Review by Alistair Lewsley with pics by Laura Patterson
Southern man better keep your head
Rock City is a total sell out tonight, like the rest of the gigs on Black Stone Cherry’s UK tour. They are back quickly after November’s stint as second top billing on a Road Runner records showcase. This gig feels like they are on the verge of a big break through and I doubt they will be playing gigs this small again for a while.
Rival Sons are ridiculously skinny, kitted out in junk shop leather jackets silk scarves and oh so tight jeans. It’s a real throwback to the kind of bands who surfaced after the hippy dream died and before the New Wave of British Heavy Metal kicked all the glamour out of rock music. Rival Sons have released two albums, Before The Fire, released digitally and their first conventional release Pressure and Time. Their set pulls tracks from both. Their sound, like the look definitely channels the best of early 70’s rock music. It’s a murky brew of Led Zeppelin 2 riffs and drums, Exile on Main Street slide playing, and a vocalist who manages to sound like Robert Plant, Steve Van Zandt and David Coverdale bundled up into a wiry little package. Although there’s a definite retro vibe to Rival Sons they are more than just a tribute band. It still feels very contemporary; “Burn Down Los Angeles” manages to pack a punch that puts some of the city’s punk bands to shame. Rival Sons encore is a cover of “Oh Well” Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 classic, which kind of sums up their sound perfectly: raw, funky, and bluesy and a little bit out of kilter with their contemporaries.
Black Stone Cherry hit the stage after the PA plays No Digitty and some bluegrass banjo music, and it’s obviously all going to be fun on the bun. The band describe their music as “southern rock” rather than heavy metal and there’s a good old boy Kentucky shtick going on tonight that might put Bo and Luke Duke to shame. Black Stone Cherry are touring to support their latest album Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea and their set leans heavily on songs from that album. They kick things off with “Change” and rattle through, “Maybe Someday”, “Blind Man” and “Such A Shame” before they pause for breath. Their set is full of genuine crowd pleasers like “Blame it on the Boom Boom” and “White Trash Millionaire” and the audience love it. Chris Robertson’s voice has a genuine depth and warmth to it and ranges from sweet and soulful to harsh and dirty like some of the best Stax soul singers. It’s no surprise that in interviews John Lawhon and Robertson have both admitted to a love of Motown and Stax back catalogue. The set loses its way a bit in the middle with an obligatory metal drum solo, and a sit down acoustic set where the songs suddenly seem to become more “meaningful”. There is some toe curling rehearsed banter between songs, although they pull out covers of “Champagne Supernova” and Nirvana’s “Rape Me” before a sluggish version of “Stay”, the weakest song on “Devil And the Deep Blue Sea”.
Black Stone Cherry are at their best playing fast chunky rock riffs, and they get back to that fairly quickly, and “Devil’s Queen” from Folklore and Superstition gets things back on track again. The band throw themselves back into the set, Ben Wells on rhythm guitar throws himself around like a rag doll in a tumble dryer, climbing onto the monitor and pointing at the crowd. I’m not wearing my glasses, and in that myopic state he looks a lot like Scott Gorham of the mighty Thin Lizzy. The set closes with encores from their first 2 albums, “Peace Is Free” and “Lonely Train”. When they rock they really hit it. I didn’t know a lot about Black Stone Cherry before tonight, they feel like a band with a bit more depth than a lot of other rock bands. There are obvious comparisons with a lot of southern rock bands; I am forcibly reminded of Corrosion of Conformity at times. What sets Black Stone Cherry apart is the other things going on in their music. It’s a good night to be a good old boy, even if there aren’t too many people in Nottingham who understand Robertson’s Edmonton drawl.
See more of Laura’s photographs here;