On 26th June 2008, my first real taste of live music photography was shooting Def Leppard and Whitesnake at Wembley Arena with their support band which to that point I did not know called Black Stone Cherry. Jump ahead six and a half years of hard work and not only has my photography come on leaps and bounds, but tonight Black Stone Cherry are headlining that very venue and I am lucky enough to have a photo pass in my hand.
Every time I see opening act Theory of a Deadman, I am reminded of how much I like the band, which I somehow seem to forget in the months in between. They come onstage to the emotive Game of Thrones theme, taking up their places on the large stage. Their set is a mixture of classics we love including my favourite Hate My Life. They also include the title track from their latest album Savages, a noticibly heavier track than many of the others which are more lighthearted rock. Unfortunately, they garner a rather mute response from the crowd tonight, struggling somewhat to engage them until the last couple of songs Hate My Life and Bad Girlfriend. They have a good and extensive catalogue of material, so the reaction seems rather like a disservice to the band. Hopefully their promised headline tour in 2015 will build upon their experience and push them towards the appreciation they surely deserve.
Airbourne strike epicness without even coming onto stage, with their assembled stack of 24 Marshall amplifiers, although I think The Grateful Dead’s ‘Wall of Sound’ still out does any band in this regard. Opening with Ready To Rock, it is clear to see that an awful lot of people have come tonight specifically to see Airbourne, which may explain the passive reaction the Theory of a Deadman. Airbourne‘s alcohol fuelled shenanigans, engage, excite and captivate the audience. At one point singer/guitarist Joel O’Keefe asks fans to get up on each other’s shoulders and that he’ll give a beer to the first person who does. The first person up, from where I am sat looks like he could be a relation of the O’Keefe brothers with his shoulder length curly hair. Joel shouts “This one’s for the guy in the Airbourne t-shirt”, before throwing the beer in his direction and to the jubilation of the crowd, the guy only went and caught the beer mid air whilst still on his friends shoulders!
With all three band members who are not sat down making full use of the stage space not taken up my their amp rack, they fill their set with headbanging, beer can smashing, beer swigging and songs such as Chewin’ The Fat, Black Dog Barking and Live It Up. And living it up they certainly were, as they concluded their set with Runnin’ Wild and set off four massive confetti cannons. Clearly no-one had told Airbourne that they were not the headliners at Wembley Arena tonight, but I don’t doubt that very soon they will be.
As the venue’s cleaners frantically did everything they could to rid the stage on the remenants of Airbourne, a curtain was dropped in front of the stage helping to build the anticipation of the arrival of those good ole Southern boys from Kentucky, Black Stone Cherry.
Black Stone Cherry’s journey to Wembley Arena has been one of hard graft and emotional turmoil and frankly they truly deserve to reap the rewards of the musical seeds they have sown. As singer Chris Robertson admits on stage, there was a time that they thought the band may not continue, but that it was the UK fans dedication and support that had them coming back.
As the curtain drops, Black Stone Cherry open their show as they always should, with Rain Wizard and the crowd chorus of “Here comes the rain”, an early indication of what an immense night this is going to be. Me and Mary Jane was the first track from latest album Magic Mountain, to be played and the crowd shared and absorbed this song with Black Stone Cherry as if sharing a spliff with a good group of friends.
The emotive In My Blood lyrically encapsulates everything about this band of young family men whose wives and children have been keenly following all the internet footage, comments and reviews of this tour, particularly the arena shows, whilst counting off the days of the calendar until their husbands/fathers come home.
Some of their biggest live hits are not even their singles and Holding On…To Letting Go taken form their latest album is another track that has been turned into a live anthem by their fans. Bassist Jon Lawhon said to me later that they were taken aback by the fans reaction the first time they played it live and have kept it in the set ever since.
Wembley Arena doesn’t need any encouraging to sing as they are word perfect for Such A Shame, the song of about a young girl who went off the tracks ultimately resulting in her death. Not am easy subject matter for a song, but one that is very well delivered by the band.
The effect that this sea of people is having on every single band member is palpable and Chris attempts to try and put it into words, but says that he simply cannot explain how amazing it is to look out on a room full of people that equates to over six and a half times the population of his home town of Edmonton, Kentucky. He said that he’s going to be sat home at some point in the next week and think “Shit, did that just happen?!”
This also conveys another key side to this band’s live performance, that none of the words they ever say on stage are scripted. Over the last six plus years I have been to countless Black Stone Cherry shows and they truly make every show feel personal and songs don’t come much more personal than Things My Father Said, the poignancy of which had many fans in tears or at the very least with a lump in their throat, myself included as I thought of my best friend who lost his father last year.
Unusually for the band, they added a cover to their set, a lovely rendition of Cream‘s Sunshine of Your Love, before returning to some of their own quality rock songs including Like I Roll and Bad Luck & Hard Love, before their country music inspired Hollywood In Kentucky which the crowd are thrilled to hear and grove along to with smiles on their faces.
Set list classics Hell and High Water and Soul Creek with it’s mass crowd participation are included before the two stadium filler-esque anthems taken from Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea, White Trash Millionaire and Blame It On the Boom Boom close the main set.
Black Stone Cherry kept their upscale to arenas a modest affair with a lovely new mountain scape backdrop, a couple of ramps that had guitarist Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon running a marathon around the stage and a second bass drum for John Fred Young who skilfully beat his drum kit, as if this was the last chance he was ever going to have to play it.
The track that was unexpectedly absent from the set list was latest single Remember Me, but I hardly think that was noticed as the crowd chanted Black Stone Cherry and stompted their feet in a thunderous rumble, waiting for the band’s return to the stage.
Chris’ voice is so distinctive, it can go from growling rock to a soothing delicacy with what appears to be effortless ease and one of the songs that carries his voice best is Peace Is Free. Initially accompanied only by Ben on guitar, this song shows the raw quality of the band, who frown upon backing tracks. If they were to make a mistake you would hear it, but that is the essence of a live concert and live is how Black Stone Cherry do it best!
If we thought the crowd had sung loudly all night, nothing had prepared us or the band for the shear volume that filled Wembley Arena as 10,000 plus people sang Lonely Train. My good friend and Black Stone Cherry fan since the Astoria days was astounded and commented that he had never heard it sung so loudly.
I honestly did not know if this move to arenas would work for Black Stone Cherry, but any doubts I may have had were swallowed up by their deep sea of fans as I saw the crowd assembled waiting for them to come on stage, loyal fans in the front row clinging to the crowd barrier in baited anticipation.
America, it’s time to take notice of your own because if tonight and the online feedback from this tour is anything to go by, before you know it we’ll have Black Stone Cherry playing Wembley Stadium!
BSC: Rain Wizard, Blind Man, Me and Mary Jane, In My Blood, Holding On…To Letting Go, Maybe Someday, Such a Shame, Things My Father Said, Fiesta del Fuego, Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover), Like I Roll, Bad Luck & Hard Love, Drum Solo, Hollywood in Kentucky, Hell and High Water, Soul Creek, White Trash Millionaire, Blame it on the Boom Boom. Encore: Peace is Free, Lonely Train, 30 Seconds of Death Metal
AB: Ready to Rock, Too Much Too Young Too Fast, Chewin’ the Fat, Girls In Black, Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women, Black Dog Barking, Live It Up, Runnin’ Wild
TOAD: So Happy, Lowlife, Savages, Santa Monica, Drown, Hate My Life, Bad Girlfriend[flickrapi user=”planet mosh” get=”photoset” id=”72157649045516866″ size=”z” count=”100″]