Rival Sons – A Tour de Force
Rival Sons, a Long Beach, California outfit who draw inspiration from many strands of blues, rock, soul, psychedelia and other genres, brought their refreshing blend of raw yet effective stagecraft to the O2 Guildhall, Southampton, on Saturday, 4th April 2015.
A spirited set from support act London Souls warms up the eclectic and eager audience – so that by the time the evocative whistling of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly theme rings out to accompany the dimmed lighting, anticipation is high for another true-grit, no gimmicks demonstration of why this unassuming band is finally getting the widespread respect and attention it deserves.
Opening at full pace with the smouldering intro of Electric Man, Rival Sons plunge straight into a series of tracks from 2014’s acclaimed album Great Western Valkyrie, culminating in Secret – a particular showcase for singer Jay Buchanan’s extraordinary vocal talent, with sizzling wails peppering the song’s bridge before a final unearthly screech at the end.
Scott Holiday, (Guitar Planet Magazine’s 2014 Guitarist of the Year), takes centre stage as the musical maestro in cool control, for the guitar-fest that is Manifest Destiny Pt 1 – before the infectious Torture (from an early EP) provides an irresistible opportunity for the audience to sing along, bringing the opening third to a close. We are already in the palms of their hands…
A newly-introduced acoustic mid-section continues to draw from earlier material, and gives us a transcendental sonic interlude of blues-rooted americana and eastern-tinged mysticism. Their gently swayable cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1970 track ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ sits comfortably in the midst of band-penned offerings such as Burn Down LA and the psychedelic protest of White Noise – all woven together by the instrumental ensemble of voice, acoustic guitar, melodica, ghughari, sleighbells, double bass, cajón, and goodness knows what else.
In an interview with ME 1 TV’s Piers Hernu earlier in the week, Jay Buchanan had exclaimed, in mock shame ‘we’ve become THAT band’ – in allusion to the much-maligned rock band cliche of temporarily stripping down their sound for either stage or record – but, as he added, ‘it works’.
And he’s right – whenever there’s a hush in the crowd, it’s the collective silence of an audience taking it all in. It’s an appreciative and knowledgeable gathering, thoroughly absorbed in the performance – a performance relying heavily on the cohesion within the group. Backing the dynamic frontside duo of Buchanan and Holiday with aplomb, you have the formidable combination of bassist Dave Beste and erstwhile Son Todd Ögren-Brooks in their little corner stage right (think left now, people, we’re talking band perspective here!). Together with the engaging and energetic percussionist Mike ‘Best Seat in the House’ Miley, they build a solid blend of rumbling basslines, syncopated beats and shimmering keys.
It’s back to business as usual next – almost. This time, we’re taken on a rollercoasting frenzy of light and shade, as the Sons span the full spectrum of their catalogue. Belle Starr, a musical nod to the notorious female outlaw of American frontierism, tantalises with its mixed tempos; and Where I’ve Been, a tale of mutual self-doubt and forgiveness, is sublime in its simplicity and melody, with Jay’s plaintive vocals oozing vulnerability & tenderness.
Buchanan, able to switch on the swag without pomposity, is in turns mesmerising shaman, emotive banshee, storytelling minstrel, and all-out strutting stagemeister; ostensibly taciturn, but speaking to us in spades through the songs. And throughout it, that voice – from soaring cries to tender whispers, it carries crackling textures and splintered tones that’ll go right through you. Man got some pipes….
Main set closer Get What’s Coming stirs the audience into emphatic whoops and stomps, in expectation of a blistering encore – the start of which sees the band pumping into the heavy, pulsing riffage of Open My Eyes, with Buchanan’s tremulous vocals surfing over the melody. The hip-swingingly funky Pressure and Time, keeps toes tapping with its hat-tipping homage to the Rival Sons’ musical antecedents.
And so to closing track, Keep on Swinging – a catchy groovefest about success through perseverance, it also serves as an affirmation of sorts; like a rousing call to arms for the faithful masses, the loyal ‘sons and daughters’, as if to say ‘We’re getting there, it’s happening – you’re part of it, stay with us – now let’s enjoy the ride’! As the curtain call is done (with a frantic crowd scramble for sticks ‘n’ picks), the band unite in an appreciative farewell salute to rapturous applause.
Rival Sons delivered an incredible show combining virtuoso musical craftsmanship, flourishes of high-energy exuberance, and introspective meanderings into rhythmic trances. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about them that makes them different, though, because when you break it down, they’re not – not really.
Alright, yes, they have a knack for irresistible hooks and possess unquestionable musicianship and a captivating stage presence – and sure, there’s the old adage about the ‘whole’ being greater than the sum of its parts, but it’s not just that – it’s more to do with the audience’s yearning for something authentic, direct and downright infectious. For the band, one suspects that becoming rock stars with all the questionable trappings therein (financial security aside) is almost incidental. Probably, to each member at times, a by-product at best, or an obligatory chore at worst.
This is a band who have proved their musical and moral fibre in an industry of cynical excess; a group of established artists who signed to Earache Records, a predominantly heavy metal label, because that label empowers them to retain maximum artistic integrity and control. On Easter Saturday, Rival Sons emphatically demonstrated that for them, it really IS all about the music – and long may that shine through.
Setlist: Electric Man, Good Luck, Play The Fool, Secret, Manifest Destiny Pt. 1, Torture, Nava, Long As I Can See The Light, Burn Down Los Angeles, The Man Who Wasn't There, White Noise, Rich and the Poor, Belle Starr, Where I've Been, Tell Me Something, Get What's Coming, Open My Eyes, Pressure & Time, Keep on Swinging