Halestorm, Whiskey Myers, Black Stone Cherry Shock Up Carnival of Madness Tour in New Orleans (SHOW REVIEW/INTERVIEW)

The Carnival Of Madness tour bolted into New Orleans last week with fists raised and lips snarling, charging full steam ahead, and there was no time for laziness for all involved. This was a rock & roll show and good shows involve loud guitars, powerful vocals and some heavy duty pound time on the drums. So when Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale shouted for everyone to go “horns up” there was no hesitation.

An annual summertime traveling circus with amps, the Carnival Of Madness tour began it’s seventh year with Shinedown headlining for the third time since it’s inauguration in 2010. Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry and Halestorm are making their third appearance while this is the first go-round for Whiskey Myers. So if you thought this might be a nice way to spend a quiet evening out of the heat, you picked the wrong door to enter because it got loud. Very loud.

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Openers Whiskey Myers brought their brand of Texas southern rock to an unfortunately half-full arena, many fans not taking to their seats until Halestorm and Shinedown. With influences strongly coming from Lynyrd Skynyrd and some ‘70’s outlaw country, the band was full of spirit as they ran through their all too short set. Led by the two Cody’s (Cannon on vocals and Tate on guitar), they’ve released three albums since their debut, Road Of Life, in 2008; their last, Early Morning Shakes, went Top 10 in 2014. But new music is around the corner as they will release album number four, Mud, in September with acclaimed producer Dave Cobb at the helm.

The second band on the ticket was Black Stone Cherry, pumped full of energy and just nailing each song into your head with a loud boom. Drummer John Fred Young is one of the loudest and strongest drummers in rock and he simply tore it up beginning to end. With the brand new Kentucky CD being the best they’ve recorded to date, the band was headstrong to put on a bone-rattling set, going into Slayer mode several times with headbanging goodies “Soul Machine” and “Lonely Train” before paying homage to the godfather Lemmy with a whipping version of “Ace Of Spades.” Playing “Cheaper To Drink Alone” for only the second time live was a special treat and since they filmed their first ever video here in the city, they pulled out “Lonely Train.” Vocalist and lead guitarist Chris Robertson was on point all night with guitar player Ben Wells never standing still for a minute and bass player Jon Lawhon adding the snarl to the rhythm.

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“When we started in 2006, we were all kids on the music scene and we were always able to find and gain the respect of the older bands because we’re one of those few bands that are going today that are still true to what rock & roll used to be,” Robertson told Glide during a 2013 interview. “It’s not about a bunch of make-up or computer-simulated music. It’s guitars and bass and drums and four dudes on stage.” Added Wells, “The most metal thing about us is our live performance. If you were to watch a silent film of us, I’d guarantee people would say we were a metal band.” No truer words have been spoken.

Next up was Halestorm featuring one of the best frontwomen in metalized rock: Lzzy Hale. With her brother Arejay on drums, Joe Hottinger on guitar and Josh Smith on bass, their set was high octane. Opening with “Love Bites,” they roared through “Mz Hyde,” “I Like It Heavy,” “I Am The Fire,” “Freak Like Me” and “I Miss The Misery.” “I guess I’m lucky in that I get to do what I’ve wanted to do,” Hottinger told us in 2013. “I went to college cause I thought, no chance I would actually play guitar in a band, lead guitar, so maybe I can work in management or something. But lo and behold, here I am playing guitar.” [We caught up with Hottinger pre-show for a short interview which follows]

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The female Hale is wild, vivacious and full of a tiger spirit that commands attention, whether she is screaming about liking it heavy or bringing it down to a place more melodic, which she did for a good portion of their last album, Into The Wild Life. Her expansion as a vocalist has been rewarding not only for the singer but for the listener. Her brother, on the other hand, unleashed his inner monster during his spotlighted drum solo, telling the audience that the LA on his cap tonight stood for Louisiana.

