The 21st century has brought with it a wondrous wave of southern-drenched blues rock, with bands like Monster Truck, The Cadillac Three and Black Stone Cherry heading up the forefront. Finally, some genius somewhere instigated a UK arena tour housing all three of these chiefs in southern delectability. London got its taste on 14th December, the final night of the tour.
The stench of beer already overpowering in the SSE Wembley Arena, first support Monster Truck strode on stage to the apt Rainbow’s “Long Live Rock N Roll”. Guitarist Jeremy Widerman a dizzying bare-chested cannonball of vigorous battle cries and frontman Jon ‘Marv’ Harvey a creature of magnificent, thunderous presence, Monster Truck opened with rowdy fist-pounder “True Rocker”.
Monster Truck were the black sheep of the tour having hailed from Canada as opposed to southern US, but they by no means wavered in their command of rugged southern sonority. Numbers like “Old Train”, “Sweet Mountain River” and the sauntering slink of new track “Devil Don’t Care” melted faces via Herculean hyperbole of the sounds of bands such as Blackfoot and Grand Funk Railroad.
Harvey, a perhaps largely overlooked vocalist in today’s rock scene, snarled through songs with his strikingly spiced and muscular vocals, whilst the whirring of Brandon Bliss’ keyboards in tracks like “She’s A Witch” brought a sleek quality to the gnarl of Widerman’s guitar tenacity. Harvey’s mid-set cautionary “We’re Monster Truck – prepare yourself” came with cheers of affirmation. Concluding with the fearless “The Lion”, Monster Truck gave a whirlwind presentation of their colossus, wrapped in one neat 35 minute package.
Up next, charmingly smarmy Nashville natives The Cadillac Three paraded on, coyly smiling and being led by drummer Neil Mason, who was clothed in a ‘Tom Fucking Petty’ t-shirt and brandished a bottle of whiskey like the Pied Piper of country rockers. Opener “Peace Love & Dixie” brought with it a sultry growl, a 101 in how to metallicise country bops for a deftly heavy yet jaunty track. At its close, frontman Jaren Johnston took a hefty moment to relish in his final night of his first UK arena excursion. Having given an almost bashful performance on the Main Stage at Download Festival 2017, it was a pleasure to see a generous ounce of arrogance in Johnston’s performance tonight, as if he’d finally taken his deserved glory and had no doubts of his ownership over it.
What followed came a pastiche of warm-hearted country ballads, such as “White Lightning” and “American Slang”, and rampant country jives in the likes of “I’m Rockin’” and “Slide” – tracks that were to hips what snake charmers are to snakes. “Tennessee Mojo” was relaxed to a slower, heavier drawl than its studio recording, giving it a stickier groove but retaining its Zeusish power. “You are a home away from home, London!” Johnston beamed. “I wish you could feel what this feels like!” Finishing with “The South”, a track of tender caress that rips into smoky tenacity, The Cadillac Three’s performance ended with an eerily atmospheric chant of the song’s lyrics: “This is where I was born, and this is where I’ll die.”
Finally, headliners Black Stone Cherry were due to the stage. A video was played on the stage’s screens prior to their arrival, depicting a young girl finding a box of vinyl containing albums by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith and, naturally, Black Stone Cherry – the latter of which was depicted as detonating into a ray of blinding, enlightening illuminance. This was BSC’s cue to charge on stage, opening with the stomping “Burnin’”. Guitarist Ben Wells played with breathless bucking bronco dynamism, racing from stage right to stage left, crossing paths with bassist Jon Lawhon like endless shooting stars crossing in the night’s sky.
Black Stone Cherry shine in aptitude in both the light and dark of southern rock. Subsequent tracks “Me And Mary Jane” and “Rain Wizard” entered the set into a realm of dirtier grit, a spectrum of timbre radiating from drummer John Fred Young’s charismatic execution. Young’s Tarzan strength percussion – including a drum solo that incorporated vibrant blues harmonica – often stole the show, a staunch foundation to the gargantuan blues boom of his bandmates. Thereafter, the set slid into wistful, sentimental ballads such as “Like I Roll”, “My Last Breath” and a little teaser of Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone”, before strutting into the nimble groove of “Cheaper To Drink Alone”.
BSC’s dazzling rainbow light show brought a strange juxtaposition to the rigour of their rock, yet complemented the swinging soul funk of their blues, as in “James Brown” (“We about to take you to funky town, London!” revelled frontman Chris Robertson). Furthering the spectacle of their show, tracks such as “Things My Father Said” and finale “Peace Is Free” brought hundreds of twinkling phone lights in the arena, like tiny Tinkerbells swaying in the noir. The thick, guttural soul of Robertson’s voice was met with awe during these affectionate ballads in particular.
Several “thank you”s, “we love you so much”s and launchings of picks into the crowd later from Robertson and co., the arena was finally flooded with harsh lighting to abruptly end the night. A tasty three-course meal of southernality that will leave London satiated until these bands make their imminent return to the UK, one final applause is due to the curator of this tour…