For many this was to be a first gig back after the whole lockdown shenanigans, and is there a band better suited to blowing away the cobwebs than Black Stone Cherry? Well, before we got there we had Kris Barras and his merry Band who were also supporting Kentucky’s finest when they last played the same venue in 2019.
I was quite impressed then, and I would say even more so now. It was apparent that they had fans in the crowd already and they played like headliners to a damn near full Barrowlands. Very much in the same hard rocking vein as BSC, Kris’ hoarse vocals and rocking style was backed well by a talented trio. As he reminded us, they’ll be back in this city (at St Luke’s) on March 18th as part of their own headline tour. And I think they’ll have a decent crowd if their reception here tonight is anything to go by.
Prior to Black Stone Cherry hitting the stage, the lights went down a bit ahead of time and we were hit with three warm-up songs. “Tribute”, “Run To The Hills” and “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”. A somewhat eclectic mix, but absolute singalong numbers probably scientifically selected to ensure that the audience were ready to join in with our host’s own songs. Not that they needed the help…
Three of the members will be familiar, while bass duties are currently being handled by Otis’ Steve Jewell. Otis, by some coincidence, were the opening act on that same last gig in 2019! From the way Chris introduced him during the set, it sounds like Steve may well be a permanent fixture in the band now, perhaps in the way that Rob is now in Bowling For Soup but officially still part of Patent Pending. I guess we’ll see when new material starts to appear. I wanted to mention him up front as he did a hell of a job, obviously fairly comfortable in the role and having fun. Welcome, Steve!
As for the other members… it’s hard to believe, watching them perform, that they’ve had a forced 2-year layoff. Chris may have morphed from the sweater-wearing beatnik of the earlier years into… well, Kris Barras (tattoos and vest top obviously in homage to their support act), but still has a set of pipes on him that would be end envy of any church organ. Ben could be the mop-topped secret love child of Janick Gers, the way he bounds around for the entire show restraining himself from throwing his guitar too high in the air, but still kicking his foot up far too high for someone who doesn’t sing soprano. It was good to see him sharing a lot of the song introductions with Chris, too. It really makes them seem more of a unit, it’s often very easy for the front man to take the limelight.
John Fred (do we still have to use both names, seeing as there’s now only one John/Jon in the band?) has become a bit of a beast, looking like the “overqualified drummer” you often see in amusing YouTube videos. Listening to him during some of the older songs, you can hear so many added fills and subtle changes which have obviously come from the years of experience with the band. Even his solo wasn’t too tedious. Which is saying something.
Credit, too, to the crew who nailed the sound. I wear earplugs to gigs now, and it only took about a song and a half for them to get the balance absolutely spot on from a slightly “distorted bass” start. For the first gig back after a huge gap, that was really well done.
But the set… Black Stone Cherry are at a point now where they have enough material to easily fill a two hour set and have songs left over. Tonight, by the time you remove the jam / solo section, probably weighed in at around an hour and forty minutes, and it was spot on. Surprisingly, the most recent albums only had a song each (from what I recall), though I think the aim tonight was to get people partying and singing… and for that, the old songs were definitely the best.
“Mary Jane”, “Like I Roll”, “Soul Creek”, “Blame it on the Boom Boom”, “White Trash Millionaire”… these are great singalong songs, and they did their job tonight. Buried in there was probably the best version of “Things My Father Said” that I think I’ve heard from the band, performed solo by Chris. Towards the end, he invited lighters, phones and so on to be held aloft and such was the brightness from the hundreds of cell phone torches that I honestly thought the house lights had been raised again!
The only problem with this being the first post-lockdown gig for so many fans is that all the following artists have a hell of a show to live up to. Honestly, it’s like Chris, Ben, John and Steve had never been away. Hugely entertaining and just what we needed.
Photos by Mike Rodway, the band’s official photographer – thanks, Mike!