“We can’t have any disconnect at this show tonight,” Shinedown vocalist Brent Smith informed the crowd before having them part the middle of the floor so he could come down and be a part of them. Once he ran back up to the stage, he counted to three and had them jumping as the band jammed through “Enemies” seven songs into their set. Following a headbanging frenzy known as “45,” Smith then asked the fans to “look at the person next to you – tonight is your first encounter.” Like all good preachers, Smith was spreading love, encouraging respect for your neighbor, forming bonds into a community. “I’ve seen rock & roll heal people, from the inside out.”

Through sixteen songs, running the gamut of all-out rockers like “State Of My Head” to power ballads “I’ll Follow You” and “Call Me” to covers of Radiohead’s “Creep” and Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” Smith, guitarist Zach Myers, drummer Barry Kerch and bassist Eric Bass upheld the Carnival Of Madness moniker. Other special highlights included Myers on acoustic guitar on “Second Chance,” Kerch’s maddening drums on “Cut The Cord” and Bass taking to the keys and singing “Creep.” But like Hale, when he asked everyone to take out their cell phones and wave them in the air, it was as if the roof had opened and the stars were falling through. You just can’t say no when the music is that good.

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Before the show, I sat down with Halestorm’s Joe Hottinger to talk new music and guitars – but Joe wanted to do the intro

Hey, it’s Joe from Halestorm. Welcome to the Joe Show where I tell you everything I know about Joe.

What is the best thing to know about Joe?

The best thing to know about Joe – Joe don’t know shit (laughs)

You seem happy so I hope that means the tour is going good.

Oh it’s the best. It’s just like a big family reunion tour. We’ve known Black Stone Cherry and Shinedown for over a decade now so it’s just like old hat at this point. We’re just hanging out, you know, and having way too good of a time.

We talked in 2013. What are some of the big things that have happened with Halestorm since then?

What have we done? (laughs). We put out a record, been on the road forever. We’ve done a lot of headline tours. We got over to New Zealand and Japan for the first time and put out Into The Wild Life.

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Halestorm

What did you do different with that record cause it is different from the others?

We switched up everything for this, for Into The Wild Life. We recorded a lot of it live, the four of us standing in a circle playing to the drums. We’d take the click out halfway through and just let the moment ride out. And that was just so much fun. It was like playing onstage but you’re putting it down and you know it’s going to last forever. And it is different from the other records. There’s so many ways to make a record. You kind of piece it all together and make it fit and work and this time there’s mistakes in there and it’s great, like a real rock & roll record.

Are you working on new music?

Yeah, always

What is the new music sounding like so far?

We’re kind of just diving into everything right now and trying to purge our creativity and our bank of ideas, just get it all out. Lzzy’s been writing some really off-the-wall stuff, I’ve been writing everything from like acoustic ballads to very heavy metal shit. It’s like, get it out! You collect ideas for a year or two on the road and that’s what I’m working on right now. I’ve got my computer and the rig up and I’m just blasting through trying to get some ideas down so I can go back to them and go, do I actually like this or was that a weird idea? (laughs)

With all the chaos that can be surrounding you, how do you write? Is it just the quiet times you write in?

No, we’ll do it right now if it’s something exciting. You want to go for it. We don’t have a plan yet. We’re kind of just writing for writing’s sake and once we finish up this album cycle, we’ll be like, alright, now it’s time to focus. But what about all these other songs we’ve been writing, are they even cooler? What are we going for here?

There is more melody on this record, more beauty in Lzzy’s vocals

Yeah, she’s got so many gears in her voice and it was kind of fun exploring some more of that. On the first two records, I always take a song and like, “What’s the highest you can sing?” and adjust the key to that one moment where she’s like belting out. We got over that, luckily for her (laughs). But one of my favorite parts of her voice is the lower stuff she sings so we’ve been dropping keys now, doing the exact opposite and hitting that real sweet spot. That lower stuff that she sings is real kind of soulful and sultry. It’s really, really neat.

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She did that more on this album

Yeah, definitely, and that was on purpose. We were trying to get some of those moments out.

You told me when we talked before that your first big moments of loving music was when you were hit by the Seattle sound. How has your palette opened up over the years since then? Who are you finding inspiration from?

