Rolling Stone recently proclaimed that with Blackberry Smoke’s new album the band have revived Southern Rock music.

Blackberry Smoke’s latest offering Like An Arrow entered the Official UK Album Charts at #8, whilst back home in the US the album sat at #1 in both the Country and Americana charts, as well as #3 in the Rock charts. Blackberry Smoke has a diverse musical pallet which is appreciated by a whole raft of music fans alike.

A t-shirt on the band’s merchandise table this evening sums up this dichotomy perfectly as “Too country for rock and too rock for country”. This doesn’t seem to matter to the packed out audience assembled tonight at the O2 Academy Newcastle, who aren’t concerned about pigeon-holing the band into any specific genre, they are just here to have a good time and enjoy some rock ‘n’ roll music, whatever shape or form it is presented in.

Fellow Atlanta, Georgia-based neighbours and Earache labelmates Biters open the show tonight. The bands have been long time friends, you may have seen Biters frontman Tuk Smith in Blackberry Smoke’s video for “Rock And Roll Again”.

Biters rather fitting intro tape “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum plays the band onto the stage, and really sets the scene for their 70s inspired sound. Biters distinctive brand of no-nonsense rock and roll, which is laden with infectious hooks, vintage guitar riffs and big drum grooves immediately transports the audience back to a time when rock and roll was king. The band both visually and musically conjure up images of artists from the golden age of rock like T-Rex, Slade and Thin Lizzy.

The quartet is getting ready to release their forthcoming sophomore album The Future Aint’ What It Used To Be on the 19th May. Tonight Biters takes the opportunity to preview some of those tracks on the Tyneside audience with the likes of their incredible new single “Stone Cold Love”, the country-tinged acoustic ballad “Going Back To Georgia” and “Gypsy Rose” all featuring.

Biters close out their set with a couple of tracks from their debut record Electric Blood in the shape of “Heart Fulla Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “1975”, leaving the stage to rapturous applause from the Newcastle faithful.

It’s been a long road for Blackberry Smoke who are now in their seventeenth year together, and after all of this time, they are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labour. These seasoned road warriors perform in the region of 250 shows a year and with each return visit to the UK the band seems to build on the momentum of their last visit; this current tour is no exception to that rule.

Tonight Blackberry Smoke wheel out their strongest set possible which includes the likes of old favourites such as “Good One Comin On” and a rousing rendition of “Shaking Hands With The Holy Ghost”, which takes the O2 Academy Newcastle to church. These tracks are scattered in between songs from the band’s new album such as the hard rocking “Waiting For The Thunder”, which is arguably one of the heaviest tracks the band has written to date. 

Mid-set the Blackberry Smoke really spread out and jam, which is, of course, a trait of many of the greats who have proceeded and influenced the band. This extended piece sees the band seamlessly segue “Sleeping Dogs” with their respectful homage to both Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band with “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and the trippy reverb fueled instrumental “Mountain Jam” added into the mix. Truly one of the standout moments of the show.

The multi-faceted group showcase more of a traditional Americana sound with tracks like “Lay It All On Me” and “Ain’t Got The Blues Anymore”, which slows down the proceedings nicely and gives the audience a chance to get their breath back; a mass singalong ensues.

Throughout the course of the evening, Blackberry Smoke continues to pay tribute to artists who have inspired them. They dedicate good time rock ‘n’ roll number “Let It Burn” to the late great Chuck Berry and “Free On The Wing” from the band’s latest offering to Gregg Allman who has been unwell of late, and featured on the record. The latter of which has a really mellow vibe characterised by the beautiful keyboard playing from Brandon Still, which in places is interspersed with some sublime twin part guitar harmonies from both Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson respectively. 

Blackberry Smoke are humble about the artists who came before them. Being Muddy Waters birthday Starr also takes the opportunity to belt out a few bars of “Still A Fool” before launching into “Restless”. The pace picks up as the band head into the final flings of their set with the anthemic “Shake Your Magnolia”. 

Blackberry Smoke return to the stage and give a rare airing to the incredibly bluesy “Pearls”, which has recently been given a limited edition vinyl release and features a stunning cover of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover” on the flip side. A gospel-soaked airing of “Aint Much Left of Me”, which in turn is infused with a few bars of “Amazing Grace”, brings the night to a close.

It’s fair to say that tonight Blackberry Smoke are in the form of their lives, the band delivers a masterclass in southern rock to their Geordie brothers and sisters.

Blackberry Smoke
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Event Date: 04-APR-2017

About The Author

Adam Kennedy is an experienced music photographer based in northeast England. He has been shooting concerts for several years, predominantly with the band Vintage Trouble. In 2013, he was one of their tour photographers, covering the UK and Ireland tour including the headline shows and as opening act for The Who. As an accomplished concert photographer, Adam's work has been featured in print such as, Classic Rock Blues Magazine, Guitarist Magazine, Blues in Britain magazine, broadcast on the MDA Telethon on ABC Television in the US, used in billboard advertising for Renaissance Hotels in the US, and featured online via music blogs such as Uber Rock and Guitar Planet. He is also the official photographer at Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.

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