Every ten years or so, a band comes along that restores one's faith in rock and roll; The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M, and.... Rival Sons.
Sure, there are many, many talented musicians, and many great records being made, but to these ears none of them have the ability to stir the soul, heart and feet in the way Rival Sons do. On LP, their music is stirring, and emotionally charged, but in concert these qualities take on an intensity that approaches the spiritual.
I first saw this band back in September 2012, and left the gig on an emotional high, that stayed with me for days, and I can say with total conviction that in over 30 years of gigging that it was the most exciting, rewarding and moving gig I had ever attended. My soul was moved...
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So when the opportunity to catch them in my home town arose, I leapt at the chance, but with a little apprehension. Was that first gig a never to be repeated high, leaving me desperate to recapture that euphoric feeling, or could Rival Sons pull it off again?
We arrived a little late at a packed 53 Degrees, but still managed to catch most of The Graveltones set. This Aussie guitar and drum duo play raw, powerful blues infused rock, topped with, er, gravelly vocals. I was particularly impressed with the drumming, which reminded of John Bonham in terms of sheer volume. The P.A was not really needed!
Their songs were memorable and entertaining, enlivened even further on a couple of tunes, by the prescence of Rival Son Robin Everhart, the bassman adding his trademark funky low notes to the already big beat of the Graveltones. This was a brilliant little set, and I will certainly be checking out The Graveltones again, at the earliest opportunity, and you like your blues a bit rough, ready and full of good vibes, then so should you.
Next up were the second, and final support act Ulysses. This Bath based four piece entertained with their quirky blend of Glam-Rock and west-coast style guitar wig outs. The muscianship was excellent, although a poor mix spoiled things, making the lead guitar virtually inaudible, and the vocals a bit muffled. It was a shame because Ulysses played some great songs, and with decent sound would have been brilliant.
On the final number, The Graveltones guys joined in, and we were treated to a superbly racous climax to a set that was good entertaining fun, despite the poor sound. I liked Ulysses, and hope to see them again, under better conditions. They deserve it!
What can I say about Rival Sons? WOW! That's what! I need not have worried about the gig failing to capture the high I got the first time, for they were on fire. From the opening salvo of 'You Want To' and 'Get What's Coming' through to very final note of the encore, Rival Sons had the capacity audience enraptured throughout.
Singer Jay Buchanan has a rare charisma, and it's impossible to take your eyes off him, such is his stage presence. The lazy comparisons are with Jim Morrison and Robert Plant, although there is so much more to him than that. Sure, he has similar moves, but he is definitely his own man, and when he opens his mouth to sing, he makes a sound that is uniquely his own. From high pitched crooning, to full on screaming, Jay can do it all.
I cannot think of any other current singer who can touch him. He also looks as cool as f*ck! Sadly he was suffering from some throat problems, so he was not at his full peak at this gig. He still gave a totally impassioned performance, and despite looking a little unwell at times, did not let up on commitment, energy and soul. Jay Buchanan running on 80% power is still a world class singer.
Guitarist Scott Holiday played superbly throughout, and rivals Buchanan in the cool stakes. He looks and sounds like the perfect rock and roll guitar slinger. With his fantastic moustache, and psychedelic biker look, he was the other main visual focus of the band. From the subtle sounds of 'Sacred Tongue' to the sonic whirlwind of 'Manifest Destiny Pt.1' he never ceased to amaze with the sounds he produced from his instrument. The Guitar Hero is not as common as back in the 1970's, but Scott Holiday proves that the species still walks the earth.
Equally magnificent was the rythmn team of the aforementioned Robin Everhart, and powerhouse drummer Mike Miley. These two have a background in jazz and soul music, and it shows. Many bands can rock, but few can combine that with the ability to swing. Robin and Miley gave the performance a real funky groove rarely seen in rock and roll since Watts/Wyman era Stones.
As for the gig setlist, it was simply perfect. The choice of material showed the breadth of genres that this band can tackle and pull off with style, from the full tilt hard rock of 'Wild Animal' at one extreme to the impassioned soul ballad 'Face of Light'. As I mentioned earlier, Jay's voice was not at his best, but in conjunction with the three magnificent instrumentalists, his performance was full of moving intensity.
The whole band gelled perfectly for the whole of the gig, and at points they combined in a way that lifted the music from merely excellent, to an almost religious experience, most obviously on 'Manifest Destiny Pt.1'. Scott Holiday unleashed the slashing guitar chord that opens the song, soon joined my Robin and Miley, and then Jay sang. His cracked, soulful passionate voice had an otherworldly quality, and when the band performed the haunting refrain "you know we're dealing with Godless men", the hairs on the back of my neck did rise.
I was no longer in a sweaty club room, but alone in an intimate setting with the band playing just for me alone. The other audience members were mere shadowy figures in the periphery of my vision, and although I was definitely in the room, it felt like I was somewhere else, with the music playing inside my head. All my worries and cares vanished, as I was consumed by the music, and although I am most definitely not a religious man, the whole moment had a real spiritual quality, that I am trying, with difficulty, to convey to you, dear readers.
I'm writing this 48 hours after the gig, and I'm still on a high. Music can move you, but great music can stir the soul. That night I heard truly great music.
That was just one highlight, in a show briming with magnificent performances, especially my favourite Rival Sons song 'Face of Light', and the truly stunning set closer 'Soul', which most truly did live up to his name. This was a spellbinding gig, by a band at the top of their game, and there is no-one who can touch them right now.
If you want to experience the heart and soul of rock music, then go and see Rival Sons, and if you want to catch them at intimate venues like 53 Degrees, then don't dither, for I predict that within a couple of years Rival Sons are going to be massive!
If this piece comes over as the lunatic ravings of a Rival Sons fanboy, then I make no apology for that, for I am one and I don't care who know's it! A fanboy that is, not a raving lunatic...
You Want To
Get What's Coming
All The Way
Until The Sun Comes
Manifest Destiny Pt.1
Keep ON Swinging
Pressure & Time
Face Of Light
Burn Down Los Angeles
Special thanks to James Smith for the use of his pics.