Rival Sons @ Gorilla – 2014

ROCK N ROLL AIN’T DEAD

Whilst the majority of the world’s attention was firmly focussed on the events in Sao Paulo for the opening ceremony of the World Cup, 700 or so rock rebels were involved in a ceremony of their own…..the celebration of the renewed belief that rock n roll is far from dead and is very much alive…..Hallelujah!!! After taking the number one spot in the US and UK rock album chart with their new album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’, Rival Sons’ European tour just seems to be going from strength to strength as they continue to attain the deserved accolades that may just shift the emphasis of commercial attention back in favour of rock n roll.

Manchester was the destination for Rival Sons’ next instalment of ferocious, contemporary, blues rock, and with a crowd that’s no stranger to harnessing their own legends, they welcomed the four piece with open arms as they attempt to make history themselves. A few hours prior to the full band show at Gorilla the band played three acoustic songs at HMV. I was privileged to be part of the 200 or so who witnessed, ‘Electric Man’, ‘Where I’ve Been’ and ‘Open My Eyes’ performed stylishly stripped back and unplugged as a teaser to tonight’s full on fanfare.

The band appears onstage, opening with new album icebreaker, ‘Electric Man’, which is a swaggering and intense piece of classic rock that has taken influences from the past, such as Led Zeppelin, and reinvented for the modern era. It’s a song that, as my friend puts it, “makes me want to take my pants off and go on a drink fuelled bender!” I can’t describe the song any simpler than that really given that Jack Daniels seems to seep from the stage whilst its being played as it whisks us on a wayward boozy journey to the ‘sugar shack!’ The energy of the band is immediately imposed onto the crowd and Gorilla suddenly becomes a bouncing, yet excruciatingly hot and sticky place to be – nevermind the English national team going to Miami to acclimatise for the World Cup – a night watching Rival Sons would have sufficed.

Keeping in line with the album order, ‘Good Luck’ and ‘The Secret’ follow, where the latter sounds riotous on the recording, but to listen live is just a different experience altogether as the volume is cranked up to let off a barrage of hedonistic, brewed steam. ‘Play the Fool’ and ‘Good Things’ are the next played, continuing the album order as the nostalgic rock riffs and screaming vocals ring through the venue, cutting through the heat whilst maintaining a highly energised atmosphere deserving of the largest of stadiums. The passion in the wailing and falling to the ground from lead singer, Jay Buchanan, is an uncanny and powerful resemblance of a Robert Plant/Jim Morrison combo. How his voice doesn’t capitulate under the pressure and strain he puts it under is a miracle to me!

A break from the new album follows as ‘Torture’, taken from their 2011 self titled EP, ‘Gypsy Heart’, and the quietly chilled, ‘Jordan’, make an appearance, but you sense it’s only a matter of time before the big, powerful riffs return as we near the end. ‘Rich and Poor’ is another from the new album, posing a very psychedelic edge with its mystical guitar and hypnotic delivery of the lyrics. ‘Open My Eyes’ is the final song, the new single that has an instant head bouncing and lip puckering appeal. It’s a vintage Rival Sons track, just an all out assault of vigorous and ballsy rock n roll where the crowd naturally take their adulation levels to further extremities.

The show seemed to have passed in a blink of an eye, and a encore quickly ensued, playing songs off the ‘Head Down’ and ‘Pressure and Time’ albums, beginning with the lengthy, psychedelic gem, ‘Manifest Destiny Part 1’, where Buchanan’s voice changes from the original howling rock vocal, to a more high pitched, speaking tone, which is layered over some slow but thunderous guitar riffs. In fact, it’s in this song where lead guitarist Scott Holliday really shows his talent and exemplifies what heavy blues rock guitar is all about. With a look of Christian Bale about him, sporting a Wild West type flamboyant moustache and goatee, his musicianship and ability is just as Hollywood as his lookalike. His solos in this particular song are enough to start a riot in the most civilised of tea houses. ‘Pressure and Time’ and ‘Keep on Swinging’ are two favourites from past albums that are played, which more than appease the fans’ expectations, both being high tempo classic rock tracks that demonstrate exactly what Rival Sons aim to do – big riffs, big sound, big vocals…awesome! Before they finish, Buchanan states “rock n roll isn’t dead” whilst implying that it’s not just about the big rock tracks, and he’s right. It’s not just about the larger than life tunes that instantly impact on your psyche. There’s a tendency with Rival Sons to take the sting out of their sound and play the softer sounding ballads that create so much raw emotion, where the song writing is at such a remarkably, poignant depth. Their final song ends with a fine example of this, a more meticulous version of ‘Face of Light’, which Buchanan dedicates to his son. Usually a softer ballad type song, this version has undergone surgery where it starts slower, seems more passionate, is played for longer and ends up being a gargantuan conclusion to a show that had the entire crowd yearning for more.

Rival Sons were in blistering form as they played at full throttle with no holds barred that really captured the nostalgic imaginations of the fans. It’s almost as if their sound could soundtrack the Wild West if electric guitars were invented back then such is the raw and cut loose boozy premise to their all guns blazing approach. They try to emulate their live shows in their recordings, and although you can hear the edginess in the recorded versions, it doesn’t quite prepare you for the explosive nature of their live performances. The new album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ had only been out for three days, so it was understandable that the majority of those songs would be performed tonight, yet in spite of its commercial infancy, it still couldn’t hold the fans back from reciprocating the energy displayed onstage.

It’s testament to Rival Sons that they can leave out several personal/fans favourites and be nowhere near reaching the heights they are destined to hit. It was only six months ago when I was urged to listen to them by a friend, and since then I’ve urged others to listen. It’s quite fitting that I was at this gig with that same friend, as well as three others who I’d managed to influence – I guess that’s the effect that Rival Sons are having on people at the moment – revitalising rock n roll by making people talk, generating a buzz and excitement over a band! Could this be the band to reunite the rock genre as one? On this evidence I don’t see why not! Rival Sons will return to Manchester on the 11th December at The Ritz.