It’s been almost four years to the day since Black Stone Cherry’s last performance in the North East of England, and the anticipation is high for the band’s return.
Over the last year, Black Stone Cherry released their latest studio album, Kentucky, as well as headlining both the Carnival of Madness tour and the Ramblin’ Man Fair this summer. As a change of pace, the band has taken a more intimate approach to touring, hitting the road across the UK for a string of theatre appearances to give the fans a chance to get up close and personal with the band so to speak.
Newcastle City Hall has a legendary status in the area and over the years the likes of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones have all graced the stage in this hallowed room. Tonight Black Stone Cherry joins that long list, as they bring their “Experience Kentucky – An Evening with …” show to the Geordie rock fraternity.
Black Stone Cherry are taking a rather refreshing approach to the typical rock show experience by performing two sets whereby they are boldly opening for themselves. However, the two sets are somewhat different.
Most songs tend to start off as ideas on an acoustic guitar. Tonight during Black Stone Cherry’s first set they give the audience the opportunity to hear some of their tracks as they were originally conceived, and as the fans have never heard them before. The ambience of the set almost feels as if the band has invited us to watch them play on their front porch; the stage is illuminated with pixie lights and decked out with mason jars.
The opening set is peppered with reworked rarities like “All I’m Dreamin’ Of”, “Hell and High Water” and “Big City Lights”, which sit side by side with fan favourites like “The Rambler” and the beautiful “Things My Father Said”. This is also the longest we had ever seen the band and in particular Black Stone Cherry’s talismanic lead guitarist, Ben Wells stay still in one spot. Wells and the band are confined to their bar stools armed only with their acoustic instruments throughout the course of the set.
Robertson openly admits that sitting down at a Black Stone Cherry gig is weird, both for them and us, but this segment of the show definitely works. It is reminiscent of the early 90s MTV unplugged setup. The acoustic portion of the concert is the precursor to the band’s fully electrified set and is effectively the calm before the storm.
During the second half of the show, the band explode onto the stage with “Devil’s Queen”, and the fans are immediately on their feet and pressed up against the stage. Black Stone Cherry are full of energy, they cover every inch of the stage, frequently swapping sides of the room, whether they are up on the high risers towering over the audience, or clambering across the PA, it’s the Black Stone Cherry the fans have come to know and love, and it’s back to business as usual.
Throughout the course of the band’s 90-minute set, they put their foot on the throttle all the way, there are no mid-set lulls, it’s just pure unadulterated rock and roll throughout. The band’s career-spanning set is packed full of anthems like “Soul Creek”, “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blind Man”, to name but a few. There’s also room for several numbers from the band’s latest offering including the incredibly heavy “Darkest Secret”, the infectious “Soul Machine” and “Cheaper To Drink Alone”. The audience hangs on every word of every song.
The show is interspersed with a superb cover of bluesman Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort”, which features some superb playing from Chris Robertson. John Fred Young also takes his moment in the spotlight with a devastating drum solo, he plays at a breakneck speed and is arguably one of the best drummers in rock right now.
The unmistakable opening riff of “Lonely Train” lights the blue touch-paper in the room, as the band bring their marathon show to a close, during which John Fred Young is up on his feet, he beats his drum kit like it owes him money. Being Jimi Hendrix’s birthday, the band close the show with the heaviest cover of Voodoo Chile you’ve ever heard, they make the song their own. Throughout the track, the band are channelling the great man himself, with Robertson playing his trusty axe with his teeth, and both Wells and Lawhon playing their guitar behind their head, truly a spectacle to behold.
Tonight’s show is the ultimate Black Stone Cherry fan experience, with almost two and quarter hours of live music, and the opportunity to hear the band as you’ve never heard them before and outside the confines of their now standard arena environment. This is a show which is not to be missed.