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Halestorm earns approval of heavy metal fans

This year’s Canalside concert series has been an incredibly diverse one. We’ve had classic rock, funk, hip-hop, R&B, bluegrass, jam bands, and more.

Thursday was metal night, though. And because there is a relative paucity of metal booked on our various outdoor stages this summer, this felt like a big deal. A certain segment of the population was being rewarded for its patience with a triple bill headlined by Halestorm, one of the more interesting modern metal/hard rock bands going.

Part of what makes Halestorm special can be pinpointed to the wiry, lithe frame of lead singer and guitarist Lzzy Hale. Hale is a dynamo on stage, a strong singer, more than able rhythm guitarist, and a great frontwoman. She is part Joan Jett, part every classic ’70s metal frontman, and the rest pure adrenaline. With a Gibson Explorer strapped to her hips, Hale took to the stage and immediately dominated it with her presence. Opener “Love Bites (and So Do I)” laid out the band’s agenda with blunt force. The packed Canalside immediately began “throwing goat” – making the twin-fingered “devil-horn” salute that in the world of metal signifies approval – and banging their heads.

Halestorm’s sound blends classic pre-thrash metal with post-Metallica lockstep riffage, a dash of goth-rock and grunge thrown in for good measure. Backed by her brother, drummer Arejay Hale, bassist Josh Smith and guitarist Joe Hottinger, Hale tore into a torrid “Mz. Hale,” an epic metal instrumental that featured some serious twin guitar delight, as Hale and Hottinger made their way through the piece.

“Freak Like Me” was heralded by some muscular double-bass work from drummer Arejay, before evolving into a Black Sabbath-like dirge-swing – classic metal, this one, and the broad age range of the crowd appreciated it, even if some of them were not even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when the first Sabbath album came out.

Anyone harboring any doubts concerning Hale’s credentials as a metal vocalist must’ve surely sat down and shut up when the band covered Ronnie James Dio’s “Straight Through the Heart.” Halestorm absolutely nailed this one, and Hale handled the virtuosic vocal with something approaching mastery, despite her tender age. Wow.

The opening acts accorded themselves quite well on Thursday. First up was Melia, a Rochester-based guitarist, singer and songwriter leading a punk-metal quartet. At 21, Melia is clearly a rising star, having already won an Indie Channel Songwriter’s Award for her self-penned “Just A Bride.” Clearly influenced by the likes of Green Day, Joan Jett and Girlschool, Melia’s music came across a lot like Evanesence, minus the overbearing pomp.

Cranking her Gibson Les Paul through the Eddie Van Halen signature model EVH amp, the guitarist took several finger-tapping solos, backed ably by second guitarist Jimmy Whitaker, bassist Dom Trinchini (whose playing suggested that he is a major fan of Buffalo’s own Billy Sheehan), and drummer Doc McGowan. Melia had the attentive early crowd singing along to her “Stay,” a grandiose power ballad, and pogoing as she tore through “Behind Tinted Windows.” Good things are likely in store for this talented artist.

The anomaly on the bill was Massachusetts-born trio Highly Suspect. Comprised of twins Ryan (drums) and Rich Meyer (bass/vocals) and their friend Johnny Stevens (guitar and lead vocals), the band avoided metal, instead favoring a fusion of punk, post-punk, early, Mudhoney-like grunge, and even undercurrents of reggae and Clash-like dub. Theirs was a strong set, highlighted by a strong interpretation of My Morning Jacket’s “Mahgeetah”.

In all, a fantastic night of heavy music at Canalside.