Black Stone Cherry
@ Koko, London, UK
28th February 2014
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Photos by Inty Malcolm
Half past seven on gig night is usually half-past-doors-opening and when half the crowd are still in the pub. Tonight though 7.30pm ticks round and the headliner, the main band, the only band, are on. Is this what Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry mean by southern hospitality? No supports and an early night? Has rock ‘n’ roll grown as old and tired as the Colonel and his chicken?
And then a warm breath blows in. A bellow of “Here comes the rain” rises from Chris Robertson, trucker cap pulled low, and ‘Rain Wizard’ falls like a sudden summer shower. It’s then straight into new single ‘Me And Mary Jane’, but it could be as old as the hills because this crowd already know all the words.
See listening to Black Stone Cherry (4.5/5) on CD is like looking at a picture of a huge slab of cake; you can tell how it’ll taste but you’re not getting the full experience. You need a live show for that. Tonight the boys work the stage like they’re the biggest rock band in the world, playing every song like it’s their last. None of that, as Jeremy from Peep Show would say, “Oh, God, we’re doing the fucking song. When’s it gonna finish? Fuckin’ hell,” vibe you get from other bands. Rock ‘n’ roll is your damn job; there’s no excuse for through the motions.
And this mini-tour is far from that. The hospitality bit comes from the fact that the setlist’s are fan chosen, and the band are also fielding questions live from the crowd during the show. Sure most of them are mundane “What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?”, “What’s your favourite band to tour with?” and so-much-blah, but Black Stone Cherry answer them all with a grin and a pinch of wit.
“Have you guys seen a Black Stone Cherry show before?” asks Robertson noting a few raised hands from the crowd. “You haven’t? You been missing out your whole life, well at least the last six years. Don’t worry everyone’s first time is the best.” Well the subsequent times aren’t too bad either. ‘In My Blood’, with it’s nod to Skynyrd’s ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, sits well, but a snippet of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ into the sweaty closeness of ‘Soulcreek’ goes down even better.
And that voice. Straight from the source, and with two fingers to those who practice record trickery, it’s the South distilled through one mouthpiece. Yet you barely hear a whisper of it on ‘Peace Is Free’ as the crowd takes up the words in a venue-wide rendition. Grins get wider on stage, as Black Stone Cherry take genuine delight in the response. They can’t quite believe it, and yet no-one can take it away from them.
The accelerator is applied once more on ‘Drive’, which goes straight into a drum solo, that sees John Fred Young toss away his sticks to continue with fingers and fists. Whilst you could argue that everything about Black Stone Cherry hinges on Robertson’s voice, this is just one example of how the rest of the band are more than just a frame for it. Solos and banter are traded with the chemistry of a young band, built up of friends first.
A blinding version of ‘Hell and High Water’, a quick scuffle over a drumstick and a reprimand from Robertson, are followed by more mediocre questions. An enquiry into the early start and finish explains it’s because of a rave event straight after but the band promise that they’ll come out and chat with anyone waiting at their bus. Another hospitable touch, and the way it should be.
“What’s your favourite song to sing?” is met with an answer of “This next one” as Black Stone Cherry break into the hope-from-loss beauty ‘Things My Father Said’. Oldie heavy-un ‘Backwoods Gold’ follows another newbie, which is then run off by the back-to-back grooves of ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’. A quick raffle of a signed bass drum, and it’s the end, the closer ‘Lonely Train’ and it’s mighty chorus. This sold-out crowd are seen out by a quick blasting crescendo of full power on all fronts; an amps up to 11 moment.
“Without you guys we probably wouldn’t still have a record deal,” says Robertson. More fool them if they let you go. With no supports every single person is here for Black Stone Cherry alone, and there’s not a soul tonight who wouldn’t buy another ticket next time they roll in to town. That’s what labels should care about. Not just numbers, not just record sales, but bands that do what they do well. Bands that can play to a full house and touch everyone there, that keep and make new fans with every performance, and bands that damn well care about their audience. Black Stone Cherry you’re welcome back any time; we’ve always room for another bite.
Me And Mary Jane
Ghost of Floyd Collins
Yeah Man (with Roadhouse Blues intro)
In My Blood
Soulcreek (with Just Got Paid intro)
Such a Shame
Big City Lights
Peace Is Free
Drive (Drum solo)
Hell & High Water
Things My Father Said
Fiesta del Fuego
White Trash Millionaire
Blame It on the Boom Boom