Always touted as ‘the next big thing’, Rival Sons have been hard hitters virtually since day one and tours with the likes of AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Evanescence, KISS, and Deep Purple have seen them challenge the headliners every step of the way. Whilst a string of albums have seen them receive critical and public acclaim, it’s in the live arena that they’ve really made the biggest impression.
Rival Sons – Norwich UEA – 27 June 2022
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Following the globally enforced layoff from touring, there was obvious joy in being back onstage, and their return to Norwich at the start of their current, brief, UK jaunt, supported by Dirty Honey, was a very welcome homecoming to a band that has been embraced with a passion.
Rival Sons have always gone with soul and weight rather than all-out attack, their particular brand of rock more akin to Zeppelin rather than Metallica. This approach has seen them be more of a slow burn than a sugar rush, but the effects are equally as euphoric, the maturity and class of their material lending itself to life-long commitments rather than some Andy Warhol-esque fifteen minutes of fame.
Certainly, singer Jay Buchanan, guitarist Scott Holiday and rhythm section drummer Mike Miley and David Beste on bass, supplemented live with keys player Todd Ögren, have built something to last.
As the huge backdrop was raised to the sound of pistons, steam, and ticking clocks, the first half of the set started as they ripped into the strident and punchy All Over The Road. Given that the tour was specifically celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Pressure And Time album, what we get is a track-by-track run-through.
With the trend of playing whole albums from start to finish an ever-growing phenomenon, it’s always a bit hit and miss as to whether it truly works in a live setting, the flow of an album constructed a lot more rigidly than a show. Fortunately, Rival Sons had created a thing of beauty that mixed classic rock of the ’60s and ’70s with a modern sonic edge, the pacing built into its every note.
The pure and heavy rock n’ roll of Young Love sits nicely alongside the album’s title track, its funky groove and Southern rattlesnake boogie shaking things up as all five band members finish the song on a variety of percussion. There’s plenty of soul here, too, Buchanan’s voice on Only One breaking hearts as Holiday’s guitar sings its own incandescent song. Later, Save Me still sounds like Clutch touched by the angels and the frenetic swamp rock of Burn Down Los Angeles is a slide guitar maelstrom.
The final run of the psychedelic Gypsy Heart, an other-worldly White Noise and the elegant bluster of the Led Zepp-ish Face of Light is a near-perfect and breathless close to the half, Pressure And Time showing it still has the power to move.
As good as the first section is, it’s when the band kick into the second set that things really take off, the looseness of being away from the structure of playing the album breathing an added freshness into the set.
Things open with a bang, the gargantuan riff and apocalyptic power of Too Bad. Again, things don’t settle into a particular groove, and the huge dynamics at play in a slinky Open My Eyes and testosterone-fuelled Electric Man bring a light and shade that has become a mantle that Rival Sons have inherited for the giants who went before.
At the rear of the stage, there’s a joyous quality in Miley’s playing, his energy infectious as he manages to do more with a stripped-back kit than most manage with something many times the size.
Beste is equally cool, his movements a little less kinetic but it’s that bottom end that matters and Ögren has been a great addition to the band, his playing adding shards of colour, his wild headbanging on the rowdier passages something wondrous to behold.
Here, memories of moments burn into the joint consciousness. Be it Buchanan crouching at the front of the stage, his eyes closed as he goes deep with ballad Jordan, the singer proclaiming his fix of these shores having to be sated by watching Ted Lasso whilst they were off the road prior to starting the song, or the sight of Holiday with his back arched as he’s caught in the spotlight tearing out another solo.
The set closes with the new song Nobody Wants To Die, and it’s a monster, turbo-charged and glorious. This arc from Pressure And Time to their latest material perfectly illustrates the growth of the band, and there seems no intention to do anything but carrying on their march towards legendary status.
Rival Sons are writing their own story, epic chapter by epic chapter.