeds on a bitterly cold February evening packing no fewer than four bands for one night’s entertainment.

First up was Highly Suspect, the Massachusetts power trio formed by twins Rich and Ryan Meyer and to keep things within the family, joined by cousin Johnny Stevens on guitar and vocals and for a brief but punchy set warmed the crowd up nicely with spirited romps through Claudeland and Lydia from their highly acclaimed Mister Asylum album.

A headliner in their own right, Halestorm wasted no time grabbing the crowd by the throat with a ferocious one two delivery of Apocalyptic and Love Bites (And So Do I).

Lzzy Hale is a bona fide Rock chic of the highest order who looks the part and acts the part to perfection cutting a fine figure decked out in leather with her custom made Gibson Explorer slung way down low. But it’s THAT voice that carries all before it. The power and bite she has belies her petit frame and on I Am The Fire it was jaw dropping. Sharing the bill with imposing singers such as Chris Robertson and Brent Smith would be intimidating for most but Lzzy stands shoulder to shoulder with the best.

Little brother Arjey doesn’t let Lzzy steal all of the limelight though as he spent most of the night leaping onto his kit, throwing sticks into the air and flailing around like a hyperactive octopus. He’s wild, he’s furious and very, very entertaining to watch. He even found time to strike a pose, mid song to the on stage photographer without dropping so much as a beat.

With a setlist that was way too short, Halestorm set the bar high for the night and ended with storming takes of Freak Like Me and I Miss The Misery. Fantastic.

Shinedown certainly had their work cut out to follow Halestorm and vocalist Brent Smith seemed understated as he strolled onto the stage looking more roadie than Rock Star to Black Cadillac which seemed an odd choice to open the show when the more appropriate Diamond Eyes was next up.

Cut The Cord from last year’s Threat to Survival impressed but things really took off when Smith left the stage and walked through the crowd before Enemies directing everyone to jump as his command. They duly obliged and the whole floor erupted into a single thronging mass and from then on Shinedown could do no wrong.

Smith connected closely with the crowd during their whole performance but none more so than on State of My Head where the stage was lit up by thousands of cell phones waving simultaneously in the air making for quite a striking sight.

Normally cover versions are ill advised but Shinedown’s take on Skynyrd’s Simple Man does the Southern Rock classic real justice before the gigantic riffage of Sound of Madness brought their set to a suitably crunching end.

If ever there was a band that personified the Rock ‘n’ Roll work ethic then it’s Black Stone Cherry. It’s doesn’t seem that long ago that they were headlining in front of a couple of hundred people in the small, upstairs rooms on the Academy circuit or taking the opening slot on a three band bill. Slogging their way around the globe, playing anywhere and everywhere has paid dividends as the Kentucky boys head out on their very own headlining arena tour which last night hit the prestigious Wembley Arena. Anyone that says that hard work doesn’t pay off then Black Stone Cherry are living, breathing proof that spit, grit with a big dollop of graft pays off big time.

The energy and passion that is clear from the opening bars of Pony is tangible. Quite where guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon get their stamina from is anyone’s guess but they never stop all night; criss-crossing across the stage, up and down the ramps. It’s relentless and makes for a fast paced, thrilling Rock show.

Big hitters Rain Wizard and Blind Man come early in the set to get things off to a frantic start and the tempo rarely drops all night. Drummer John Fred Young is a phenomenon, a veritable dynamo and one that makes Animal look like a Sunday school teacher. When John Fred was joined on stage for a drum duel with Halestorm’s Arjey, it was drumming paradise.

Frontman Chris Robertson possesses a voice matured way beyond his years, a voice that should belong to a wisened old veteran, hewn from granite and soaked in vintage whiskey seems at odds from his fresh faced frame. Robertson is surely one of the great vocalists of his generation and there will be undoubtedly more to come over the years.

Robertson excelled on Things My Father Said and was clearly moved to the point of tears to the crowd’s reaction in what was the most moving moment of the night. Black Stone Cherry have mastered the art of making an arena show have the feel and atmosphere of an intimate club and this was most marked here.

Heading into the closing straight Black Stone Cherry wheeled out the big guns, White Trash Millionaire, Blame It On The Boom Boom and Lonely Train before announcing “We are Black Stone Cherry and we play Rock ‘n’ Roll” and storming into a riotous version of Ace of Spades that would’ve made Lemmy proud.

Four bands for less than forty quid and a supreme display of quality Rock ‘n’ Roll over the course of four and a half hours. You can’t ask for more than that as The Carnival of Madness more than lived up to its name.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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