Dirty Honey don’t mess around. Their burgeoning courtship with the UK is a thing of fiery, all-consuming passion. Having drawn a huge crowd at their inaugural appearance at Download just two short weeks earlier, this word-of-mouth buzz continues to grow, the whispers soon starting to turn into roars. Swiftly returning to these shores to open for the titanic Rival Sons, the four-piece from Los Angeles wasted no time in taking flight, a number of Dirty Honey t-shirt clad bodies already in the crowd at the UEA in Norwich.
Dirty Honey – Norwich UEA – 27 June 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
There’s an unquestionable cool about the band, a swagger that speaks of confidence rather than a snotty disregard, the warmth of frontman Marc LaBelle offsetting any thoughts of giant size egos at play. What they certainly have done is breathe in the air of the giants who’ve gone before them, the moves from the rock ‘n’ roll playbook being lived out in real life.
This is no tribute or pastiche, though; the very passion for the music threaded through their DNA and seeping from their pores as authentic as anything you’ll see this year. Dirty Honey love what they’re doing.
Opener Gypsy comes across as the dirty backstreet progeny of AC/DC and The Black Crowes, its ragged-edged hard rock smoothed by some Southern harmonies as the quartet displays a youthful enthusiasm that is ridiculously infectious.
Break You follows in the same vein, the feral force making heads turn as the bar area becomes a sea of craning necks, all eyes turned to the stage. The song finishes with LaBelle howling like Robert Plant at the height of his elemental Asgardian powers, the vocalist winning a roar of approval for his display.
The four members of the band certainly have their own individual look, too, their characters reflected in their attire: the singer every inch the Country outlaw rocker with his jacket and cowboy hat, guitarist John Notto the sharp-dressed dandy, bass player Justin Smolian the psychedelic rock star and shirtless drummer Corey Coverstone every inch the wildman at the back of the stage. It’s a strong vibe, the image one that, even on paper, suggests a powder keg ready to explode.
The Stonesy swagger of hard rocker Heartbreaker is threaded with soul, the singalong instigated welcomed by an ever-growing number of the crowd. The stuttering, street tough riff of The Wire sees Notto channelling the spirit of early Joe Perry as he throws shapes and digs deep.
Whilst the guitarist always moves front and centre to tear out his solos, the engine room of Smolian and Coverstone get their fair share of the spotlight when hitting the massive groove and swing of Tied Up, heads nodding and bodies moving in the venue as the waves wash over those assembled.
It says a lot about the strength of their own, self-penned, material that well-received cover Shoot To Thrill both fits in nicely to the set and yet doesn’t outshine the rest of it, the crowd choosing the AC/DC classic over Dirty Honey’s proffered take on Prince’s Let Go Crazy. Whilst the band attacked it with vigour and Notto briefly aping the Angus Young duckwalk during the solo was fun, you have to wonder what they would have done with the Prince guitar wig-out. Maybe next time.
The early Def Leppard style riff that opens California Dreamin’ hits the spot, its grit mixed with some UFO-style class, and you can well imagine this being blasted around the stadiums and festivals as the incendiary sledgehammer solo and quicksilver bass runs thrill the senses.
It’s not all foot to the floor, though, as bluesy ballad Another Last Time proves, its soulful Southern sounds seeing LaBelle jumping into the pit to spend most of the song up close and personal with the front rows. It’s a nice touch and one that seemed natural rather than staged, the moment deepening the communion between performers and audience.
The set ended with the mighty punch When I’m Gone, and Rolling 7s, their mighty Led Zeppelin heft crushing whatever vestiges of resistance were left, the anthemic and soaring chorus’ lifting the converted.
Quite how Dirty Honey got this good, this is a mystery that only they know, but you can bet that they’re headed towards the arenas, their name soon to be twenty feet high on billboards and marquees.
The future of proper rock is here, and they’re wearing battered hats and sunglasses.