Gig Review: Rival Sons / Dirty Honey – Great Hall, Cardiff (4th July 2022)

Take two American bands and place them far from home on 4th July. Inevitable feelings for home and a melancholic view of life – the cure? A raucous Welsh crowd on a hot night in the Capital, and hopefully, by the time these two bands pulled up the duvet in their Dreamliner enroute to Nottingham for their next show, the feelings about being abroad weren’t quite so muted.

Dirty Honey (c) Paul Hutchings

It’s been a month of touring across Europe for both these bands, criss-crossing borders, from club to festival to stadium to club, and yet despite a meagre number of days off, Los Angeles’ Dirty Honey to the stage with all the energy of a six week old puppy.  Their music presents as a cross between The Black Crowes, early Aerosmith and the drive and confidence of Guns ‘n’ Roses. Throw in a little of the joy that The Temperance Movement shined on us for too short a period and you’ve got a good time rock ‘n’ roll band who are rightly making waves.

Although they formed in 2017, the Los Angeles based outfit’s sole output on record is one EP and their excellent self-titled long player which arrived last year. With a limited amount of music to select from, it’s evident that Dirty Honey have had the time to polish their performance with their set. It’s all swagger, posture, and no little confidence, but with the tunes to back up their style and flair. Frontman Marc LaBelle is captivating, his suave three-piece suit just the start of an evening full of sharp dressed men. Tossing his microphone stand, leaning across to the crowd and jumping into the photo pit is all in a day’s work for him. His smoky vocals and Californian drawl bring just the right amount to the band’s music and the crowd, many of whom had seen the band at Download a month earlier, were rightly receptive.

Alongside LaBelle, there was hair and more hair. Bassist Justin Somlian cuts a mean and moody figure, his wild hair reminiscent of a certain Saul Hudson (who the band will have supported by the time you read this – subject to Mr A Rose being well enough of course). Somlian brings the low end with style, his shades hiding the eyes but adding to the cool, as he locks in tight with the bare-chested Corey Coverstone who hits damn hard. That just leaves the flashy, well dressed lead guitar work of John Notto, whose fretboard skills were red hot all set.

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Opening with AC/DC’s “Rock N Roll Damnation” as your intro is a sure-fire way to get the crowd pumped, and by the time Dirty Honey were easing into the final segment of their set with “When I’m Gone” and “Rolling 7s” it was clear that this is a band who could be huge. They have the songs, such as “California Dreaming” to appeal to the widest range possible, and they have the musical talent. The only possible bottleneck is the sheer volume of other bands who also fit that bill. This was ideal exposure for those who’d not seen them before, and with fans singing along to the songs and demanding an encore for the support outfit, you know that they could be something special.

Rival Sons (c) Paul Hutchings

It seems aeons ago that I saw a fledgling Rival Sons open for Judas Priest and a Geoff Tate fronted Queensryche in Newport centre. In fact, it was a mere 11 years, almost to the day when the Long Beach quartet started their quest for Welsh adulation in one of the few venues to also boast a leisure pool with fun slide. It may have taken 11 years, but Rival Sons first return to South Wales since 2017’s Steelhouse Festival demonstrated that they are now a band who appeal to an enormous range of fans.

They are also a band intent on challenging themselves a little. The 10th anniversary of their second album Pressure & Time seemed appropriate enough for a celebration. Choosing to play it in full meant that those who have come to the band a little late may have spent the first 40 minutes unable to singalong as much as they desired, but for those who’ve been with the band from the early days, it was an opportunity to hear some choice cuts as well as reminisce.

Barely a word of acknowledgement in the first half hour. Vocalist Jay Buchanan, resplendent in his burgundy suit struts and preens like a young Robert Plant, whilst alongside him the other main focal point of the band, Scott Holliday channelled his inner Page in magnificent style. There’s not a huge amount to watch. The band are consummate professionals, with Buchanan at times content to stand and catch his breath or wipe the moisture from his face as Holliday ripped out another soul filled solo. Anchoring the whole thing, bassist Dave Beste hooked in deep with drummer Michael Miley, whilst winner of the best beard of the week Todd Ögren, was back in his familiar role as live keyboard player.

Buchanan may not say an awful lot, but his vocal prowess is intense and emotional. Often holding the mic a good three foot away from his face, his power blasts through, delivery through quality and technique, rather than any strained and forced approach. Finishing their first set with the moving “Face of Light,” there wasn’t much else to say. The first ten songs delivered in style, time for a brief intake of breath before Rival Sons headed back on stage for another eight songs drawn from across their other five releases. Stand outs? Well, “Electric Man” never fails to send the shivers down the spin, and “Feral Roots” allowed Holliday to expand once more. Clad in a leopard print jacket, changed at the interval, and one of the most fabulous hats, the sunglass clad moustachioed guitarist never looks anything other than cool. He can make that guitar sing, his combination of blues, soul, and rock the ideal combination.

A rather hollow “Shooting Stars” was the one negative for me. The virtue signalling for Ukraine rankles with me greatly and dedicated a song that I’ve always had less affection for than most of their songs to the people of Ukraine just seemed a bit crass. There are many other oppressed people in the world, let’s not forget. Aside from my pet irks, this was a rather stunningly good show. The band eased their way through the set, no sweat, no histrionics, and a rather fine and subtle light show to back up the music. One hour 45 minutes over in a flash, one crowd satisfied and 4th July over for another year. There may be better places to spend the day, but as evenings go, this was just about perfect.

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Photos by Paul Hutchings

Rival Sons: official | facebook | twitter | youtube

Dirty Honey: officialfacebook | twitter | instagram | youtube

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