A WILD EVENING WITH HALESTORM AT BALTIMORE’S PIER SIX
Baltimore, Maryland has seen its share of storm activity over the years with winds and heavy rain impacting the Chesapeake Bay and the Inner Harbor. The majority of the troublemakers were strong women – Hazel, Connie, Diane, Camille, Agnes, Bertha, Fran, and Isabel. Femme fatales for anything that dared to step in their path. On Saturday night, another strong female roared into town, LZZY, and with her she brought the rock powered, HALESTORM! This storm made landfall at Baltimore’s Pier Six Pavilion, and the warning of its arrival sent loyal fans running toward it instead of fleeing. With origins in nearby Pennsylvania, a hometown crowd had assembled to welcome this storm and applaud its growth from tropical storm status to major category impact. Through the power of a village and the dream of a young girl, HALESTORM has matured, and would leave its high water mark on the stage that hugs the bay, the city that has embraced it from the beginning, and a genre in desperate need of their unapologetic ways.
Originally scheduled for a May date at Pier Six, this was a rescheduled show without the intended opener, The Pretty Reckless. Delivering on a full night of entertainment, HALESTORM opened for themselves with an acoustic set that lasted roughly 30 minutes. Lzzy Hale took the stage alone, eye of the storm, daughter of darkness, beginning the set with an uncharacteristic approach to their music. She needed nothing more than a piano to demonstrate the power and the softness in “Beautiful With You,” both sides of her commanding presence. Even rock stars harbor vulnerabilities of the heart, and Lzzy exposes hers through gut-wrenching vocal interpretation, be it softly or at the top of her decibel register. Mood set, her brother, AREJAY, joined her on stage with a stool and a box drum for a version of “Rock Show” he could hardly contain. His readiness to explode was palpable. Commenting on the vast difference of doing these songs acoustically, Lzzy mused on the stalkerish sound the lyrics take on in this mode, almost relishing the idea. In this way, the songs have the power to sneak up on you.
Bringing guitarist, JOE HOTTINGER, and bass player, JOSH SMITH, to the stage, Lzzy showed her acoustic sass in singing “I Get Off,” with Joe’s guitar flexing its acoustic muscle. Their only cover of the night would be Fleetwood Mac’s, “Gold Dust Woman,” a nod to their parents’ contribution to their rock education. It would be on this song that the drum personality of Arejay Hale would begin to make itself known. With the crowd responding to his inspired play, Lzzy cautioned, “Don’t feed the monkey.” What he would unleash lie just below the surface, biding its time in an acoustic tease of his abilities. They finished the set with “Freak Like Me” and “Mz. Hyde” off their second album, and Arejay setting the tone for what was to come in the official, plugged in rock set. At the end of “Mz. Hyde,” his drumstick shredded in a spray of splintered wood, the end of his playing nice with the drum kit.
After a break just long enough to plug in and reset the direction this storm was headed, Arejay left no doubt that the hard rock part of this show had officially started. Kicking off “Love Bites (So Do I)” in a HALESTORM of shock and awe, shot sky high from the drum kit, Lzzy turned up the amps and and the attitude with the first of her audience directives, “Make some fuckin’ noise!” It was not a polite invitation, and she wasn’t going to wait patiently for an RSVP. Responding as instructed, the audience took the bait, and Arejay’s finish was as pronounced as his opening. It was here and in the title of their next song, that I felt the word best describing his drum style – “Apocalyptic.” He plays as if intent on completely destroying the world around him. Stronger than the storm symbol he advertises on his drumhead, he’s a prophesy awaiting fulfillment, and his bark is every bit as telling as his bite. With every pop of the snare drum, you expect to see another combatant die, no match for the power of his weaponry. If hell had a drummer, it would be Arejay Hale! Wickedly delicious and downright sinful, that drum kit is headed for eternal damnation at the hands of his devilishly powerful playing.
A Wild Evening With HALESTORM had begun, and “Apocalyptic” was the first in a nine song barrage off their new album, Into The Wild Life. Lzzy warned that she would be bossing us around all night, and made good on her promise by ordering us to “Scream.” Like a call to arms, she was leading an uprising, and the band answered in kind. Arejay led a thunderous charge from the drum kit that sounded like a herd of elephants crossing the Serengeti. It was a reverberation you couldn’t escape, trapped in the ground beneath your feet. All you could do was ride out the storm. The perfect storm would continue to develop in the remainder of this portion of the set list. With each song, a new element would add strength to its core. “I Am The Fire” and “Unapologetic” focused clearly on Lzzy and Arejay as the eye of the storm. “Sick Individual” began with a brief, but intense drum solo, the only answer being the title of the next song, “Amen.”
“Bad Girls World” began with an extended instrumental intro featuring Arejay, Joe, and Josh. Shortly thereafter, Lzzy started the vocal section on piano, but it was in this song that Joe’s guitar playing took center stage. The rock star in Joe Hottinger is entirely in his command over the guitar, which this song showcases. In the style of Jimi Hendrix, where unimaginable sound is extracted from the strings of a guitar that seems barely in motion, Joe drew the attention of the audience to his hands on the guitar. No one moved for fear they’d miss a note in this spellbinding performance of old school guitar play. I do believe that Joe stole the thunder of a bad girls world with his bad boy play on this one. Absolutely spectacular! Following it with “Jump The Gun,” he again showed that he can jump in any time and punctuate the song with his electrifying solo work and intense play throughout. He added his voice to the vocal on this one with his morning declaration in response to their under cover adventures, “Babe, I think I love you.” The last in this new album mini-set was “I Like It Heavy.” With Arejay standing up behind the drum kit to start this one, it would be heavy indeed. The only thing to equal his intensity here is Lzzy’s vocal strength, and it is of considerable impact on the ears. Her vocal chords seem stretched to the point of breaking by the time she catches her breath to finish the song in near lyrical poetry. “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” It would serve as the perfect segue from their new material back to the first album.
