Rival Sons: Live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

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By Vincent
April 9, 2013

How many of you have spent the time imagining oneself being young in the 70s, fully immersed in the mystical atmospheres of pioneering blues, soul and rock, getting lost in the notes of the instruments which shape, like the heavy, precise hammer of the Gods, great music, chiseled and refined by scratching voices, including odors of incense and thousands of people around you going wild in a sacred ritual celebrated by rock preachers on stage?

Well, if you’ve ever longed for all this, just like me, you cannot help but check out the next date of the Rival Sons and be sure to wear your tight pants, a shirt with frills and your Chelsea boots. Taking a dip in the past for about an hour and a half you’ll plunge into something that smells of Led Zeppelin, The Doors, aged leather and Bourbon.

At Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a shrine extremely suitable to accommodate the Mass of Rock chaired by Rival Sons, with its balconies built in the early 1900s, the art nouveau flourishes in small capacity (about two thousand people). The evening gets on fire ealy, with the two opening bands, the Graveltones, Australian (I highly recommend them, even if they are already established in the British scene) and Ulysses (also a pleasant surprise, purely English, from Bath); the first playing powerful hard blues, for which the comparison with the White Stripes might stick, the latter playing psychedelic with melodies that are rooted in the acid of the ‘60s.

After nearly an hour of the two opening bands, which, to tell the truth, as opposed to most of the concerts, passed all too quickly, on stage, cheered by the crowd eager to see the curtains finally pulled from the amplifiers and drums, directly from California, the Rival Sons.

Like Greek commanders ready for the decisive battle, they take the stage, in their defined positions and within seconds, the signal of Michael Miley behind the battery, unleash hell. Singing the first notes, the roaring “You Want To”, which with its relentless pace, reminds me of the cavalry charges of ancient times, when knights, to give themself a boost, used to scream and wave their arms, clapping their heavy armor on their chest, discouraging the enemies.

In this case, all this does nothing but enthuse the crowd, relentlessly, jumping, shaking hands in the air, transforming even the second song, “Get What’s Coming” into a collective ritual. Accompanied by the sound of the Scott Holiday and Robin Everhart’s thumping Orange Amps and Jay Buchanan, who at the head of his legion of warriors, calls to arms his mighty men and the people in front of him, convincing them to follow him with the elegance and the power of voice, capable of dealing with both the fast pace of the battle as well as the most calm and ethereal moments in the court.

“Wild Animal” and “Gypsy Heart” followed closely, leaving the audience breathless, completely fascinated by the stealthy movements and loads of pathos of the guys on stage who look like unstoppable men of a legendary past that have materialized in recent years to restore, with the strength of their arms, the rock on victorious battlefield. Listening to the riffs that continue to bombard my ears and those vocal melodies, so perfect, always over the top but never beyond, my brain processes the images of the great battles of the past, the Romans, the Greeks, Napoleon in Waterloo , Custer and The Alamo, and it seems that the barrier between stage and audience is completely demolished, all fighting for the same ideal, one next to the other, throwing hundreds of decibel grenades, directed by the unmistakable swaggering movements of the four American foreign leaders of an English army.

From the first row I can clearly hear the voice of Jay without it being amplified and the impression that I still have, staring and listening to him, hypnotically, is that he is the never claimed son of an impossible relationship between Jim Morrison and Robert Plant; a free soul of rock who properly lives the live concert, interprets it, and takes it where he wants, drawing to himself by his gestures, the positive power of the ancient Gods, which wrap him, the band and, consequently, the audience in the whole Sheperd’s Bush Empire, entering into their souls and purifying them, albeit with the violence of a rock ritual.

“Jordan”, a moment of calm in the stormy day in the field, seems to be the perfect night song “about losing someone very close to you,” followed by “Manifest Destiny Pt.1” and “Keep on Swinging,”  preluding the anger of “Pressure and Time”, in which an imaginary hill full of bonfires, the band screaming to the sky with all their strength and humanity, together with the audience who now completely follows the band in all its moving, as faithful companions on the battlefield.

Here comes, at the lights of dawn, through the fog and the sun peeping slowly, in the fumes of the war, “Sacred Tongue” from their EP and rarely played live. It sends shivers down my spine, bringing to mind the sound of cold streams, the wind flowing between the green grass.

Following the notes of “Face of Light”, the band leaves the stage, but we all know that they are coming back very soon. What we did not expect was having just Mikey on stage, who, with increasing power, as if to call to arms his companions for the last effort,  performs a long and passionate drum solo, keeping a smirk on his face, like a child busy doing whatever he please.

The band returns to the stage, first of all thanking the audience for this concert in London which marks the final consecration of Rival Sons, after the last gigs at the Barfly and the Electric Ballroom, and on “Soul” definitely greet everyone with a long and powerful song, which perfectly sums up the mood of the whole night in West London.

Outside there are those who flock to buy the last pieces of the concert memorabilia in stock and who continue incessantly talking with friends about the gig. The Rival Sons will come back to London, I have no doubts, but this evening will remain immortal for many, including myself. Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll!

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