Gig Review: Rival Sons / The Sheepdogs – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow (1st February 2019)

It’s been quite some time since Rival Sons took a headline jaunt around the UK, mainly because they spent the best part of their time between opening for Black Sabbath – hard life for some of us, right? However, there’s been no shortage of music as they gave us Hollow Bones and last week, dropped the aggressively middle of the road, Feral Roots.

However, first up, is The Sheepdogs. No strangers to the UK, the Canadians take to the stage in some of the nattiest suits known to man. Much like the last time they trod the stage of the Barrowlands, when they supported The Temperance Movement, despite their more Southern stylings, they’re an excellent fit for tonight’s headliners. And from the minute they hit the stage, they’ve got the rapidly-filling venue under their command. Tighter and more well-polished than ever before, they make the most of their set by cramming in as many songs as possible from their massive back catalogue.

By the end of every song, the applause only increases. The back half of their set contains the songs with the harder edge, as if the band themselves are warming themselves up in time with the crowd. Whilst some gems like “Bad Lieutenant” are omitted, it allows the band to cut loose and prove they don’t need the heavy-hitters. They’ve got the crowd’s attention and are refusing to let go. Their retro leanings go down well with the audience and whilst they stray more into Allman Brothers Band and The Black Keys, having these guys open tonight was nothing short of a genius move. Because whilst they may differ in classic rock sounds, they match the headliners by their sheer skill and talent as musicians and as a band.

Around about the time the members of Greta Van Fleet were learning to shave, Rival Sons were touted as the saviours of classic rock and faced similar comparisons to Led Zeppelin. But that seems to have died in recent years but there still remains a body of work for people to draw those comparisons. But there’s so much more going on in their music to simply compare them to those 70s titans. Rival Sons are continuing to make classic rock as relevant and vital as it was during its heyday.

Convention dictates when you release a new album, you throw in a good handful of new songs and rip out a few of the oldies. However, it takes a band with balls to play more or less the entirety of a new album. Especially when it’s not your finest moment. Whilst it does see them return to their more aggressive sound, it feels rushed and doesn’t have the same heft, bravado and bombast as the rest of the back catalogue you associate with Rival Sons.

Naturally, this is reflected in the audience. Most of the new material falls flat after the opening one-two punch of “Back in the Woods” and “Sugar on the Bone”. The other highlight of the new album, “Do Your Worst”, closes out the set making for a neat bookend and other than the title track, the rest of the new material is simply lacking that Rival Sons magic. Indeed, it’s reflected in the audience when the rare back catalogue song is given an outing. Swaggering “Pressure and Time” and fuzz-fuelled “Electric Man” fire the audience up and the band themselves react accordingly before the tender “Jordan” and the favourite for crowd interaction: “Torture”.

As ever, the band are as slick as can be. Jay Buchanan struts across the stage effortlessly, passion imbuing his vocals, packing its usual solid punch. Meanwhile, Scott Holiday in his suit, hair perfectly set and sunglasses simply oozes cool and showing his deft approach to playing guitar and that sometimes, you don’t need a second one. And his attitude matches that of the crowd’s, he’s more into the older stuff, too. Whilst Mike Miley, Dave Beste and Todd Ögren (drums, bass and keys, respectively) all give impassioned and finessed performances, it’s when they come together that the magic happens. It’s the band’s connection to the crowd.

“Shooting Stars” may lack the gospel feel found on the album but it’s still one of the better songs and gives the encore a rawer, intimate feel before the evergreen “Keep On Swinging” brings the evening to its end. And as the crowd departs, the general consensus is pretty much spot on – they’re not a band to give bad performances, but with the over-reliance on a lacklustre album, they simply lacked the usual spark.

Rival Sons: official | facebook | twitter | youtube

The Sheepdogs: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube

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