On arriving at the Olympia Theatre to see Blackberry Smoke on Saturday night we were offered the chance to sit in one of the boxes, something I’ve never done before, so I jumped at the chance. Sitting there feeling like either Statler or Waldorf, but definitely some kind of grumpy old muppet, I had the best view of anyone in the theatre.
I must admit to having been unsure about the addition of Biters to the bill. The little of them I’d seen before hadn’t particularly appealed, their brand of sleaze rock just not being my cup of tea, and seeming completely unsuited to Blackberry Smoke’s country rock. A shared home town and record label seemed to be all they had in common. That said, I’m happy to report I was proved wrong and thoroughly enjoyed their set. The sleaze was replaced by genuine rock and roll sensibilities and a determination to win over a crowd who were largely unfamiliar with them. The crowd was already almost full when they came on stage and were clearly there to party right from the start. As Biters came on, all skinny jeans and hair, and launched into Restless Hearts I could see from my box that not only was the band into it, so was the crowd. Low Lives in Hi Definition from album Electric Blood followed, along with Gypsy Rose. Lead singer Tuk then led the crowd in a chant of “Blackberry Smoke, We are the Biters, Living the Dream, 2017.” He got the whole crowd joining in, including shouting at some to, “get off your phones and clap.” Quite right too. Hallucination Generation was next, followed by an entertaining story about how two of the band got so blind drunk in Helsinki (renamed Heldrinki) that the trip home to Georgia became the stuff of nightmares. It was followed by the only ballad of the set, new track Going Back to Georgia, which Tuk was inspired to write by the aforementioned horrendous journey. Back to full on rock n roll was So Many Nights, which sounded so exactly like Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town I could’ve sung along with it. Biters finished off their set with Stone Cold Love, Heart Fulla Rock n Roll and 1975. It was a short but entertaining set with some real high points and I think it’s fair to say they made a lot of new fans, proved by the people queuing up to take photos with them in the theatre foyer later on.
I’ve seen Blackberry Smoke a couple of times before and I know they always put on a fun show. This one ended up being like a greatest hits show, with songs from through the years mixed in with some from latest release Like an Arrow. The almost sold out crowd was delighted to have the band back in town and I soon discovered the advantage of being in a box above everyone is that you can see everything. Among the crowd of dancing bodies were pockets of people so deliriously happy they had their arms in the air all night, waving Blackberry Smoke scarves, punching the air and belting out every word. From Six Ways to Sunday and Good One Coming On, through Waiting for the Thunder and Like an Arrow, with a bit of Whippoorwill and Sleeping Dogs thrown in for good measure it was a rollercoaster ride. The band aren’t huge on audience participation, just the odd, “hey, how ya doin?” Frontman Charlie Starr was happy to tell the crowd they were the best one of the tour, followed by, “I don’t say that every night, and I definitely didn’t say it in Berlin.” Whether they were the best or not they were certainly enthusiastic. One Horse Town is a firm favourite with me and didn’t disappoint. The same goes for Pretty Little Lie, which is just about as perfect a song as Blackberry Smoke will ever write. A nice touch came near the end when a song was dedicated to “Brother” Gregg Allman, who has been forced to cancel his entire 2017 touring roster due to ill health. The main portion of the gig ended with the title track from new album Like an Arrow, with the crowd so enthusiastic that rather than the usual “one more song” chant they were yelling for six more songs. The encore included the not often played Prayer for the Little Man which was really appreciated by the audience. And for Charlie himself, who explained he’s recently looked on Ancestry.com and discovered that not only is he not part Native American, as everyone in the South thinks they are, but in fact has links to Derry. The show closed with Ain’t Much Left Of Me which segued into a bit of Thin Lizzy’s Rosalie especially for the Irish audience. After such a fun show, it’s guaranteed no-one leaving had the blues on this special night.