Black Stone Cherry, Airbourne & Theory of a Deadman
Anthony Firmin: Black Stone Cherry last played in Manchester at the 1500 seat Ritz to a sold out crowd back in February. More than a few eyebrows were raised when they announced a headliner at the 20,000 seat Phones4U Arena, albeit to promote their new album Magic Mountain.
In order to attempt to fill the Arena they were going to need some heavy duty support acts. Even with this help seats didn’t sell and the top tier was blanked off with the blocks at the rear of the Arena only a quarter full.
How excited was I? After reviewing BSC’s Magic Mountain back in May having already bought tickets to see their first headlining gig at the monolithic Phones4U arena…well, very.
Having seen Theory and BSC before, I held high hopes, they were good supporting Alterbridge a few years back and at the least I knew it was going to be a good night with some cracking songs…well dear reader, get ready for this I won’t say it very often, but how fucking wrong was I?!
Fellow Canadians, Theory Of A Deadman were first up at 18:55, way too early as the crowd was sparse. Its 2½ years since they were last in Manchester and 3 years since they opened at the Arena for Alter Bridge which interestingly had BSC as the middle act.
Being Halloween ToaDM dressed for the occasion with the band in costume as Elvis, a convict and Julius Caesar – only the drummer remained out of costume and the only one who seemed to give 100% throughout their performance. They opened with So Happy but it came across flat and uninspired. Next Lowlife also lacked the punch it needed. Other than a few diehards in the audience, the reaction was simply polite. Moving swiftly onto the title track of their latest album Savages which was released in July things seemed to shift up several gears with the band really getting into the swing and engaging with the audience.
Even though the Arena was starting to fill, Santa Monica was just the wrong choice of song for an early slot even if it does mean so much to the band. Hate My Life was performed well but I got the feeling they were just going through the motions. Throwing plectrums into the crowd throughout their set didn’t help – sometimes the audience didn’t even reach out for them. A brief interlude with Sweet Home Ala-Manchesterraised the spirits a little and set closer Bad Girlfriend started to get the crowd going but it was too little too late.
Kat Hilton: What in the name of Rock was going on!? I mean seriously I just don’t even know where to start with everything that was wrong with the lacklustre, bland and downright car crash offering the guys threw at the crowd. Now I am not gonna lie, the venue was half empty but then again I have seen them do this shit before with less people, they can get a crowd bouncing, I have seen them do it for God’s sake but crap on a cracker I have soil in my back garden that interests me more. It was bland, it was boring, and there was no passion or real vibe to the performance at all, throughout all I thought was “Do they even want to be here?” Yes there was some mucking around on stage to ramp up the energy but it was false, showmen they were not.
Entering in fancy dress, hey it’s not every day you see a guitar playing Jesus right? I at least thought it would be a bit of fun…nope. That my friends was as good as TOADM got, totally butchering every song they threw at us, and I saw through with the high level of disdain I felt, between the lacklustre performance and Tyler (vocals and guitar…allegedly) moaning about the drink being supplied and how the crowd weren’t into it along with what I swear was an eye roll…well what can I say about bad workman and blaming their tools *whistles innocently*
Offering a mix of old and new stuff with Savages…just no, Lowlife…pathetic mumbling and I can’t be positive but I think he forgot some of the words! Bad Girlfriend which let’s be honest releases everyone’s inner stripper…oh that just me then? One of my absolute favourites and it was butchered. To top it off, Tyler trying to be a smartarse I can only presume, flashing bright pink letters stuck on the back of his guitar at the end of “Hate My Life” saying “Fuck You” well Tyler, darling all I can say is the feeling is mutual; to bastardise one of your own songs “Tyler…what were you thinking!”
Anthony Firmin: This was such a mixed and disappointing 30 minute performance because they had been so good on record as well as previous gigs. If they carry on like this they will become Theory Of A DeadBand! On reflection, being fellow Canadians and all three bands signed to RoadRunner Records, I can understand why Black Stone Cherry brought them along but a band like Tracer would have been a much, much better fit.
Kat Hilton: Bugger me I cannot explain in mere words how good they were, strutting on stage, totally owning it and what’s more they deserved too. Right from the off they threw it down, like a challenge, engaging the audience (it had got bigger by this point but still not full) right from the off, real energy, rip roaring riffs, songs that went on and on but not in the droning boring way, more “oh that song lasted like ten minutes and I didn’t even realise” they captured my interest from the off and they kept it, such a raw, gritty, growling set clearly demonstrating the chemistry between not only the band members but drawing the crowd in so they were a part of it not just listening. Throwing shapes on stage, working the crowd and blasting out some thumping good riffs, I am impressed.
