Talking to Black Stone Cherry’s tour manager before the gig I asked if there was any reason for going for the SEC over their usual venue of the Hydro. Is it because the sound’s better than the Hydro? “I’ll let you know after the show… the sound in that place can be real bad.” And it is, as we all know.
The SEC (hall 4 tonight) is a barn, but a barn with better acoustics than the “purpose built” venue a couple of hundred yards away and this shows from the moment that Monster Truck walk on stage and hammer out their opening chords. Their sound is better than the dross that some headlining bands have to tolerate in the Hydro. OK, so Jon’s vocals are a little lost in the mix once Jer’s guitar kicks in, but this is sorted after a song or two and you can actually make out the words.
This is good as there’s a damn large crowd in to see the openers because, as usual, Black Stone Cherry haven’t brought “support”, they’ve brought a strong package. Despite the comparatively early hour, and the brief 15 minutes of open doors before the gig started, there are enough people in the venue to fill the ABC (well, when it was still open). Monster Truck definitely aren’t just trying to drum up a little business. They have the sound and swagger to own the stage.
Heads were banged and horns were raised throughout the set by the Monster Truck faithful. Songs old and new were played, including recent single “Evolution”, a track that got a little bit of flack for being “too different” when it came out. It’s true that it did stand out in the set, but was definitely enjoyed by those in band shirts that I saw, so they did seem to have won over the faithful.
It was the heavier, bluesier numbers which really hit home for me, though. “Sweet Mountain River” was superb, coming towards the end of their short set. With the quality sound in the venue, you could hear all four voices, the keys, the bass, the guitar and – of course – those pounding drums.
A great set from a band who will be back over here in April 2019 celebrating a decade together.
I wasn’t expecting to catch much of The Cadillac Three due to my Monster Truck interview being scheduled for 8pm, but fortunately that ran late so I got to see most of their set. For a band I’m not familiar with beyond the name, they absolutely blew me away.
At first glance I thought that they didn’t have a bass player. It looked like drums, guitar and keys… until I realised that Kelby Ray has his bass (and/or steel guitar) laid down in front of him and plays it like a zither – plucking the strings and sliding up and down them. I’ve never seen a bass played like this before, certainly not for an entire set!
Despite there only being the three of them they made a hell of a wonderful racket with a low, driving rhythm throughout. Their southern blues had more of a country twang to it, perhaps expected given their base in Tennessee. Again, the sound in the venue was great and Jaren’s vocals carried clearly over the music.
Like Monster Truck, the set highlight for me was towards the end with “White Lightning”. What a superb song! And performed with both heart and soul. Not the heaviest song of the set by any means, but it just worked live.
And then we had Black Stone Cherry, playing the SEC for the second time [according to Ben, though according to fan feedback it could be the fourth! – Mosh] – their first many years ago as a lowly opening act for Def Leppard and Whitesnake. We’ve seen them play “big” before at The Hydro, and the only main addition to the show tonight is an album’s worth of material and some big projector screens. Other than that, it’s business as usual for Kentucky’s finest.
Throughout the ninety-plus minutes, the guys simply didn’t stop moving. How Jon didn’t melt in his three layers, I have no idea. Ben headbanged more than any of the faithful at the recent Slayer gig and John Fred tossed drumstick after drumstick into the air. Sadly, he’s not very good at catching them… Chris, even restricted by having to be near the microphone, spent a good part of the gig bouncing around, japing and messing about with Ben. The whole lot of them looked like they’d just won a competition to play a set in front of their friends or something.
They burned through nineteen tracks from all eras of their career, including Black to Blues, their covers EP from last year (expect a sequel in 2019…). Just to throw in a negative, it was “Hoochie Coochie Man” which really didn’t sit well for me. Their rendition dragged on for some time, following on as it did from a brief and enjoyable (as much as they can be) drum / harmonica solo. The hugely bluesey number was just too slow for me and spoiled the impetus that the band had built up.
Having said that, all was forgiven as they blasted into “Lonely Train” right after and normal service was resumed. By the time the echoes of encore “Peace is Free” had started to fade, there really wasn’t a “classic” they could have pulled out to take us closer to the curfew. Sure, I’d have loved to have heard “If Hollywood Was In Kentucky”, but it’s hardly a live staple. “Mary Jane”, “Like I Roll”, “Things My Father Said”, “Blind Man”, “Rain Wizard” and more were all very much in this incredibly solid set. Black Stone Cherry are at the point where they can play over ninety minutes of “best of” material.
So do the big video screens, lights and smoke pots – all things they’d have dreamed off when they first played the Cathouse – make Black Stone Cherry bona fide rock stars? No. It’s the pumping tunes and balls out attitude that elevates them to this status. Long may it last if they keep bringing shows like this to town.