LIVE REVIEW: Carnival of Madness at Manchester Arena

Carnival Of Madness 2016 Tour Poster

Date: February 6th, 2016
Venue: Manchester Arena, Manchester
Line-up: Black Stone Cherry + Shinedown + Halestorm + Highly Suspect

The ‘Carnival of Madness’ tour in an annual event that was founded in 2010, it features some of the biggest bands playing, artist signings and circus performers among other activities. 2016 marks the first year that the tour has been brought over to the UK, appearing in arena’s across the country. The line-up featured returning performers to the tour Black Stone Cherry, Shinedown and Halestorm alongside first-timers Highly Suspect.

Kicking off tonight’s show were rock trio Highly Suspect. Their slot on the ‘Carnival of Madness’ tour is just another addition to their growing list of achievements which includes a Grammy nomination for their latest album Mister Asylum. The guys were an energetic bunch and looked in awe at the crowd of thousands gathered in front of them. They stormed through a set which included some of their big hits such as ‘Lydia’ and ‘Fuck Me Up’. Frontman Johnny Stevens was in his element, showing off some serious chops with his blues-influenced style of guitar playing and his enthusiasm (which almost caused him to trip over his guitar wire a number of times). Drummer Ryan Meyer also stood out with his intense and mesmerising playing. The band put in a great effort and was a great kick-off to the night.

Next up were Grammy-winning rockers Halestorm opening with ‘Apocalyptic’ from their latest album Into the Wild Life. The anthemic ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ is where the crowd really came to life screaming the words back up. Frontwoman Lzzy Hale is one of the most charismatic singers in modern rock, asking the crowd who had seen the band before deciding then to introduce herself as ‘the crazy bitch who will be bossing them around for the next 30 or so minutes’. The band were eager to make the new material fit into their set by getting the crowd involved in singing parts of ‘Scream’ and ‘I Am The Fire’, the latter of which featured a surprise signing session by the members of Black Stone Cherry set up behind Lzzy. The first of many pranks tonight, this was followed by Arejay Hale’s signature drum solo for which he was joined by Highly Suspect’s Ryan Meyer and Black Stone Cherry’s John Fred Young. Rounding off their set with a pair of fan favourites ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘I Miss the Misery’ the crowd were really getting hyped up.

Shinedown are a band that just lives for the stage, coming out cool and suave for opener ‘Black Cadillac’. Frontman Brent Smith had the crowd eating out of his hand; they were perfectly under his control. ‘Diamond Eyes’ had the crowd screaming back that group chant of “Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom”, while ‘Cut the Cord’ and ‘Enemies’ had the crowd on their feet and jumping. ‘State of My Head’ was a set standout as the room went dark and Brent told the crowd to take out their phones/lighters to create their own night sky, waving them side to side at his command. Being in Manchester the band took the opportunity to play a partial cover of the Oasis hit ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ which the crowd screamed back word for word. Another cover, this time of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’, had the music break in the chorus for the crowd’s singing to pierce through the venue. We were then treated to a guest appearance from Black Stone Cherry frontman Chris Robertson on the band’s closing track ‘Sound of Madness’.

Hiding behind a large curtain covering the stage, the ‘Carnival of Madness’ headliners Black Stone Cherry opened with those, now trademark, lyrics of “Me and Mary Jane got a thing goin’ on, goin’ on”. With a bang and some smoke, the curtain dropped down just in time for the heavy main riff to kick in. Running on pure adrenaline the band ran through hit after hit, everything from ‘Rain Wizard’ to ‘Holding On… To Letting Go’, all during which the crowd were gladly singing along.

With a new album, their fifth entitled Kentucky, on the horizon the band took the opportunity to air a couple of tracks. Latest single ‘In Our Dreams’ is a heavy rocker that sits comfortably next to the previous material, while ‘The Rambler’ had just vocalist Chris Robertson and guitarist Ben Wells on stage for an acoustic performance that left the crowd silent. Similarly Chris’s heartfelt rendition of ‘Things My Father Said’ and his speech afterwards left people in an emotional state.

‘Peace is Free’ saw a guest appearance of Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale for a duet which went completely out of control when members of Halestorm and Shinedown appeared on stage sporting a sign saying “Pizza’s free” while sharing slices of pizza around the stage. The shenanigans continued with a couple of covers where Black Stone Cherry was joined by their manager on guitar as well as members of all the previous bands together rocking out on stage.

Reining the madness back in, the band threw in a few more hard hitting tracks of ‘Blame It on the Boom Boom’ and ‘Lonely Train’. For this tour the band had been playing tribute to the recently departed Motorhead frontman Lemmy by closing their set with a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’. The signature bass line got the crowd pumped and choosing to finish the night with an arena full of people singing the lines “You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools, But that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t wanna live for ever” was an excellent choice and fitting tribute to a legend.

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