Paul Kerr enjoys the hard rock stylings of Kentucky headbangers Black Stone Cherry...
I will be upfront and say straight up that I love the Southern US rock and roll sound of Black Stone Cherry. I caught them for the first time in Las Vegas, back in 2011, when they were supporting Alter Bridge at the House Of Blues. This time around though, they are the headline act and a gig I’m really looking forward to. I’m also pretty nervous as I’m going to be up in front of the barrier photographing the gig as well as reviewing the show.
After getting over a couple of speed humps at the door, my wife and I have made it inside quite early. It is not overly packed and we take up a place on the barrier at the stage, this is handy as I still don’t have my photo pass yet. The Factory Theatre is a nice, intimate setup that holds about 800 standing patrons when full. It is easy to see the stage from any vantage point and has decent acoustics (and excellent bar facilities, don’t forget those -Ed)..
We are in time for the first act, Portia Brianna, a young girl playing guitar with a stomp box. She plays a blend of folk and rock; add in a great voice and her own imitated trumpet sounds and you have a quirky and fun opening act. Portia kept the early crowd (200 or so) entertained for about 25-30 minutes playing a set of her own work. She laughs in between songs that she needs to work on the banter, but in my opinion, she did fine before she finished up . I race back downstairs and now have my photo pass.
Having only the minimal setup for the opener means we are quickly introduced to the Aussie three piece Chase The Sun . The band plays a style of rock and roll that at times, sounds like country blues rock (particularly when playing a bit of slide guitar) and other times reminding me of Led Zeppelin with that fuzzy, early seventies, rock sound. The guys put on a good set warming up the crowd for Black Stone Cherry nicely.
I look around and the crowd has built up a bit but there is still quite a bit of space around the venue. There is a bit of a longish wait for the band to come out and the crowd, keen with anticipation is starting to chant for BSC. They arrive on stage around 10.20 PM. The crowd greets them with a roar, the sound hitting me up front makes it feel like the venue is now full. The band kicks off with Devil’s Queen which just leads to an increase of that roar from the crowd. For the first few songs I am focused on purely trying to get some shots and not being stood on as there is only one set of feedback speakers which makes it difficult to hear the vocals over the backing. The guys on stage abound with energy, all members of the band giving it all to show the crowd how happy they are to be here. Ben Wells, in particular, is running around stage and constantly headbanging and urging the crowd on endlessly. He does this all night, showing boundless amounts of energy. Pretty amazing stamina, as it is apparent that this is something he would do every night that he plays.
The band follows up the opener with Soul Machine, Bad to the Bone as well as the classic, Soulcreek. By the time I pack up my gear and head back out to the barrier where my wife is, Black Stone Cherry has the crowd in the palm of their hand as they kick off Darkest Secret. This is a band that enjoy themselves on stage and know how to put on a great show. The energy put into the show is real, it is not put on and the crowd is appreciating it singing right back at them. They are clapping and fist pumping at the band members’ urging. Ben undertakes quite a bit of banter with the crowd in between songs, telling us how they absolutely love being back in Australia.
There are some guitar sound issues during Things My Father Said, however the response by the band just shows that nothing puts them off. There are no prima donna outbursts, just industrious work from the road crew to get the sound back on track and Chris Robertson just keeps on regaling us with his wonderful voice like nothing is happening.
The set ends up covering every album with earlier favourites like White Trash Millionaire, Blind Man and In My Blood alongside the newer, but sure to be a classic, Cheaper to Drink Alone. The setlist is also interspersed with a couple of covers, though these are mostly used to lead into a BSC song. Obligatory guitar and drum solos are well received and break up the set nicely before Chris and Ben come back to the stage for, to me the highlight of the set, The Rambler. Chris asks us to sing along with it if we know it, and if we don’t, just listen to the words as it has quite an emotional story to tell. Chris’s voice is just amazing. He conveys so much emotion and feeling in this song, accompanied solely by Ben playing acoustic guitar and the whole crowd singing it back at him. I don’t think there was not a person left unmoved by this.
After this, Ben calls out for Jon Lawhon (bass) and John Fred Young (drums) to come back and join them where the guys finish off in style with Can’t You See, Blame it on the Boom Boom and Lonely Train. The second verse of Lonely Train that starts “Big Plane, flying through the clouds” comes complete with a paper plane that flies out into the crowd from the road crew, cracking all members of the band up.
As the last bars of Lonely Train go silent, it unfortunately means the end of their gig in Sydney. The crowd cheer, whistle and clap heartily to thank BSC for putting on an amazing show. I don’t think there is a single person leaving that hasn’t got their money’s worth. Ben’s stated intention in the Sentinel Daily interview to gain new fans with this tour has in my mind, been successful. I am pretty sure they’ve added at least a few more to the BSC family. I know I had an awesome time and can’t wait to see them again.