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Tour Report - Rival Sons Keep On Swinging Across The UK 09/2012
Posted on Saturday, October 06 2012 @ 02:34:09 CDT by Dean Pedley
Concert Reviews With the just released Head Down having gatecrashed the upper reaches of the UK album charts, LA's Rival Sons are continuing to build on the momentum that began with the relentless touring in support of Pressure & Time. In less than twelve months they have moved up from playing in clubs to venues twice the size, continuing to attract more admirers of their electrifying take on garage rock, blues rock and pure rock and roll. Sea of Tranquility brings a tour report from the shows in both Nottingham and Wolverhampton and also got the opportunity to pose a few questions to guitarist Scott Holiday.

Nottingham Rescue Rooms, 09/23

As the albums have emerged and the live shows witnessed by thousands, it has become apparent that Rival Sons are part of something very special. After last year's performances at High Voltage Festival, where they stepped into play a headline slot along with their own allocated set (after Electric Wizard became stranded in Scandinavia) you knew that it was just a matter of time until they rose through the ranks to become Rock Royalty.

Very much a modern day Led Zeppelin led by the charismatic Jay Buchanan, who oozes 'Rock Star' out of every pore, Rival Sons are four very different individuals and characters who combine to perform Rock Miracles for their dedicated followers.

Touring on the back of their latest album release Head Down, it's a packed venue that welcomes them tonight. From the intro to first song of the night 'Pressure & Time' you know something magical is going to happen. New track 'Wild Animal' is soaked in 70's swagger with a modern day twist. Jay is himself swaggering around the stage, dressed to impress and every inch the front man. They are tight; the crowd laps it up and the female contingent stare hypnotizingly into Jay's eyes hoping for a reaction. This is a rock solid old school performance with the funk and feel of a Memphis 60's club brought into modern day. They have a punch of vintage rock on 'Burn Down Los Angeles' with 'Gypsy Heart' feeling full of passion and that unmistakable Rival Sons character. Guitar interludes wash over the audience while the groove of the rhythm section lay down the foundations for Jays soaring vocals. A truly magnificent set for all who were there, words fail me as to how impressive Rival Sons have become.

We all leave the venue dripping in other peoples sweat, but you know what? No- one cares, we just bore witness to one of the only true bands worthy of rock star status. Somehow I don't think we'll be seeing Rival Sons in venues of this size again.

Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, 09/29

Bounding onto the stage with wide grins and to much appreciation, Rival Sons launch into the uplifting 'Pressure and Time' with a swagger that has been honed from their extensive roadwork. What follows is ninety minutes of rock and roll revivalism as they debut new material from the hugely impressive Head Down, an album that looks set to propel them forward even further. Jay Buchanen's voice channels the spirit of Morrison and Howlin' Wolf, guitarist Scott Holiday easily wins the 'coolest man in the room' award and the rhythm section of Robin Everhart and Mike Miley hold down the groove with typical humour and understated presence.

The infectious stomp of 'Burn Down Los Angeles' and the gospel-driven burst of 'Keep on Swinging' are songs for a Saturday night, contrasted by the soulful power of 'Jordan' and the sweeping emotion of 'Face of Light' that are perfect for a Sunday morning. Unleashing a huge guitar sound for 'Manifest Destiny Parts 1 and 2', Holiday's fuzzy riffs and solos soar as Buchanen's lyrics invokes the plight of the Native Americans. An extended jam through 'Soul' closes out a performance that was energetic, captivating and compelling in equal measure.

Set List:-
Pressure and Time / Wild Animal / You Want To / Until The Sun Comes / Memphis Sun / Burn Down Los Angeles / Keep On Swinging / Jordan / All The Way / Gypsy Heart / Run From Revelation / Torture / Face Of Light
Manifest Destiny Part 1 / Manifest Destiny Part 2 / Soul

Read on for our interview with Scott Holiday…

Scott, the last time you were over here was as special guests to Black Stone Cherry; how was the reception on that tour for you?

Well before that tour even started it was sold out and so that was really exciting for us, we knew it was going to be great. It was a huge tour, four weeks all around the UK, which was really unusual and tough in some ways but it was a real blast

How aware are you of the larger crowds on this tour; the venues are certainly bigger this time around than when you last headlined here

There have been some smaller venues but they have sold out really quickly, last night we did the Ritz in Manchester and it was packed. Tonight's show is probably one of the bigger ones but it is something we have been aware of and of course the UK has really been the main focus for us until now, much more than at home

After so long touring Pressure & Time you must have been ready to play some new songs, both in the studio and on the road

Oh yeah we were raring to go on day one of the recording; our typical range of wanting to make a new record is two months after we finished the last one and so even at this point after Head Down we are almost feeling like we are ready to make the next one. We wanted to make a different statement this time than with Pressure & Time and but this record came together really quickly, it was all done in 22 days because we have ideas flowing all of the time. It was all very live and off the cuff and when the record was done we were definitely ready to think about coming back to places like Wolverhampton and play the new songs live for everybody

How important a role did producer Dave Cobb and engineer Vance Powell play in the recording of Head Down?