Anthony Firmin: I sometimes wonder about Airbourne and their management as to their confidence and strategy. Back in 2010 they ably headlined a gig at the Apollo. They subsequently supported Iron Maiden at the Arena, headlined at the Academy, then the Ritz and are now back in the special guest slot as a seat filler for BSC – it’s almost like they are moving backwards. Their songs are played regularly on the local rock radio so they continue to get good exposure. What is also annoying is they are continually labelled as AC/DC copyists by some people, although the band are more than happy with that comparison they are in fact closer to being Rose Tattoo copyists – and that’s a good thing! I digress, onto the show…
Opener, Ready To Rock set the pace for the evening. They really tore into the song and the audience, quickly followed by Too Much Too Young Too Fast.
The mayhem continued with “a song for all the girls in black called Girls In Black”, simple but you have to hand it to them as Joel climbed onto a roadies shoulders for a walk to the mixing desk and back, belting out a solo and presumably looking for the girls in black. “Manchester! You look fucking beautiful!” Bless him.
They had the crowd, they just needed to finish them off – Cheap Wine And Cheaper Women did the trick. Live It Up, complete with hand cranked air raid siren on stage and the sound of Spitfires flying by (although I don’t understand the relevance) continued the assault.
Kat Hilton: Encouraging the pit monsters to circle furiously in time with the music, getting the seated to stand up and hammer the floor ramping up the volume to echo the thundering bass reverberating through the entire arena and driving the pulsing energy created. Jumping off stage Joel O’Keefe immediately engages the audience, throwing drinks into the pit and just as I thought he couldn’t engage us further he bounces onto a roadies shoulders and meanders his way through the pit, the rest of the band not missing a beat, before standing on the tech deck and strutting away in a manner that would put Jagger to shame. After riling everyone up he heads back to stage the same way he came, on the shoulders of a roadie, shaking hands and accepting grateful pats on the back all the way along. It works well, it ramped up the energy again, it brought entertainment. Now that my friends is pure talent.
I really, really want to see these guys live again, I fear I have been missing out, and being totally honest it didn’t last long enough, the gig needed them to bring it to life, it needed the slight madness, the eccentricity and the energy that Airbourne brought ‘cos we hadn’t had it so far that’s for damn sure!
The final leg, Running Wild, finished off a bruising 55 minute set with the band adding excerpts of Paranoidand a bit of AC/DC. I was surprised they didn’t play radio favourite Blonde, Bad And Beautiful but you can’t have it all.
BSC were going to find this a hard act to follow because this was a job well done!
Black Stone Cherry
So the main act, the big kahuna, the one I have been waiting for especially since reviewing Magic Mountainway back in May. Come on fellas entertain me! Urm well, first of all as much as I love audience participation I paid to hear you sing the songs fella… not the rest of us, I am talking to you Chris Robertson. For me there was just too much coming away from the mike, not asking the audience to join in which sounds amazing when they do but to actually sing all the songs with maybe one or two words from Robertson thrown in…No it is irritating, please stop. I do wonder if he heard me though as this stops occurring so frequently later on.
There just doesn’t seem to be the energy and vibe needed to pull this off, I thought maybe it was getting there at Blame it on the Boom Boom but it just doesn’t seem to hold. I know this is going to be controversial, so many others were raving about it being fantastic, but I just didn’t get it. In fact I thought it a real let down so much so my partner in crime for the evening asked me if I was bored, my answer “Actually, yes!” The one shining light for me was Things My Father Said, again very little singing from Robertson but the awe inspiring scene of everyone’s lights/phones/UV wands in the air is always heart wrenching and emotive, the look of awe on Robertson’s face at the mostly full arena echoing his heartfelt words of a song that clearly means a massive amount to him is humbling.
Which brings me to an interesting point, throughout I feel that BSC are trying but not quite pulling it off, a bit like a kid on their first day of high school, yeah they belong there, they have every right to be there, but they don’t quite believe it and are therefore unsure and Bambi-esque in their presentation, playing it safe and not stretching themselves to show their true talent. I really think they could have done so much better, the setup of the stage even added to this I feel with so much area to cover Bells and Lawhon tried their best but it felt empty, sporadic and does not seem to flow and gel as well as it should. I appreciate they were the headliners but honestly they didn’t need that big a stage, it seemed to drown them and aid in losing some of their impact. It is a shame, not one I lay at the bands feet totally of course, but I cannot help but feel let down, another band that were that much better off the previous time I saw them.
Words: Kat Hilton & Anthony Firmin