I feel a little sorry for openers The Last Internationale as they have the early shift just 10 minutes after doors opened. Nevertheless the New Yorkers are sensational in front of a gathering audience with a four-number set. This band are easy on the eye: Delila Paz is a great bass player with a good rock voice to boot and Edgey Pires is a very animated guitarist completely fixated on the performance. They’re backed by a drummer who reminds me of a young Ginger Baker. They’re known for their socially-conscious lyrics and strong live performances and that’s what we get tonight. Slightly worrying moment, though, when Pires has a problem with his guitar and throws it to the ground in my direction!
The Record Company are another three-piece powerhouse, but this time from The City of Angels. They always go down a storm and are the first support band I ever saw getting a standing ovation when they supported Blackberry Smoke in 2015. The Rival Sons audience give them a rapturous send off and are completely blown away when the band play the brilliant Off The Ground with Chris Vos on vocal and lap slide guitar, Alex Stiff on thumping bass, and the miserable-looking Marc Cazorla driving them on drums. You can see how chuffed the band are with the audience reception by the beaming smiles (Cazorla included) when they take a bow after a powerful set.
Such is the calibre of the support acts on the night that only a band oozing the class of headliners Rival Sons are capable of raising the bar even higher. The lights dim, the blue flashing strobes power up, the band take up positions, and Mike Miley’s drums with Scott Holiday’s powerful guitar introduce us to End Of Forever from their most recent release, the exceptional Feral Roots. Jay Buchanan steps forward in wide brim hat, brown suit, and colourful ankle boots, and lets rip with his unique power vocal.
Rival Sons formed 10 years ago and have released six quality albums in that time, each of which is represented tonight. Most of the setlist is, however, sourced from the two finest albums, Great Western Valkyrie and this year’s Feral Roots. It has to be said that this band have written some cracking rock songs in their relatively short lifespan and there are no weak spots during their Brixton Academy set.
The very well groomed Holiday injects some pizzazz into the already buzzing crowd with the opening power guitar riff of Secret before Buchanan proves just how powerful his voice is.
The personnel before us are all quite captivating.Buchanan is a somewhat strange beast but perfect front man, his movement is erratic at times and takes him to every corner of the stage. Holiday, with his perfect, manicured moustache and silver-lined hair has a custom built guitar for every occasion. Bassist Dave Beste is without doubt the least extrovert member, but he probably has to keep in cahoots with the Animal-like drummer Michael Miley (boy, can he hit a drum). Todd Ögren on keyboards, although not officially a paid-up member unless they are touring, must have the world’s longest beard.
If Secret is the litmus paper, Pressure & Time certainly lights the flame and the gathered mass go ape. I begin to fear for my wife and friend’s safety as they are in pole viewing position at the front but all around them is a potential mosh that’s thankfully quelled.
Memphis Sun from the band’s debut, self-released Before The Fire makes its tour debut tonight. Tied Up is the only number from 2016 release Hollow Bones, before My Nature precedes the traditional drum solo. This is something of an anti-climax as Miley seems to ease back on his powerhouse drumming that’s indeed employed throughout the gig.
Holiday straps on his Gibson double neck, whilst Buchanan is handed an acoustic for what starts pretty much like a Turkish belly dancing accompaniment before exploding into Look Away, one of the highlights from Feral Roots. The full range of Buchanan’s vocal is tested with Too Bad which continues to rock the joint whilst Where I’ve Been, as close to a ballad as this band get, brings everyone back to earth.
The Gibson double neck is returned to Holiday by the very busy guitar tech and Buchanan takes up the acoustic again for the title track of Feral Roots, a magical number that continues to send a tingle down my spine. Each song carries a story and this is no different. A beautiful moment, the song comes to an end yet the audience continues with the vocal in perfect unison.
The only way to follow this is with two bang-on favourites, Open My Eyes (with a great stereo sound and blinding white spotlights) closely followed by Electric Man which, following a tease intro from Holiday, has everyone in this beautiful venue singing along. The Amish-looking Ögren is having an equally wonderful time behind his keyboard, tambourine in hand and beard swinging.
Shooting Stars is, in my humble opinion, very much in the vein of Do They Know It’s Christmas with more of a gospel feel. There’s certainly close to a 5000-member community choir behind them for this one.
Do Your Worst closes out the main set and Buchanan wins the popular vote by announcing that, rather than walk off the stage only to return to play more, the band are cutting through the bullshit and will keep playing. Face of Light, probably the closest this band get to playing a pop song, is followed by a firm favourite and fitting finale, Keep On Swinging.
This is a great way to bring the weekend to a close. Rival Sons have a real soft spot for London as they performed their debut European gig at The Barfly, Camden in 2011 and always make reference to the fact that London was where it all started for them.
Photography and live review of Rival Sons at O2 Academy Brixton on Sunday 3rd November 2019 by Phil Honley. Phil has his own photography site here: http://www.gigsnapz.co.uk.