Blackberry Smoke + Aaron Keylock @ The Institute, Birmingham – Wednesday 22nd October 2014


Review by Dean Pedley, photos by Rich Ward

With more than three hundred shows behind him Aaron Keylock has built a solid reputation on the strength of his live performances thus far. Still just sixteen years old the American blues influenced guitar prodigy is a natural fit for the mostly mature Blackberry Smoke audience. Blues fans with a hunger for the good stuff duly got their reward with a sizzling forty minute set that saw the young guitarist win many nods of approval from wise old heads.

Aaron Keylock
Aaron Keylock

Accompanied by an equally youthful looking rhythm section Aaron gives the impression of having been born forty years too late with his long hair and bell bottomed flares. Firecracker solos are his stock in trade and whilst he may not yet be the finished article as a vocalist time is very much on his side.

That the UK has taken Blackberry Smoke to its heart is no surprise, Southern Rock has always found a willing audience here from Skynyrd to Hatchet and many more besides. What is more surprising is that it has taken us so long to catch up with the rest of Europe where the band have been touring for some time. Signing to the Earache label and the subsequent exposure in Classic Rock magazine and on Planet Rock radio has certainly helped and this will surely be their last appearance at the Institute; Academies and Civic Halls lie in wait. Kicking off with ‘Like I Am’ the Atlanta, Georgia five piece make it all seem so simple with their easy nature and feel good vibe, exemplified by the likes of ‘Testify’ and ‘Good One Comin’ On’.

Blackberry Smoke
Blackberry Smoke

Charlie Starr is not much for between song banter and prefers to let the music do the talking, albeit he does liken a disturbance in the crowd during ‘Six Ways to Sunday’ as being “like a Saturday night in Tennessee”. Tight harmonies and honest lyrics are key to what makes this band so pleasing on the ear and in keyboardist Brandon Still, rhythm guitarist Paul Jackson, bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner, Starr has the perfect set of musicians to bring his songs to life. Rural anthem ‘One Horse Town’ and divorce paean ‘Ain’t Much Left of Me’ are even more captivating live than on the album and the latter segues masterfully into an incendiary ‘When the Levee Breaks’. Rabble-rousing encores of ‘Leave a Scar’ and ‘Shakin’ Hands with the Holy Ghost’ leave us in no doubt that Blackberry Smoke play with a genuine love and passion for the Southern rock genre.

Tonight, the Institute played host to a truly exceptional band that have a long and successful career ahead of them. Enjoy the ride.

Set List:
1. Like I Am
2. Testify
3. Lucky Seven
4. Pretty Little Lie
5. Six Ways to Sunday
6. Good One Comin’ On
7. Sleepin’ Dogs
8. Restless
9. Everybody Knows She’s Mine
10. The Whippoorwill
11. Up in Smoke
12. Ain’t Got the Blues
13. Lesson in a Bottle
14. Son of the Bourbon
15. One Horse Town
16. Ain’t Much Left of Me / When the Levee Breaks

17. Leave a Scar
18. Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost


Listen to Midlands Rocks’ interview with Aaron Keylock here

Listen to our interview with Blackberry Smoke’s Brit Turner here

See more of Rich’s photos here