BLACK STONE CHERRY / RIVAL SONS @ HMV PICTURE HOUSE, EDINBURGH, 21/03/2012

The queue outside HMV Picture House in Lothian Road had stretched as far as the Usher Hall by the time we joined it shortly before door opening time. It seemed to be a fairly diverse mix but there were plenty of Black Stone Cherry t-shirts in evidence making it clear that many devoted fans had turned out. Stepping in to help friends travel to gigs leads to some interesting and unexpected experiences. Personally, although I had heard the band’s name previously, I wasn’t at all familiar with the band’s work but had checked out a few tracks at the weekend and, as a result, was fully anticipating a great gig. The support band, Rival Sons, were a complete unknown. It wasn’t long before we were inside and seated in the balcony and waiting as the venue quickly filled up.

Rival Sons arrived on stage and exploded into action with a solid wall of heavy, driving rock. I felt that the first few numbers were fairly repetitive and verging on formulaic but as the set progressed a greater variety became apparent. I found myself transported back to Edinburgh gigs that I had attended in the 1970s. These guys were from a younger generation but clearly relished creating a stage performance that included echoes of the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The James Gang, whilst seeking to imprint their own individual mark. Singer Jay Buchanan certainly looked the part with his long hair, skinny jeans, white boots and animated stage presence. Scott Holiday’s virtuoso guitar expertly supported by Robin Everhart on bass and Miley on drums provided an excellent backdrop for Jay’s vocal gymnastics.

After a suitable break to get the stage ready and complete a final sound check Black Stone Cherry took over and things progressed to another level. The essential point about support acts is that they should be good but without overshadowing the headline, previously I have seen some bands seeking to rely on impressive visuals to supplement, but in this case it was all left to the musicianship. Chris Robertson adopted a commanding presence centre stage on lead vocal and guitar whilst Ben Wells on guitar and John Lawhon on bass moved around, frequently taking up positions on top of stage-front speaker cabinets. All the while John Fred Young appeared to attempt to destroy his drum kit, I lost track of the number of drums sticks that flew out of his hands in all directions. Given the hyperactive antics of Ben I could easily see why he was so lean, the set lasted around an hour and a half- I imagine he might have had a more relaxing time had he run a half marathon!

No time for reminiscing about great gigs from my youth, this band brought their own distinct blend of hard rock and metal with a ‘southern’ edge. The loyal followers were clearly lapping it up, showing their appreciation with every familiar song. I was impressed again when I recognised one of the songs that I had seen on YouTube, ‘In My Blood’, their most recent single. Further research has led me to establish that the moving official video for this song details a real US soldier’s return home from Afghanistan, being re-united with his wife and holding his two month old son for the first time.

Then I was reminded of earlier gigs, when we were treated to an exceptional drum solo that culminated in John deliberately (for a change) throwing his sticks away to continue using hands and elbows! Back in my youth drum solos were a standard part of any gig. A brief interlude with Chris and Ben on acoustic guitars saw them do a couple of covers, including ‘Champagne Supernova’, and a little bit of ‘acoustic metal’. Before long, however, it was back to ‘southern’ tinged hard rock and the finale which included the acknowledged walk off stage stage and return for an encore, “as if we’d finished, forgetting we still had a couple of songs to do!”

Eventually, we negotiated our exit from the packed building and returned to the car park for a drive back into the Scottish Borders countryside with excellent memories reverberating in our heads.

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