Saturday, 6 February 2016

Black Stone Cherry - Southern Fried Metal Tastes Lukewarm at Best - First Direct Arena, Leeds, 05.02.16

“Aw, yeah!” exclaims Chris Robertson of Black Stone Cherry at one point during their headline show at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. Actually, he exclaims it several times, in varying guises, but the sentiment remains the same. It’s a rallying call to the fans of southern fried rock in attendance tonight, a shout of celebration, a signal to punch the air. It’s a shame then that half the time, that rock is served cold, dead on arrival, as opposed to the piping hot it should be.
Chris Robertson of Black Stone Cherry performing live in
Leeds in 2016. (Credit to Katy Blackwood.)
Black Stone Cherry, Kentucky’s spiritual sons of Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top et al, are proprietors of some fine riffs – short, sharp and prosaic in concept but undoubtedly effective in practice. Four albums in, with a fifth on the way, they’ve mastered a dependable ability to marry post-grunge and alternative metal with seventies-style blues rock with an old school charm; but that charm is lacking at first glance as they struggle to find their stride.

Opener Me and Mary Jane and old single Blind Man are raw and dirty on record; live, they’re tenderised under fumbled guitar work and a lax rhythm section, in particular their wild haired drummer John Fred Young. Bands often benefit from a looser feel when playing live; but as Robertson scuffs up Violator Girl once more, the wild abandon they are aiming for is simply a mess. At points, the show feels lazy and it doesn’t help that some of the material is neither prodigious nor inspiring – Yeah Man is a standard hard rock cliché in melisma of extending one-word over the course of a year, and signals a mass outbreak for the bar.

Yet there are touches of nuance here, and glimpses of great songwriting there. After an obligatory drum-turned-harmonica solo, Robertson straps on an acoustic guitar and sings the affecting ode Things My Father Said alone. The poignant beauty comes as an about-face, and triggers a one-hundred-and-eighty turn in performance; for the rest of the show, BSC are electrifying, undergoing a transformation from scrappy to superb in the space of a few chords. Peace Is Free features a growling cameo from support act Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale, and upcoming material In Our Dreams and The Rambler showcases impressive virtuosity from guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon. It’s a much-needed mood whiplash that goes some way to salvaging their performance.
Jon Lawhon of Black Stone Cherry performing live in
Leeds in 2016. (Credit to Katy Blackwood.)
When they return for an encore, after a one-two punch of the chunky White Trash Millionaire and visceral Blame It on the Boom Boom, they mess it up again, albeit intentionally; after masterfully shredding through Lonely Train, they throw all semblance of tempo aside for a ragged crash through Motorhead’s Ace of Spades in memory to the late Lemmy Kilmister. It’s shambolic and a fitting tribute to the man. They say to play bad, you’ve got to be able to play good in music, and Black Stone Cherry are testament to this; unfortunately, the rough-hewn approach often means their tasty, heavy fare is served lukewarm at best.

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