Review by Paul Quinton
With a new album in the shops, and a UK tour about to start, this Black Star Riders gig was promoted by and announced on Planet Rock as a warm-up show only on the Friday previous to the gig. Unsurprisingly, it sold out within hours, and the Slade Rooms was as full as I can ever remember it, even when support Stone Broken took to the stage band bang on the advertised start time of 8 o’clock.
Coming straight from supporting Glenn Hughes on his European tour and, from all accounts, a hugely successful slot at Planet Rock’s Winter’s End Festival, it was obvious Stone Broken were brimming with confidence. They might have had a very limited stage area to work with, with Robyn Haycock’s drums almost in the wings at one side of the stage, and apparently, almost no sound check, but they faced down a packed Slade Rooms as if they’d been playing in front of these audiences for a lifetime. I’m not sure about the need for a drum solo in a 45 minute support set, but when you get a large proportion of the crowd singing along on ‘Wait For You’, not to mention singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to bassist Kieron Conroy’s Mum, there’s no doubt the crowd were firmly on their side. Despite the circumstances, this was probably the best I’ve seen the band, they were positive, played really well, engaged with the crowd, even to the extent of guitarist Chris Davies jumping into the crowd during the last song. The band will now concentrate on their next album, and judging by the reaction of the crowd tonight, the next level is waiting for them.
In keeping with this being planned as a warm-up, the Black Star Riders didn’t enter with much of a fanfare, a brief intro tape, and straight into the title track of the new album, Heavy Fire. The sound was pretty good for a room with the confines of the Slade Rooms, loud enough but also making it easy to pick out individual parts, although occasionally Ricky Warwick’s voice got a little lost, understandably when there were often three guitars in action. For the opening part of the set, the band were all business, with little chat, but were also extremely tight for the first gig of a tour. Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson do an excellent job of working the twin guitars, sharing the soloing load, but combining for some fine harmony work.
As the set went on, things started to loosen and Warwick began to engage with the crowd a little more, thanking everyone who bought a physical copy of the new album, rather than streaming or downloading it, asking the question about how you leave a download to your kids, and explaining the Facebook vote that nominated ‘Blindside’ to be in the set. The rest of the band left him to do the talking, although Damon Johnson did his best to work the crowd on his side of the stage, whereas Scott Gorham’s attention seemed to be focussed purely on his guitar, with very little recognition of the crowd until the end.
Those of the crowd who think that Black Star Riders are just Thin Lizzy with a different backdrop would have been surprised when the only Lizzy track came halfway through the set, and unannounced to boot, as the band segued from a terrific ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ straight into ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. It was also played at what felt like twice the pace of the original, but nonetheless, the twin guitar part in the middle never fails to raise the hair on the back of your neck. But that was it, although quite early in the set, when Ricky Warwick introduced ‘a song you might know’, I suspect a lot of the crowd would have been surprised when it wasn’t a Lizzy song, but the band’s own ‘Killer Instinct’, but leave us not forget, the band tour and record under this name to write and play new material, and they now have three full albums of their own stuff to choose from, but having said that, the band’s origins can’t help but come through on occasion, ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ having more than a hint of ‘Black Rose’ about it, and songs like ‘Hey Judas’ undoubtedly have that Lizzy swagger.
I don’t know if this will be a thing for the rest of the tour, but the band didn’t play an encore, ending with ‘Finest Hour’ and then taking their bows. No one could seriously feel short changed, though, as the band had been on stage for well over 90 minutes, and had kept up the pace throughout, with no indulgences such as solos or extended audience participation sections. They’ve evolved into a really tight live unit, the new album is a bit of a belter and they are well worth seeing on this tour if they keep up this form.
Black Star Riders are currently on tour in the UK and will play Nottingham Rock City on March 14th, and Birmingham O2 Institute on March 18th