Review by Peter Keevil and Photos by Rich Ward
Under a year since they last played Wolverhampton, Rival Sons have doubled their live audience from the 400 at The Slade Rooms last November to 800+ at the Wulfrun Hall, that off the back of minimal publicity, 2 unknown support bands and just 2 weeks since the launch of their 3rd full album.
As is the want of many acts nowadays, Rival Sons were doing a ‘tour before the tour’. Typically timed to coincide with an album launch, bands re-new acquaintances with an audience by touring smaller venues to then return to larger establishments after the album has had a chance to work its magic and gain traction. It helps maintain momentum and works the album that little bit harder.
Openers, Pint Size Hero, are a three-piece rock outfit and hail from the south coast. They liken themselves to BRMC and Band of Skulls and were invited to join Rival Sons for the full UK-leg of their tour.
They were pleasant enough; playing punkish rock n’ roll without really hitting any great highs. Guitarist/vocalist, Chris Howley, dominated proceedings and was, unusually for a three-piece, placed centre stage, leaving them visually off-kilter. He spent a lot of between song banter stating how excited and how awesome it was to be playing on tour with Rival Sons, which was equal part endearing as it was irritating.
Ulysses were a strange experience to say the least. I ‘think’ they were serious but must have a tongue firmly placed in their collective cheek. Take a gander at their Facebook cover photo and you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps a rock version of the 118 TV ad guys? Certainly the bassist looked like my old geography teacher and I strained my neck trying to see if he had patches on his elbows. Couple that with frontman, Luke Smyth, looking like the half-brother of Andrew Stockdale (Wolfmother) and you’ll get an impression of what the Wolvo crowd witnessed.
Musically, they did remind me of Stockdale’s antipodean outfit, perhaps less intense – Wolfmother-lite? Or perhaps shades of another Aussie retro-rock band, JET but less sexy.
Despite all that, or because of it, I’ve subsequently downloaded their album ‘Everybody’s Strange’ (apt!) and have enjoyed repeat plays of its psychedelic, retro, harmony-laden quirkiness. So I suppose that’s what they intended – job done!
Rival Sons by contrast, are not ambiguous in the slightest. These West Coast boys are the genuine article, and are prepared to work their art, until they force themselves into the consciousness of the UK and beyond. They live and breathe a rock n roll gypsy heart and this is one of yet another concert in the Midlands. On this night they were celebrating a No1 placement in the UK Rock Album charts, with the release of Head Down and although it’s a little too early to be selling out the Wulfrun Hall, it was not far off.
The mix took a little while to settle, but throughout it was a Buchanan/Holiday-centric sound and rightly so. Holiday, wove his six-string magic, dressed like an East End 60’s spiv, while Jay Buchanan, looked every bit like the bastard child of Coverdale and Joplin – just better looking!
Their set played like two halves, the first being all bombast and swagger. The new songs complimented the best from breakthrough album, Pressure & Time, and despite it being only 2 weeks old, a good majority of the crowd owned the new album and partied along to ‘Wild Animal’, ‘You Want To’ and ‘title’ track, ‘Keep on Swinging’.
The set took a beautiful mid-set swerve with ‘Jordan’ before ramping up again with ‘All The Way’ and ‘Gypsy Heart’. The alternate intro to Torture caught most of the crowd off guard, with puzzled looks on many faces. It wasn’t until Buchanan ripped into the chorus that they knew what it was. I’m not sure that this worked as it took the edge of an already classic Rival Sons song.
With just a worm-hole defying 50 minutes on the clock, the main set closed out with an extended version of the sublime, ‘Face Of Light’.
Rival Sons were rightly called back by the eager crowd and what followed was a master class of classic rock re-invigorated for the 21st Century.
Manifest Destiny pt1, began with some of the heaviest sounds this side of Sabbath and swept us away on a post-coitial high. Followed, of course, by Manifest Destiny pt2, this was Rival Sons putting away the party toys and playing at grown-ups after the kids are asleep in bed.
And, as if reticent to break the mood, they finished with the beautifully anguished, and again extended, ‘Soul’.
That was all very good; great even, you could not fault the performance; Buchannan drained every ounce of emotion from his delivery, matched note by note by a hell-bent Holiday but with it being the final song, the pace of it did leave us all a little ‘deflated’.
But that is a small gripe after witnessing such a scintillating display of pure energy. It’s true to say that Rival Sons are still finding their feet as a headline act, so it’s even more frightening to think that they can get better still!
Set List: Pressure and time, Wild animal, You want to, Until the sun comes, Memphis sun, Burn down Los Angeles, Keep on swinging
Jordan, All the way, Gypsy heart, Run from revelation, Torture, Face of light
Encore: Manifest Destiny pt 1, Manifest Destiny pt 2, Soul
And you can see more shots from the show here: