I feel that I must start this review by stating that I am not a massive fan of heavy rock music; in general it is a genre that I tend to avoid. I am often told that with bands of such a nature, one must see their live performance to ‘get it’. For this reason, I wished to give Black Stone Cherry and Rival Sons – two bands that I was moderately aware of but would not usually listen to (not on a basis of hatred, merely that of ignorance on my part) – a chance to give a guy who has never done that thing where both the index and little finger are raised to the sky in a gesture of patriotism, had a desire to ‘fight the man’ or to ‘fuck the system’, a new found love for rock.
First up were blues-rockers Rival Sons whose set featured a mixture of songs from debut album, Before the Fire and more recent commercial success, Pressure and Time. The band possessed a hugely energetic sound, which was constructed from a combination of bluesy, heavy guitar riffs, Jimmy Page-esque screeching vocals and a fast-paced nature throughout.
While the music was undeniably performed to a perfect standard in front of a group of people who have already become infatuated by them, as something of an outsider I could not help but feel that the band were somewhat full of hot air. Rival Sons’ big, rocky sound was not reflected in their rather timid stage presence, which featured a lot of standing still and awkward banter between songs, rather than the bombastic showman spirit that society has come to associate with the run-of-the mill rockers. What Rivals Sons really appeared to be were a tribute to a rock band; a poor, 21st century man’s Led Zeppelin. Despite their lack of true rock spirit, the band produced a more than competent set of songs that saw a good amount of response from the audience, especially when one considers their difficult position as a support band. In particular, the track ‘Pressure and Time’ stood out, it’s catchy chorus becoming instantly recognizable, reminiscent of The Darkness albeit with tongue-in-cheek likeability.
Next up was the main act, Black Stone Cherry. Regardless of performance, one must respect ‘BSC’ for the legions of fans that they have curated in Southampton, despite not receiving a great deal of mainstream publicity. I found the crowd’s enthusiasm for the beard-clad quartet surprisingly high.
The band then went on to perform a highly energetic set. The way in which each song seemingly surpassed the last in terms of audience appreciation was brilliant. Black Stone Cherry’s combination of gravelly vocals, screaming axe solos and heavy riffs is undoubtedly a winning formula with their fan base, which only began to tire towards the end of the undeniably, long set. The band had a unique approach to stage presence, with front man Chris Robertson refusing to take the center stage, whilst guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon bounded around like puppies. However, such a setup cannot be faulted as it definitely juxtaposed Rival Sons static nature, resulting in BSC fitting the ‘rock band’ image much more appropriately.
Even with every song receiving something close to ecstasy from the audience, the award for biggest (and best) song of the set must go to ‘White Trash Millionaire’. The band’s ode to embracing the little things in life possessed an insanely catchy hook and a spirit that every rock song should possess. A lot of bands could learn something from the performance of this song.
Overall, I can safely say that the evening will not be causing my rebirth as a lover of heavy rock. Despite this, the evening undeniably presented two bands whose authenticity and instrumental musical talent is sorely missed in an industry, and live music environment increasingly dominated by any figure with a laptop, to varying degrees of success. What the bands created were two sets full of solid songs which were clearly adored by the army of fans that had attended; the people present weren’t just fans they were die-hards. While Black Stone Cherry’s music was consistently sound, one cannot help but admire what the band stand for, which is simple rock’n’roll; nothing more or nothing less. As Skrillex gradually wipes any music without a drop off the face of the planet, music like that seen from the two bands here could become increasingly isolated and it is a testament to both their music and talent that their dedicated fan base remain so enthusiastic towards their cause.