Friday, September 26, 2014

Rival Sons - Rockin' The Fillmore, San Francisco, California

Myles Wright Photography
It's always a buzz to get that last minute message that asks if you can make it to a great show. It's even better when it's a band's first show in a legendary venue, and Rival Sons debut at The Fillmore couldn't have come off any better. They flat out rocked the joint.

Rival Sons are doing it the right way - they've been with the Earache Records since nearly the beginning (they did self release their first long player, Before The Fire, in 2009), they've had Dave Cobb on board as their producer for three albums running, and they have a management team behind them that kicks ass and takes names. They're growing up and developing as a band, and it appears that they're getting better by the minute. As I said - they are doing it the right way.

Last night they did the Fillmore proud - an institution in its own right, the walls of The Fillmore are filled with concert posters from the endless great shows that came before this one, and this one will take its place proudly on some wall in some space not yet filled as the band joins just about every band that matters as a member of the 'came and conquered' club.

I saw Robert Plant the other week on the iTunes Festival, and Percy came out, and in my mind smacked Jimmy Page and every Zeppelin fan right in the face by opening with a half hour of his old band's catalog, showing that while he could sing the songs as well as ever, his current band is competent, but they're no Led Zeppelin. If you're wondering why I'm airing this grievance now, I'll explain.

Rival Sons came out loud and proud - they set off by performing five songs from their latest album, Great Western Valkerie, and you'd have thought they were playing old hits. Every tune in the set list is a solid piece of classic hard rock, they had the nearly filled venue in the palms of their hands, and this is as close to Led Zeppelin's vibe as a Led Zeppelin fan will find in 2014. If you see their show the comparisons are unavoidable, and while Rival Sons are not yet Zeppelin great, they still just might be the finest hard rock band in America.

Jay Buchanan and guitarist Scott Holiday are the latest version of the classic Page/Plant, Mick/Keith, Pete/Roger creative tag team. They play off one another magnificently without any friction, and in an almost absurdly even handed fashion. They both have moments in which it seems there is no one on the stage but them, but there are equally as many moments when they are a two headed rock 'n' roll monster. Buchanan reaches deep and often to hit the outer limits of his significant vocal range, and Holiday is equally adept at pushing songs with his driving rhythm guitar as he is at tossing off volley after volley of dazzling leads. He's an extremely versatile axe man, and he is as comfortable with some clean, bluesy slide playing as he is with his heavily effected psychedelic ear candy. There's never a dull moment - to a member this is a band that shows up, suits up, and doesn't coast for a minute of their two hour set.

If Rival Sons have a secret weapon, it is in the presence of keyboardist Todd Ögren-Brooks - his organ playing, synth pads, and solid support are picture perfect throughout the set, and the band is even blessed with a sound man who positions these keyboards properly in the mix. There's an art to this, and it's a joy to hear it done right, as it definitely takes the band up to the next level sonically and musically - make this guy a full member, Rival Sons. He's a gem.

Myles Wright Photography
Speaking of gems, the rhythm section of drummer Mike Miley, and new guy bassist Dave Beste are just that. Beste is a great player, and he also contributes some stellar backing vocals, though I do wish his tone was a bit less boomy and bassy. Some midrange pluck would do much to make his wares more obvious, as he was playing a lot of great notes that weren't really heard from a few different vantage points in the room. That niggling point being made, he and Miley are tight as a snare, and Miley is a masterful purveyor of dynamics and thunder, and he also kicked in some sterling harmonizing.

The songs. Like I said up top, Rival Sons came out punching and the immediacy and memorability of their new material served them well throughout the set - the anthemic Rich And Poor in particular came across in an extremely effective and epic manner. The hummable nature of their tunes meshes well with their bluesy hard rock, and psychedelic leanings, an excellent mix. Great hard rock has always been about having the proper proportions in the recipe, and the Sons are getting to be quite masterful at this art.

Great songs, great playing, great singing and heart felt performance make for great bands, and as I've said in the past, Rival Sons are becoming a great band. Some fans will blanch at that notion, and proclaim the band as already great, but I'm content to stick with my contention and give the guys a chance to keep growing, expanding, and developing as they should. The world's to quick to bandy words like supergroup, and greatness, but to use them too often or in an untimely fashion tends to water down their effectiveness and gravitas when they are proper. As I said, Rival Sons are becoming a great band. It's all in the songs and the performances, and the songs are all really, really good songs, a few are great, and their performance of this music is great.

They had no pyrotechnics, no elaborate costumes, no platform shoes, but they certainly put paid to any notion that rock is dead or dying - Rock Ain't Near Dead, and on this cool fall evening in the city by the bay, Rival Sons came and they conquered - as Jay Buchanan said at the end of the night, "We just played The Fillmore."

As thrilling as it was for the band (and they appeared to be pretty damned stoked by it all), it was equally thrilling for myself and the rest of the crowd. Everyone left smiling, and isn't that the point?

The band is now on tour in America, and if you've any chance at you should definitely check them out - it's a great night of rock 'n'roll. (show dates)

Set List:

1.   Electric Man
2.   Good Luck
3.   Secret
4.   Play The Fool
5.   Good Things
6.   Torture
7.   Jordan
8.   Tell Me Something
9.   Get What's Coming
10.  Rich and the Poor
11.  Face of Light


12.   Open My Eyes
13.   Pressure and Time
14.   Drum Solo
15.   Keep On Swinging

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