It’s no coincidence that, two days after Grammy award-winning band Halestorm took the stage, Sydney was hit with hail stones the size of fists not to mention a tornado or two. This was the four-piece band’s first tour Down Under after playing together for nearly 13 years and with 3 studio albums under their belts. Rock n’ roll is far from dead and that’s what they were here to prove.
Manning Bar wasn’t too crowded when doors first opened. The opening band Bellusira, part Australian, part Kiwi and two parts American, set the scene with loud and heavy sound and a genuine thrill to be on stage. Frontwoman Crystal Ignite talked about her abusive and bullied upbringing and how that gave her the strength to pursue music, which gelled well with the tracks from their most recent album, The Healing. By the time they left the stage, the bar was packed and the crowd was ready for the main act.
I had no idea what to expect when Arejay Hale strode on stage and took his seat behind the sparkling gold Pearl drumkit. Josh Smith, bass player, and Joe Hottinger, guitarist, joined him and Arejay immediately started in on the intro drum solo of Sick Individual with his sister, Lzzy Hale, taking centre stage after an appropriately dramatic pause.
Right from the beginning, they were gonna do whatever the fuck they wanted.
They seamlessly segued into Apocalyptic, also from the newest record Into the Wild Life, and it was awesome to hear the crowd singing the lyrics alongside Lzzy. Joe shredded the guitar solo to pieces and the song ended on just Lzzy’s voice, leaving the perfect set up for her to address the crowd. She apologised for how long it took Halestorm to finally make the trip here and listed the rules for the evening:
We are here to have a fucking good time and,
When I say “scream”, you fucking scream!
This was again another flawless transition into the first track from the new record, appropriately titled Scream. Josh’s bass and Arejay’s drums were wonderfully heavy, Joe ripping up the guitar and Lzzy generally just running amuck with her powerful vocals and custom Gibson. As with the record, Scream bled into anthem track, I Am the Fire. The crowd sang along with – if possible – more enthusiasm. Lzzy asked the crowd if we liked it heavy, to which there was nothing but screams of agreement and there was yet another track from the new record. The emphasis on the most recent record was pretty obvious but broken by a crowd favourite from The Strange Case Of…: Love Bites (So Do I).
I don’t want to continue commentating the setlist so I’ll leave it down below and tell you that these musicians were flawless. (The sound guys could probably use some practice with their levels though,Lzzy’s guitar drowned out her vocals every time she played. If it weren’t for the crowd singing along I wouldn’t have heard most of the lyrics.) Their thirteen years on stage together showed in the well-oiled machine that was their set. You could see how much they care about their fans, making eye contact with anyone and everyone they could see.
Midway through the set, the boys left Lzzy alone on stage with her keyboard and guitar. She addedBeautiful With You to the set list in front of Dear Daugher at the request of “girl with the glasses”. During this touching dedication, she then declared her new go-to answer to the question of “If you could have any super power, what would it be?” was to know everyone’s names and wouldn’t they “freak the fuck out?”
Every time Joe stepped forward for a particularly thrilling bit of guitar work, I could see him mouthing something. I know it wasn’t lyrics because there was no singing going on. I can only assume he was counting time? He and Lzzy had a terrific rapport of ridiculous facial expressions throughout the show. It was great to see their onstage chemistry unfold especially as, towards the end of the set, Joe crossed over to share Lzzy’s centre stage mic and the two faced off in a mock challenge.
Arejay’s energy blew me away. By the end of Apocalyptic he’d already jumped clear over the kick drum and landed behind his sister brandishing his drumsticks in one hand and the Horns in the other. The photographers scrambled to get evidence – it was the first time Sydney had seen his antics – but the crowd soon grew to expect this kind of enthusiasm from Halestorm’s drummer. Not one to fade into the background, he was every bit the frontman to Lzzy’s frontwoman.
He was especially riveting during the longest, most impressive drum solo I’ve ever been able to pay attention to. Arejay even got the crowd involved, clapping and chanting along, before his bandmates reclaimed their instruments and they launched into a heavy rendition of Mayhem. Not long after, he smacked himself in the head and roadies were popping on stage in between songs to hand him a tea towel (“Yes, you are bleeding”) and then an ice pack.
I should mention I was right in front of Josh the whole time and he was every bit the classic bass player, understated but dynamic. His presence was undeniable.
In the words of Lzzy, we’ve opened the door to Halestorm, we can’t stop them from coming back. And I absolutely wouldn’t want to. The night was incredibly inclusive; all the fans were friendly and the band made everything feel like the family reunion you always wanted to have. The sooner they return the better!
I Am the Fire
I Like It Heavy
Love Bites (So Do I)
Bad Girls World
Beautiful With You (unplugged with just Lzzy on the keys)
Dear Daughter (mostly unplugged again)
New Modern Love
Arejay’s Drum Solo
It’s Not You
I Get Off
Freak Like Me
I Miss The Misery