One tall dude and his guitar is how I can briefly describe Jameson Burt, who is opening the night’s proceedings. Hailing from California, I can hear why Jameson was asked to join Rival Sons on tour. As I’m photographing during the first few songs I am focusing more on the images but I can hear that Jameson can both really sing and play great blues/folk guitar, and this is none better highlighted than during the whiskey soaked song “Bourbon”. Jameson also possesses a lot of soul you can feel all around the room and the song “Surprise” is just sublime. This has a more modern feel to it with some nice finger picking and smooth sweet guitar playing.
“Remember” brings to mind a bit of a Jack White style to me and at times during the set, I get a bit of Don Henley. The set finishes with a fantastic bluesy number “Breathe Your Last” and demonstrates the great qualities Jameson has as a singer/song writer. Jameson stands out as a solo artist and I am glad those who arrived early to appreciate the opening act, listened and kept quiet during Jameson’s mesmerising set.
1. Let You Be
4. I Don’t Love You
6. Breathe Your Last
Second support band Crystal Seagulls had a style that was hard to work out. They are a young four piece band with a sound that mishmashes slightly different styles. I got Indie crossed with Punk crossed with Hard Rock and I wouldn’t know where to categorise them. Again due to photo duties I was concentrating more on the photo images than what I was hearing. The band do one cover song on the night, a kind of Punk version of the classic Beatles song “Helter Skelter”. This was like an angry version of The Beatles on steroids which did work pretty well.
“Sun Kissed” sounded very tight and had this infectious foot stomping groove throughout. There was lots of energy coming from Crystal Seagulls and most energetic song from their setlist was “The Stroke”. I could hear perhaps traces of several indie bands in Crystal Seagulls sound, but there was also a Punk element to it with a few heavier guitar moments. Crystal Seagulls certainly weren’t groundbreaking, but they did entertain the Birmingham crowd
1. Prize baby Blues
3. Red Light
4. Helter Skelter
5. Sun Kissed
6. Play Dead
7. The Stroke
8. Toe Tapper
The introduction of the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly gives me a hint what would be expected tonight. It was a fitting introduction given the context and theme of Rival Sons New album title “Great Western Valkyrie“, and how this was developed from the song “Belle Starr”, about American female outlaw Belle Starr from the mid to late 19th century period in the US.
When the introduction ended, drummer Michael Miley as ever strided confidently out and rousing the crowd from the start, one by one the band entered the stage. The band members generally were wearing dark coloured clothing in a casual but smart kind of fashion. Bassist Dave Beste wearing a peaked hat, and Todd, who was brought on to tour with the band on keyboards, could have fitted in with ZZ Top, complete with a great flowing beard, tinted glasses and a Bowler hat.
The first few Scott Holiday fuzzy riffs from “Electric Man” got the crowd going immediately and what a start this was. The band let rip into the first 5 songs from the New album in a row. “Secret” really stood out and this had the funky grooves and rhythm from Bassist Dave Beste, accompanied by some psychedelic organ work by Todd on keyboards. This sounded huge live, and a highlight for me. Not much time for chit chat as the band ripped through the first section of new album Great Western Valkyrie. The first few songs whizzed by. Not only because they were the first few fantastic high tempo tracks from the new album, but I was on photo duties for the first few numbers.
After completing the first half of the album, singer Jay Buchanan announces that Rival Sons would be returning to the UK in the late fall, to a great reception from the crowd. Jay also tells us that everyone in the room had a great view, and he can see us clearly. Already the small venue was beginning to feel like a sweat box before the heat was turned up even more with the lengthy introduction to “Torture”. This song had always been a crowd pleaser for Rival Sons many, many times and one that everyone can join into clapping and singing along to, but tonight it didn’t seem like it was happening all over the room. I did not hear many people sing the oooohs during the mid break moment in the song. I tried getting others to join in around me but it wasn’t happening. Whether it was the people in the room, a lot of new fans who didn’t know what to expect, I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t happening in Birmingham. The complete opposite could be said when this song was performed in the Liquid Room, Edinburgh nearly a week later. The slightly smaller, but sold out Edinburgh crowd really got it, and were singing along not only to this, but to nearly all the other songs performed on the night. There was a contrast to the atmosphere between the two nights from my point of view, and as Jay pointed out to the Edinburgh crowd during the night, “You guys got it”.
The crowd pleasers continued with “Gypsy Heart” and “Jordan”. The atmosphere builds up then, with more singing along and Jay asking before Jordan, “Do you feel it in the room? This is my favourite song from Head down”. During some of this performance I did feel there were some nearby who kept talking a lot and disrespecting the occasion and the band. I believe Jay must have seen or heard something himself as he asks people to check where they are. “This is a club, not a bar. We have something beautiful going on here”, leading into “Now I’m gonna tell you a story” and we are then treated to a really beautiful slow and classic sounding “Rich and the Poor”, with Todd once again joining in on the keyboard.
Todd on the night mainly used the keys during the new material performances, and did percussion (tambourine) during performances from the older back catalogue. Miley then treats us with huge thunderous drumming that reverberates around the room for the opening of “Open My Eyes”, the first single off of Great Western Valkyrie. This is huge. This sounds even better live with fantastic bass grooves and some killer backing vocals by Dave and Todd. The high wails from Jay and killer guitar solo from guitarist Scott Holiday meant the Birmingham crowd ended the main set on a high, with many singing along.
After a short interval Rival Sons return for the encore. This included some of the best songs from their previous two albums “Head Down” and “Pressure and Time”. Scott Holiday gives us a special treat with his impressively virtuoso improvised guitar playing in the epic “Manifest Destiny Pt.1” and also gets super rhythmic backing from Dave and Miley during their jam session. This leads into an electrifying “Pressure and Time” with Dave grooving superbly along on bass. The song finishes with Miley doing a short but masterful drum solo and then the place was bouncing for another crowd favourite on the night, “Keep On Swinging”. The place erupted when the first few guitar riffs from this bellowed from Scott’s guitar. Some were screaming, and most singing along to the words. I could really feel the energy everyone was putting into this, both the band and fans alike. Awesome stuff. Rival Sons end with the song Jay wrote for his son “Face of Light”. This allowed everyone to wind down, chill and relax a bit while witnessing Jay performing this hauntingly with his vocals. It was a nice way to end what was to me a fantastic set of songs.
I thought all the new material worked fantastic live. There were some powerhouse songs with “Electric Man”, “Secret” and “Open My Eyes”. These were huge and really stood out. I was pleased most of the new album was performed, and there was a great mix of some older crowd favourites thrown into the set. The main difference between the two gigs I saw from the tour, was that I felt that the Edinburgh crowd got into it more, creating a better atmosphere that was consistent throughout the night. There was more of a response from the Edinburgh people, a more togetherness and you could see and feel the band feeding off the Edinburgh audience more-so than in Birmingham.
I am glad I got to see Rival Sons still in an intimate setting just before things explode and expand. I feel that within a year or two the venue capacity that they could potentially play in, will be of several thousand. Rival Sons have consistently produced high quality material in the studio, and equally have always given it their best live on stage at the highest level. They are the very heart and soul of Rock and Roll and will continue gathering momentum in whatever they do. At this point of time they are the best in the business, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Rival Sons.
1. Electric Man
2. Good Luck
4. Play the Fool
5. Good Things
7. Gypsy Heart
9. Rich and the Poor
10. Open My Eyes
11. Manifest Destiny Pt.1
12. Pressure and Time
13. Keep On Swinging
14. Face of Light
Rival Sons are:
Jay Buchanan – Vocals
Scott Holiday – Guitars
Dave Beste – Bass
Michael Miley – Drums