Yeah, that was like the mid-90’s when I got into music but I’m all over the place now; although I still can’t get enough of Tom Petty. Wildflowers is like my favorite record ever. That just never gets old, best sounding record I have ever heard. But I am like way into the new Hozier record (laughs). So I’m all over the place. I really like the Gary Clark Jr live stuff. I got to see him at Pinkpop and he’s so good, got such cool tones.

So you like some blues too

Yeah, I love blues. The blues is so cool cause they made these moments together as a band and that’s what we’re kind of into – making moments together.

What about players like Peter Green and Rory Gallagher and Paul Kossoff – do you get any kind of inspiration from them?

The early Fleetwood Mac stuff is awesome and I’m way into the Humble Pie Live At Winterland 75; not the Fillmore one, the popular one, but there’s a Live At Winterland record out. It’s after Peter Frampton left and it just totally rules (laughs). It’s amazing. Lzzy and I have been listening to that a whole lot lately. Some friends in Nashville turned us on to it. I like live records. I got a really cool vinyl when we were in Belgium at this metal shop and it was Dio Live At Donington ’83 & ’87, so it’s two different bands, two different shows, and it’s recorded by the BBC so it sounds amazing. It’s one of the coolest live records I’ve ever heard. It’s awesome.

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Tell us about your #1 guitar

I’ve got so many that I like but one that I know is super special that I know I could take into any situation, is probably that one sitting there. It’s a Gibson 1959 reissue and it’s just something about it, the way the pickups are wound or something. I don’t know, it’s just got a thing about it.

Did you use that one predominately on the record?

I used it a whole lot, yeah. I didn’t use it on the second record but this one I used it a bunch.

When you were first starting to learn how to play guitar, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?

Right in the beginning, it was probably the F chord, doing the barre chord. All of a sudden one day it just clicked and you’re like, “Ah! You can play all the chords now!” (laughs). But yeah, just getting that barre and working that big callus on your finger. I remember that was a triumph. It took me like a few weeks of like, “This stupid F chord!” Then all of a sudden one day it just clicked.

You know Jared James Nichols doesn’t play with a pick at all

Oh I know, he’s awesome but you do something long enough you get used to it and develop your own feel. I’ve been working on my playing and I just got through a blister on my thumb doing that. I had to wait for a little bit before I could dig back in. But yeah, just watching him, the way he plays is like the natural way to do it, really, and it’s the only way to get certain sounds out and it sounds so cool. It’s like Mark Knopfler did the same thing and you can only sound like that if you’re using your fingers. It’s amazing and once you get them worked in and up to speed and callused up properly, you can do so much more than with just a pick. But then there are some things you can only do with a pick.

What has been your biggest splurge on a piece of equipment?

Probably some guitar but I just bought a house so that has been my biggest splurge.

In Nashville with all the other rock stars?

Yeah, there’s an awesome rock & roll scene in Nashville. There’s like this little family of rock people that live there and they do a rock & roll residency every Tuesday night and all these different dudes get up and play and there is just this whole community and it’s some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life – just genuine souls and they’re amazing humans and Lzzy and I hang out all the time. There are so many folks there, so many bands, especially like 80’s bands. Tom from Cinderella is there, some of the Accept guys, Michael Wagener has been there for a while, who produced all those records, Rachel from Skid Row just moved there, Ryan Cook, Shaun from Seether is there. It’s fantastic.

What is the most essential thing to have to survive tour life?

I think the best way is to tour with good people. You start there. Cause if you have even one bad person in a group it’s like a cancer and it affects everybody. So the only way you can have a good time and want to tour more is if you have good people around you. We pride ourselves in our little family, our road family. They ARE our family and it’s fun being out here.

And what foods do you avoid?

Indian and Thai before a show. You don’t want the rumblies in your tummy mid-set. That’s a bad scene (laughs)

So what’s up for the rest of the year?

We’re touring through October and I think maybe that might be the end of the album cycle and we’ve got to make a new record. It’s time. I’m ready.

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