The last time When Rivers Meet headlined in Bristol, almost a year ago to the day, they played The Exchange. A venue which probably holds 150-200 people. Roll forward a year, and the band, the duo of Grace and Aaron Bond, are close to selling out The Fleece, a venue twice as big. This a clear indication of the direction this exciting duo are travelling.
When Rivers Meet
The Fleece, Bristol – 11 May 2023
Words and Photography: Paul Hutchings
There’s not a lot of room on the floor by the time When Rivers Meet emerge, smiling onto the stage. And judging by the number of t-shirts bearing the band’s name, there are a lot of people who aren’t seeing them for the first time.
Their list of awards and plaudits is impressive. Their two albums, We Fly Free and Saving Grace, have both scored high chart placings. They’ve won multiple accolades at the UK Blues Awards in the past three years. But most importantly, they’ve continued to hone their performance and continue to deliver with a professionalism that makes it look effortless, all the while retaining the grit that any blues artist needs to keep it real.
There’s a huge cheer as they take the stage. Aaron in a striped blazer, Grace in her leather skirt/shorts and lacy top. They have the image, they have backing musicians of quality, and they also have the songs. They’ve been couped in the studio since their support to Reef last year. Three months Grace tells us, but they are really excited about the new album Aces Are High. What better way to open than with one of the new singles? Play My Game is upbeat and followed by Never Coming Home and Did I Break The Law, means the venue is already jumping just three songs into the set.
They draw from the two albums and 2019’s The Uprising EP. They change the setlist because “we can do what we want,” says Grace. It’s the intro to Battleground, which possesses one of the band’s heaviest riffs. It maintains the momentum. They are in fine form. There are singalongs, some sweet slide guitar from Aaron showing that he’s one cool cat on the guitar, as well as the cigar boxes that he uses on occasion. Grace not only has a phenomenal voice but uses violin and mandolin to add to songs. It all adds to the experience.
The crowd is respectfully quiet between songs prompting Grace to comment on how well behaved we are. It’s the cue for some more boisterous behaviour, but it’s all good-natured. They strip it right back for Talking In My Sleep. Just the two of them.
They could be in a room on their own, such is the hush that envelopes the venue. It’s a window into an intimacy that is rarely shown these days. There’s an innocence, a vulnerability that makes the husband and wife so human. They finish it with a kiss and the crowd swoons.
I think every blues and southern rock band has a song called Testify. When Rivers Meet are no exception. They invite Arielle back onto the stage to add some guitar to their main set closer, and she does it in superb style, shredding a solo for fun. It’s a highlight of the evening.
Three more songs comprise the encore, with Make A Grown Man Cry particularly impressive, before they end the evening with a stellar Want Your Love which sees the audience continue with the sing-along way after the band has finished. A tradition that is likely to live for a long time.
Nineteen songs, plenty of passion and masses of talent on display. It’s highly likely that this band will be filling the Academy across the City within a year or so. I’d be amazed if they don’t.