They are both very important because we are such a small, tight unit. Dave has been our producer on the last four records and is someone who we really enjoy working with. You won't find producers nowadays that want to make records that way - that want to record a band in a live setting and capture the moment. So Dave is really keen to do that and we are aswell and he is integral in the whole process. He is our age, he is a good friend, we have similar tastes in music and we can just get to where we want to get really quickly. Now with Vance Powell this was the first time that we had worked with him and he has worked on some of my favourite bands of the last few years, he has worked very extensively with Jack White who's records I think sound fantastic especially this new one Blunderbuss. He has also done stuff with Kings of Leon and a whole onslaught of really great sounding records and so we were really pleased to get him on board. We had actually kind of modelled Pressure & Time on some of the sounds that he had achieved with some of his other records and so we were already referencing him before he was part of the team

Was there any agonising over what would be the final song selection?

We actually used everything that we did. We are working so quickly that when it came down to it the thirteen songs that we finished was the record so there were no thoughts of having to leave anything off. It seemed very clear that here is the concept and it's even more apparent if you buy the vinyl. So you get Side A and there is a certain journey happening that unravels into Side B followed by a quite different journey happening on Side C and then D is a continuation of that…so it is quite conceptual in the way that we ended up rolling it out

And of course vinyl is having something of a resurgence at the moment

Thank goodness it is, I think it's the best way to listen to rock and roll. Definitely the records we make sound really good on vinyl and we have a great mastering guy that has the lathe, the old record pressing machine, in his office. So we re-master for vinyl specifically and I just like the whole idea of a kid going home with a record with the big gatefold design. We did a special gatefold so there is no writing on the cover, even on the spine, just this big picture with the cobras and the lilies and the bird so you can look at it clean and pure. And then you open it up and the gatefold has the lyrics and the pull out sleeves have these big pictures of us, each of the four of us has one side and then we have orange vinyl, white vinyl, clear vinyl and I think we are also going to do a liquid vinyl soon. I really like the whole romanticism of getting the vinyl out, putting the needle down and putting on the headphones. People say this is retro and a throwback but actually it is just a much better listening experience. It might not be as great for some of the more modern harsher sounding music but certainly for just rock n roll, for the blues, for classical, for soul and for jazz then it really does capture the music. Trust me, if you haven't done it – try it

You mention the cover and Head Down is a real departure from what Storm Thorgerson did with Pressure & Time; what's the story behind that?

I loved what Storm did that was really fun and it was a sense of fulfilment that we got to work with him because obviously we know all about his accolades. But this time there was just a feeling of an animalistic nature to the record and this was a theme that moved through a lot of different songs that we talked about a lot. So when I started looking at different album designers and who had done some of the best stuff I quickly came across a Josh Ritter record and I loved the cover, it was abstract and strange but very beautiful and intriguing at the same time. The artist was Jason Holley and so I checked out some more of his work and I pretty much loved it all and in a lot of his work were tons of animals and insects, very psychedelic but also very tangible. I called what ended up being his home phone from his website and we spoke and then I showed it all to Jay. Jay and I are usually like things that go in different directions and it's always a compromise between us but when I showed him this he loved it and we agreed that Jason was our guy. He loved the record and we spoke briefly about the symbolism of different animals and the feeling of the record and based upon that minimal exchange he came up with the design, painted this big oil painting and then shot it for us.

So does he get to keep the original?

(laughs) Yeah he's kept it for now. I found out from my manager later that the deal is for what we paid him he's keeping it so I think I should start a kick-starter where the fans spring to help us buy our cover back! He lives right around the corner from where I live at home so I might go around to his studio and haggle for it

I only recently saw the video for 'Keep on Swinging' and it seemed like the perfect visual for the song with the gospel church congregation and that sense of spirituality

Well we didn't actually write the treatment it was devised by our long time friend Greg Ephraim who also did the videos for 'All Over The Road' and 'Pressure and Time' with us. It was kind of funny that when we read the treatment we all immediately thought that we should do this because it had that spiritual uplifting feeling. By no means was it a mockery but it sounded like fun and so it was an easy choice

After the final show in London tomorrow night what are the plans for more touring on the back of Head Down?

We go to Europe right after this for the next four and a half weeks playing in around fifteen different countries and after that we'll go home. Then we are going to do North America, hit the Canadian territory which is another place we're doing really well and we've got lots of friends up there, then back home for the holidays. And believe it or not we are then probably going to hit our own country for a minute (laughs) but I think we'll be back here by the springtime

You've played a lot of the major festivals in the UK and Europe, which must have been a terrific experience?

Oh the festivals are great over here. What's really interesting for us is we play Download, Sonisphere and all of the ones over Europe which is a really big thing and we don't really have that at home. Festival season is not a term at home at all and here it's a thing everyone knows about and they really mix the bands up in a really cool way. But what's really fascinating is for some reason the metal community has welcomed us in, I mean we're really not that heavy at all we're more like this fuzzy garage blues thing and we played Hellfest and Gods of Metal where they are just the most satanic of bands (laughs) which is totally fine with me. And so we do Hellfest and I am thinking we shouldn't play our slower numbers I can't imagine people are going to like what we are doing but we came out and the tent was full of fifteen thousand people. It was just packed to the brim and believe me lighters went up during the slower bits and so that really was one of our favourite festivals and it's not as segregated as you might think. So we were surprised but really appreciative at the same time of the fans and the people that want to support us

Thanks Scott, have a great show and we look forward to seeing you over here again before too long

Head Down, the new album from Rival Sons is available now and the band is on tour around Europe. For more information check out www.rivalsons.com

October 2012
Dean Pedley and Mark Davies for Sea of Tranquility


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