“Familiar Taste Of Poison,” from HALESTORM‘S debut album, was the start of a reflective portion of the show. When the opening notes were played, it got a huge reaction from the crowd. It started softly with just Lzzy and Joe, building to the forgone conclusion the chorus leads to and the audience lending their voice to the power of the song title. With red lights illuminating the stage, Arejay and Josh join in to add strength to the poison. This was the most haunting moment of their set, seeing the band and the audience locked in a moment of intense synchronicity. Cause and effect were of one breath, one voice, one heartbreaking conclusion. This led to Lzzy’s introduction of a very personal song. She said she’d been in this band longer than she hadn’t, beginning at age 13. She is now 31. The road to being a girl in a rock band didn’t come with directions or a rule book. It was a bust your ass, follow your dream labor of love. Her parents were standing side stage for this show, and she thanked them for their unwavering support and the guts it took to encourage her to go be in a rock band. “Dear Daughter” is a lyrical rendering of their unconditional support and advice in a world that doesn’t always play nice with girls. This was another beautiful, soft moment on the piano for Lzzy, highlighting her ability to bring out the strength in a song whether it requires a whisper or a scream. She followed this by holding her independent ground in “New Modern Love.”
At the conclusion of this song, they left Arejay alone on the stage. This could only mean one thing…..MAYHEM, which it would lead to, but not before we were treated to an Arejay Hale drum solo performance. This is truly a force of nature. He started with a teaser of rock song snippets and then unleashed his considerable talent and pent up energy on a drum kit that must be a fortress to withstand such a beating. He is power and dexterity, style and stamina, off the charts skill with a giant dose of fearlessness. The brilliance of his drumming is in the fearlessness. He doesn’t play the song, he feeds the song, whatever it needs to reach its potential. What makes his power hitting so spectacular is the style he mixes it with. Whether he’s twirling a stick, throwing one in the air, jumping off his stool, or standing for maximum power of delivery or effect, he never loses control of the song. He takes it to the edge every time, adding the essential element to rock music, teetering on the brink of the uncontrollable. You cannot simply observe an Arejay performance. He pulls you in by the throat and leaves you gasping for breath under the waves of the tsunami he just created. He finished his solo with giant-sized drumsticks in his hands, as if he needed a larger weapon. I see it as metaphoric, representing the size of his impact on the stage.
The finale to A Wild Evening With HALESTORM started with a little “Mayhem.” This led to the first song on their debut album, “It’s Not You,” a guitar heavy, anthemic sounding thriller. Arejay starts this one with a cowbell that sounds like the opening bell of a prize fight. His drumbeats keep the distance between the guitars that can’t wait to get at each other. This is a serious guitar shredder. I could feel the sound they were generating vibrating in my chest. Lzzy and Joe finished with their guitars next to one another. I’d say the guitars won in a TKO of this song. In a show of gratitude for the hometown fans, Lzzy invited some friends and family to the stage to share a toast. She mentioned several local venues they’d played over the years and expressed her thanks, on behalf of the band, for being able to headline Pier Six and play for the people who’d had a hand in getting them there. Their musical tribute was “Here’s To Us,” off their second album. The show ended in a gathering of the elements of this storm for one final demonstration of its strength. “I Miss The Misery” started with Arejay standing over the drum kit like a lightning rod. He set the barometer high for this one and his bandmates rose to the occasion. In the instrumental section, Lzzy and Josh were tucked in close to Arejay, forming a compact eye of this sound storm. Joe stood alone in the distance, gathering the remaining power by pulling it into his guitar. Arejay finished it with a lasting impression, the tornadic sound of a freight train leveling everything in its path. He would leave no doubt of the impact of this storm.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a rock concert that I felt was deserving of that category. HALESTORM is no imitation. As many have attempted to capture the feel of classic rock, few have succeeded. HALESTORM didn’t get here overnight. This storm has been building for 18 years, strengthening its core and fine tuning its rotation for maximum impact. The impetus that started this one was Lzzy and Arejay Hale. Arejay’s drumming is a signature force and central to the sound of the band. Lzzy’s musicianship on both piano and guitar, her commanding stage presence in a way that is both sassy and alluring, and her insane vocal ability, makes her a bona fide leading lady of rock. This band is the perfect storm of musicians, great music, and stage presence with an attitude that isn’t forced, but rather a personification of their music. Their show is a perfect balance of calm before the storm and all out mayhem. They deliver an authentic rock beat that is uniquely HALESTORM where many have flatlined in the process. Being a female in a rock band isn’t a dream many have the guts to go for, much less realize. Lzzy Hale is a femme fatale in that she’s come out on top in a genre where the odds were clearly stacked against her. She is a rock star, not because of an image she contrived, but because she refused to give up on her dream or change who she was to fill someone else’s high heels. When she takes the stage as Lzzy Hale, she has 31 years of experience in being just that. As the frontwoman of HALESTORM, she is surrounded by her dream. As her parents looked on from the side stage Saturday night, I imagine they must have been thinking, “Dear Daughter, you done good.”
Visit Halestorm’s website: http://store.halestormrocks.com/
Download Into The Wild Life through iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/into-the-wild-life-deluxe/id955207013
Download The Strange Case Of Halestorm: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/strange-case-of…-deluxe/id629912461
Download Halestorm: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/halestorm-bonus-track-version/id316138107
Photographs are courtesy of Bill McClintic of 90 East Photography, taken April 22, 2015, at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.
Visit Bill’s website for booking and professional information: http://www.90eastphotography.com/
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