Saturday night, at the Ozarks Amphitheater in Camdenton, MO, the clouds drifted away and let the clear skies rule over the stage as an eclectic and international blend of acts rocked into the Missouri night.
Starting off the show, Canadian country-rocker Cory Marks and his band shot out of the gate without holding anything back. Even though he hails from the Great White North, Marks has a southern-rock sound that leans heavily to the country side of the spectrum. Joined by Alex Watts and Greg Keyes on guitar, Carlos Aquilera behind the kit, and Chris Chiarcos on the bass, Marks got the crowd up and moving early. With a laugh and a twang throughout, Marks hit all the right spots with tracks like "Who I Am," "Keep Doing What I Do," and "Blame it on the Double," while a stand-out in the set was the cover of Steve Miller's "Jet Airliner," and it delivered in a big way. Closing out the set was the track "Outlaws and Outsiders" from his latest album. On the disk, the song features a host of legends - Travis Tritt, Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch, and Mick Mars from Motley Crue - but the band didn't need the help on stage. They just tore it up and left the crowd yelling for more.
To answer those shouts, the marauding horde from the steppes of Mongolia brought their brand of folk metal to attack the unsuspecting crowd. The Hu have quickly become one of my favorite bands to see live since I first saw them around Halloween in 2019. A pair of new numbers in "Shihi Hutu" and "Mother Nature" kicked things off, followed by the bands two most notable songs - "Yuve Yuve Yu" and "Wolf Totem" came in hard and driving. The sounds of the electric guitar and the tovshuur, the pounding percussion and the rock drums, and the bass guitar with the morin khuur (the horsehead fiddles) rang out across the amphitheater as the crowd gleefully chanted along..."Hu! Hu! Hu!"
That energy was rewarded when the octet launched into their cover of Metallica's "Sad But True" before closing out their set with "This is the Mongol." There were a few members in the audience that didn't really seem to know what hit them when the set ended. But the majority were still chanting long after they left the stage, and I think that's a mark of an invasion well executed.
The headliner for the night carried right into that energy. Halestorm hit the ground running, with guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith, drummer and co-founder Arejay Hale all hit the stage before vocalist, guitarist, and co-founder Lzzy Hale strode out in her ankle-threatening platform boots and twin-necked Gibson slung around her shoulder to blast off with "I Am The Fire." Lzzy and brother Arejay both played up to the crowd early in the show, while Hottinger and Smith worked their sides of the stage like a pitcher working the mound to make it their own. The crowd responded to every screaming note, every snarled word, and every gesture from the quartet on stage.
After "Black Vultures" and "Love Bites (So Do I)," the band tore through rocking hit after hit. About midway through the set, following "I Get Off" and "Mz. Hyde," a keyboard was rolled to center stage. Lzzy Hale took the spotlight, alone on the stage to perform "Break In" and then her astounding cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," which left the singer visibly emotional at one point. Which is fine, because I, along with most of the audience, was feeling the same way.
(A quick aside on Halestorm's take on this classic song, released on their "Reimagined" EP in August of 2020: A lot of people will never be convinced that Whitney Houston's version will ever be topped. I'm not in any position to say one way or another, but I feel that attitude worked in the band's favor. If everyone believes you can't top that version, then you don't have anything to prove. When the audience has their mind made up, the band can just go out and do it straight from the heart and not worry about the reaction. And that's exactly what Lzzy Hale did, both on the EP and in Camdenton Saturday night.)
New single "Back from the Dead" find its way to the back third of the set. Even with the song being just a few weeks old, the crowd was singing along with every work. "Uncomfortable" and "Freak Like Me" closed out the main set of the evening. The band didn't really do a traditional encore, but they did take a brief break before coming back out and delivering the ode to fans and friends and everyone "Here's to Us" and closing out the night with "Apocalyptic" and "I Miss the Misery."
During the show, Lzzy Hale commented that being shut down from the road over the last year and a half is the longest she's gone without touring since her and her brother were playing monthly bowling alley shows when she was in her teens. The energy from that forced down-time was channeled into the new music, as evidenced by the new single, and blasted out from the stage like a giant rock-and-roll sigh of relief. You could just tell how much the band missed the stage. And how much the crowd missed having them there.