Black Stone Cherry - Shepherd's Bush Empire, London (UK) - 6 December 2016
No support act this evening due to a show that was split into a chilled acoustic part followed by a full-on electric performance, both delivered by the main band Black Stone Cherry. It's a good balance, variety being the spice of life, and feels like a complete show – yin and yang. It's also something different from the usual support then main band formula, and it doesn't hurt to do things differently.
The acoustic show is a lovely subtle palette to show off Chris Robertson's vocal tones in his beautifully, sometimes fragile and always nuanced Southern style with his sophisticated guitar playing, throwing in a little Classical style during 'Things My Father Said' for good measure. The set is unusually lit with lights in bell jars like glow worms and designed to have a cosy feel with wooden chairs and rugs. They play a wonderful version of 'Hell Or High Water' which was apparently intended originally as an acoustic song, so unsurprisingly suits the medium well and gives the chance for some well worked out vocal harmonization.
The same goes for 'The Rambler' which elicits whoops, wolf whistles and pretty good singing from the crowd. Things are still pretty Rockin' with a nice weighty sound and the drummer John Fred Young manages to pull the horns with one hand while continuing to play his drums for a touch of Rock 'n' Roll glitz. There's plenty of time for jokes about not being let into the show without a Black Stone Cherry tattoo and about sprightly looking guitarist Ben Wells always locking eyes and challenging someone who can beat him up to stand up instead of sitting through the show to which Wells suggests even the females can. They finish with 'All I'm Dreamin' Of' and Robertson says it's the most positive song they have written recalling that he has come back from depression and suicide and encouraging anyone in the crowd feeling the same way to reach out for help.
After this poignant climax we switch to fully-throttle electric for the second half of the show, giving Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon a chance to bounce around the whole stage with three times the energy of Tigger with post Nu Metal vigour, but with an optimism and big show feel that is totally eighties and not from the depressed nineties at all. This is a band that are amazingly talented at drawing upon their musical heritage and they acknowledge this with short interludes of Led Zeppelin covers and jam and guitar solos covering Willie Dixon and Memphis Slim. They have learned so well from the masters, with Wells channelling Jimmy Page during numbers like 'Please Come In' and Robertson channelling black Blues throughout the show, for example on 'Me And Mary Jane', Robertson being the unsung finest guitar player on the stage, even doing some Philip Glass like Jazz playing as a solo, while Wells is no slacker in playing his guitar either; he is the blond bombshell guitar hero that is necessary for prime visual impact. Bands like this remind us where Metal came from and how amazingly primal this kind of music can be.
Contributing to the family atmosphere, their manager joins them and proves to be a pretty good guitar player himself, albeit understandably a little shy, he warms up and takes centre stage by the end of the song. We get a drum solo from hard hitting Young with plenty of stick whirling along the way. 'Blame It On The Boom Boom' is understandably a crowd favourite in which they participate unprompted and Wells gets a chance to defy gravity with double and triple leaps covering the stage in almost a single bound... or so it seems. During 'Rollin' Train' all the strings-men play their instruments behind their heads and Robertson even plays a solo with his teeth!! Diverting and mesmerising it is, but this band's deep mining of the history of Blues Rock like the richest most fertile oil well. It is enough to tap into the audience's musical psyche in an unconscious, ancient and fundamental way that the human soul and heart never forgets from the womb to the tomb. So the band go out audaciously to 'We Are The Champions', but it's not misplaced conceit and the crowd are all smiles.
A great night out and good advertisement for the craft of playing real music with real instruments, Black Stone Cherry were right to think a support band were not necessary and kept it admirably real in more than one sense tonight.