Pint size hero are the perfect opening band for the night, unleashing, as they do, a great, syrupy, heavy rock wall of sound that swells and flows through the body. It’s a brilliant start to the evening, the band’s psychedelia-tinged rock a heady brew that sounds tremendous thanks to a well-balanced mix and the band’s passionate delivery. The vocals are tuneful and delivered with power and grit and we’re looking forward to hearing more of the band. Sadly, due to previously arranged interview commitments we only get to see the first two songs, but that glimpse was enough to make us want to check them out and so should you.
Having been dragged away from the awesome Pint Sized Hero we arrive back to the equally brilliant Ulysses who dash out fuzzy rock with a stoner-meets-the-who vibe that sounds pretty immense. The band has a lighter touch than either Rival sons or PSH, but there are still plenty of decent riffs and a rock solid rhythm section which impact with such force that you feel the bass lines deep within yourself as the volume makes the entire venue shudder and the solos, deeply wah-inflected and awash with feeling and energy, cut through the mix like a diamond through glass. Moreover The Who-esqe vocals exude charisma and you can see exactly why the band were selected to tour with Rival Sons, a band for whom feeling is everything. Special credit must surely be given to the drummer who, despite apparently being dressed as one of the dudes from the 118118 advert, displays no mean skills as he hammers out complex fills with ease. Whilst gently psychedelic passages do no harm to the bands gutsy, roots sound, the band overall provide a hard-rocking sound that references any number of cool bands form the last thirty years or so without specifically sounding like any of them. Final track ‘taxi driver’ has got a punk rock feel to it, crossed with an incongruously soulful vocal that sounds like Joe Bonamassa and the sex pistols covering ‘TNT’ by AC/DC. It’s a good solid end to a good solid set. Hell, at the finale they even have the cowbell looking cool – Ulysses rock.
There’s no doubting, however, who everyone is here for. Off the back of the quite astoundingly good ‘head down’ album, the Rival Sons own the night and the tour – which is in no way intended to disparage either of the very fine support acts. It says a lot about the mass appeal of the band that the crowd features a great range of young and old, sporting t-shirts from Judas Priest to Cradle of Filth to Philip Sayce – proof, if ever it was needed, that great music transcends genre boundaries and enlivens all who have the sense to embrace it.
Opening with the established gem ‘pressure and time’, from the off Rival Sons are unstoppable. The house is full, the buzz is immense and the temperature easily rises a few degrees as the band hit the stage amidst a wall of ear-raping white noise. They sound nothing short of godlike, the guitars blistering and Jay’s amazing voice on fire. A frontman in the vein of Steven Tyler, Jay doesn’t so much strut across the stage as glide with an intuitive elegance that dazzles whilst lascivious album cut ‘Wild animal’ sounds every bit as soulful live as it does on record. Next up the band give us a hard rocking ‘you want to’ which in the live environment sounds every bit as powerful and anthemic as The Who’s ‘My Generation’. ‘When the sun comes down’ gets everyone in the place moving, and ‘Burn down Los Angeles’ is all slide guitar leading to a massive, stadium-filling chorus. Mike Miley – the star of our exclusive interview found elsewhere on these pages – is both a powerful drummer and damn funny, and his brain-cell destroying performance guarantees that riff-fest ‘Keep on swinging’ sounds even bigger than its studio counterpart – a feat that was seemingly impossible before this evening.
If you needed proof of the depth that Rival Sons offer, the night simply stops for the achingly beautiful ‘Jordan’ which is heart-stopping and cleverly juxtaposed with the funny, sassy ‘All the way’ with its primal stomp and smart lyrics. A brutal ‘gypsy heart’ steals the breath away with its crunchy dynamics and overblown distortion and then the glistening slide blues of ‘Run from revelation’ kicks off. Following a brief encore break – The evening’s highlight appears in the form of the unfeasibly brilliant ‘Manifest destiny (part 1)’, which sounds even bigger, bolder and more epic in scope when witnessed in the flesh. A stunning, lyrically bold track it sends shivers down the spine with its monumental riff and the lengthy guitar break swelling into ecstatic peaks and despairing lows over the rhythm section’s devastating assault whilst ‘part 2’ is no less inspirational. If ever the band deserved to be compared to the mighty Led Zeppelin it is on these two timeless masterpieces.
With nearly all the new album played over the course of the night, it is a brave move by a supremely confident band, but then Rival Sons have earned the right to be confident. Given the level of love and adulation from the crowd it is clear that the new album has been fully absorbed in the time since it came out, and so it should be – it is one of the very best albums of the year and so much more potent in the flesh. Jay Buchanan, meanwhile, is the ultimate frontman channelling the snake-hipped Jim Morrison Robert Plant, Jeff Buckley and Chris Cornell. He is utterly compelling and simply glides over the stage as if in performing he reaches a higher plane. You will not see a better rock ‘n’ roll show than Rival Sons and you are very, very unlikely to see them in such an intimate venue again. A thrilling, life-affirming night from three amazing bands.