Well, this was a night for the calendar. Black Star Riders supported by three excellent and varied blues bands. With an early kick-off, the supports acts all making their Edinburgh debut, there’s a surprisingly large crowd formed by the time I’m inside.
Making their second visit to Scotland (the first being Wildfire this year), Dirty Thrills bring their bass-heavy dirty brand of blues to the cramped stage. They create a massive, raucous sound and draw heavily from new album, Heavy Living, with songs like the slow burner of “I’ll Be With You” and “Law Man”. They do delve further back though with “No Resolve” with its new makeover. It’s a sound you’d expect from a band double their complement with Louis James cavorting across the stage much like The Temperance Movement’s Phil Campbell.
Meanwhile bouncing riffs are supplied by Jack Fawdry as he ricochets them off Aaron Plows’ gargantuan bass work as he himself locks in with Steve Corrigan’s drums. Making a distinct mark on the night by earning new fans and playing to people already in the know, they kick the night off in earnest. They’ll make their Glasgow debut next month with Gun and Mason Hill and I’m sure the exact same thing will happen.
Tax the Heat kick off their set with a new number expected to be on their forthcoming second album. Except Alex Veale’s vocals were completely buried. Suited and booted as always, the old-school rhythm and blues act power through their own set as the vocals are boosted by the time second song “Animals” is aired, followed by “Highway Home”. Another new song in the form of “Money in the Bank” has a gloriously filthy intro before the band dedicate “Learn to Drown (You’re Wrong)” to Black Star Riders for believing in them from the start. Full of energy as if they’d burst out of their smart attire at any point, it’s been a privilege to watch them grow as performers these last few years and with the new material slotting in naturally whilst showing growth, there’s no stopping these guys.
“Good evening, Edinburgh!” Elin Larsson greets the crowd. “I’ve been working on that all day!” the Swede claims as she follows the rest of Blues Pills onto the stage. With far less equipment surrounding them, Larsson has room to jump across the stage at every whim. With the opening songs of “Lady in Gold”, “Little Boy Preacher” and “Black Smoke”, it’s not until about halfway through the third song that Dorian Sorriaux’s guitar is actually audible and even then, it’s a strain. However, with those first couple of songs, it means the organs are more present and changes them into a more lounge style and ultimately, just as enjoyable. The band are as tight as ever as “High Class Woman” which should blend into “Ain’t No Change” instead fuses into “Elements and Things” and a simply superb version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” with the latter showing Larsson’s vocals in full flow.
Except for one song – the closer. Belting out the intro to “Devil Man”, it’s as spine-tingling as ever. Loaded with psychedelic vibes and energy, the band make their triumphant return to the UK with vigour. Sorriaux, as always, effortlessly makes some of the best sounds you’ll hear on a guitar. It’s almost galling that it appears like he’s not even breaking a sweat as he trades his riffs with Rickard Nygren when he’s not on organ duty. Meanwhile, drummer André Kvarnström and bassist Zack Anderson rattle out massive rhythms for it all to be pinned to.
Blues side of the night out of the way, Black Star Riders assault the stage with their classic-inspired hard rock. Opening with “All Hell Breaks Loose”, “Finest Hour” and “Heavy Fire” before pausing for breath, the crowd are finally moving. Damon Johnson’s backing vocals at points eclipse Ricky Warwick’s lead vocals and when he’s not backing him up, Johnson makes full use of his space, interacting with the crowd plenty and trading licks with the legendary Scott Gorham, both treating each other with due reverence. Gorham takes a more relaxed approach but he shows from start to finish why he’s held in such high regard – and rightly so.
“’Tis Radio 2’s Single of the Week…our third one,” Ricky Warwick drawls with a look of mock cockiness before they launch into “Testify or Say Goodbye”. And that’s how the majority of the night goes; hitting the marks of all three albums with no glaring omissions, everyone riveted and up for a quality night of hard rock. And not only that, despite the new blood of drummer Chad Szeliga, the band are playing better than ever. Whilst they were good at the O2 ABC earlier this year, this was simply another level. With Warwick strapped to a guitar, the three-pronged attack of him, Gorham and Johnson never becomes over-bearing and his moments using an acoustic guitar brings extra depth to the songs. However, when he’s not got a guitar and is more free to roam the stage, Warwick does so with unrivalled fervour, commanding the audience with ease and with a great band, only enhancing his own sole performance.
Songs like “Dancing With the Wrong Girl” and “When the Night Comes In” are met with cheers equalling the likes of “Soldierstown” and “Bloodshot” before a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” ramps things up a notch. Heading into the final songs of the night with “Blindsided” and “The Killer Instinct”, Warwick, Gorham, Johnson and Crane depart with Szeglia staying behind and smashing his skins. It seems like a drum solo is about to start but all fears are assuaged as the four return to the stage. As “Kingdom of the Lost” and “Bound for Glory” are pulled out, it’s obvious the night is at its end, saving the big hitters for the end. Except, Ricky Warwick remains on stage whilst Damon Johnson switches guitars. Warwick seemingly noodles on his acoustic guitar, then, Johnson hits that intro and the crowd erupts. In a space of less than five minutes, Black Star Riders show Metallica how to play “Whiskey in the Jar”. A finer way to end the night, you’d be hard-pressed to find.
Despite shaky acoustics for all bands, in most cases, they were ironed out pretty quickly and a lifeless crowd until the headliner, it was always going to be a good night. As value for money tickets go, you’d be hard pushed to find something better than this. And with Tax the Heat having a new album in the tank and Warwick confirming a fourth Black Star Riders album in the works, it likely won’t be long before at least one of the four bands are back playing to UK crowds.
All photos by Gary Cooper (Coops Gig Photography)