Rivals Sons Play Intimate Show At Oxford Academy As Part Of Their European Summer Tour

Rival Sons, currently on their European tour, stopped off at Oxford’s O2 Academy and tonight’s is one of only two headline shows in the UK. It’s been just over a year since the release of LP Darkfighter and it’s companion album Lightbringer but unlike last year’s tour to promote both albums, this time around the set is more varied, featuring much of their back catalogue. I’ve also discovered that this tour has been organised around a very special event, the wedding of their UK PR manager. Such is the relationship between the band and Talita, they consider her family and as guitarist Scott Holiday says: “it’ll be a really nice way to start this tour”. All of us at Rockshot Magazine wish Talita and Tom all the very best for their future together!

Rival Sons @ Oxford Academy

Rival Sons @ Oxford Academy (Sam Holt)
Rival Sons @ Oxford Academy (Sam Holt)

The venue tonight is a little intimate to say the least and throughout the show it is clear this is a band that thanks its fans for coming out and supporting live music. After all, smaller grassroots venues are just important as the bigger ones, some could argue possibly more so for giving those up and coming newer artists a place to be heard and experienced.

Opening tonight are Creeping Jean, a band from the Brighton area, they are support for much of this tour going forward with their music described as “a modern twist on vintage ’60s and ’70s sound” and I can see why. I note they site Rival Sons as one of their inspirations, so as their opener I can only imagine they would be in their element. I can’t help but love the interaction between the band members moving around on stage as they played, it was clear they were enjoying themselves and it comes across in their music. I notice some of their lyrics almost sound like rap-infused rock, an interesting subtle combination that works well. From their set, I enjoy Fluorescent Colour Skies, a song that has that feel good factor and also noticed Sassy Got Shakes, both songs I gather were released as singles. They do well, garner great applause and build the atmosphere up, ready for tonight’s headliners.

As the house lights dim, Rival Sons take the stage. Opening with Mirrors from Darkfighter, as they did last year, makes for a powerful opener. The pipe organ building up and then the way frontman Jay Buchanan’s vocals come in, not forgetting the acoustic guitar, there are so many different layers, and yet it blends together seamlessly.

The Long Beach, California-hailing quartet go on to play a great rendition of Feral Roots, the title track from their 2019 LP. It kicks off with Buchanan on his acoustic guitar and continues with a fantastic solo from lead guitarist Scott Holiday. If you ever get the chance to check it, out there’s a fabulous acoustic version on YouTube with Buchanan and Holiday playing acoustics. “How y’all doing?” asks Buchanan of his audience, and we scream back in the affirmative.

Open My Eyes from 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie LP has the crowd singing “Somebody, Somebody, Somebody Open My Eyes” along with the band lead in great voice while for Pressure & Time, drummer Mike Miley delivers a mesmerising solo while Holiday and bass man Dave Beste add a little extra with what look like jingle bells. The audience are there with the band, singing along lyrics at every opportunity they can and adding their dimension to the chorus of Do Your Worst, but for the best singalong they help Buchanan out with Shooting Stars. It really is fantastic to hear, a band and their fans in harmony together.

The 48-year-old frontman speaks emotionally about the atrocities of the last year, telling us that everything has become political in the United States, digging deep and asking rhetorically: “what’s political about children going missing?” “This one’s for all those displaced” he continues, sharing an incredibly emotional solo rendition of Shooting Stars with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment, the crowd joining in with “My love is stronger than yours, my vein is deeper than yours”, not forgetting all the ooh-oh, ohs. It is incredibly moving, and as the rest of the band return to the stage, Holiday makes a beeline for Buchanan to give him a heartfelt hug.

Introducing Mosaic, the only song from Lightbringer aired tonight, Buchanan’s emphasis is on the collaboration between himself and Holiday when writing it: “it’s a song that has tremendous anthemic qualities to it” he offers.

The quartet close their set with Keep On Swinging and Secret, both going down very well with the Oxford crowd. And as the Academy audience file out, I hear some fabulous comments from people, but perhaps the best was “they were on fire”, and I couldn’t argue. Tonight’s show was absolutely fantastic, an incredible band that are clearly on top of their game. They definitely prove that rock music is far from dead and that Blues Rock, Seventies Rock or whatever label you choose, Rival Sons are incredible musicians playing fantastic music, and delivering it with passion.

Live Review and photography of Rival Sons @ O2 Academy, Oxford on 9th June 2024 by Sam Holt

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