Blackberry Smoke: The Institute, Birmingham
Another trip to England’s second capital within a week for another quite brilliant evening.
After a smooth journey we arrived at the venue with three hours before Atlanta’s good ‘ole boys Blackberry Smoke took to the stage. An interesting hostelry a short walk away caught our eye and proved to be a real treat. The Old Crown Inn reputed to be Birmingham’s oldest pub dating back to the 1300s looked warm and inviting. Serving some lovely draft ales and possibly the best burger I've ever had in a pub, we spent a happy couple of hours pre-gig. If you come this way make sure you check it out.
The Institute is a strange venue and the Google reviews are quite damning. Having spent a few hours in the smaller Library venue last week, this event was at least being held in the main hall. It turned out to be decent enough, and having squeezed our way through the crush at the rear of the hall we actually ended up with ample room and decent sight lines for once. Of course, the idiot magnet that I possess worked like a charm and once again a total tit ended up very close to us. Absolutely blasted, he became something of a distraction with his flailing arms, poorly timed jumping and general crashing around inviting the potential of a large slap from the less than amused lady behind him. Luckily his mates saw sense and moved him to the middle where he was less irritating. TWAT!!
Just after nine, Blackberry Smoke made their way onto the stage amidst a quite epic amount of incense burning. This was inspired as the whole evening was scented with the pleasant aroma of this rather than the usual farty, beerery stench which we have come to associate with gigs (and no, the burger hadn't taken effect at this time!). The band wasted little time, powering through their highly crafted Southern country rock anthems; Like I Am from Little Piece Of Dixie was followed by Testify from their first album Bad Luck Ain't No Crime. Clad in denim and sporting the most incredible chops ever seen, the Smoke were on fire and their playing was exceptional. Lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr has a quite incredible stage presence, understated and yet imposing at the same time. His solos were excellent and he quickly demonstrated what a fine talent he is; he also has the best sideburns North of Billy Gibbons I've ever see.
A collection of tunes from their 2012 release The Whippoorwill followed; Lucky Seven and the sing-a-longs of Pretty Little Lie and Six Ways To Sunday had the buoyant crowd mouthing every word (and who wouldn't want to hear their baby “speaking in tongues” after a good roggering?). Unfortunately a rather unsavoury incident then occurred at the front as one of the audience was violently assaulted by another member of the crowd. As the perpetrator fled there was an air of confusion on stage, mainly as bassist and all round smoothie Richard Turner had witnessed the event directly in front of him. Charlie Starr checked that all was good and then wise-cracked about it being like back home on a Saturday night before ironically launching into Good One Coming On! Not for the poor bloke with his nose all over his face though. As the injured party was led out by ShowSec and St John’s Ambulance, the pace picked up and the track extended into a showcase of quality guitar work from Starr and Paul Jackson combined with the fat Hammond sounds from Brendon Still on the keys. A snippet of Midnight Rider from the Allman Brothers was also included and received a very warm reception before the pace slowed with a couple of bluesy numbers which culminated with the title track from their last album.
The set was perfectly paced, with ample opportunity for the band to make everything look absolutely painless and totally effortless. That is surely the mark of an excellent band, top quality on every level with absolutely ease. Up In Smoke got the crowd moving again before a departure from the usual subject matter with Ain't Got the Blues. We then got a rare treat with two booze flavoured tracks, both from their 2008 EP New Honky Tonk Bootlegs. First up the lovely Lesson In A Bottle, followed by Son Of The Bourbon, this had the diehards singing along. Penultimate tune One Horse Town maintained the audience participation levels before the band closed the evening with Ain't Much Left Of Me. A short pause as the traditional breather was taken before a final duo of Leave A Scar and Freedom Song rounded off a quite brilliant evening of top quality music. Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues than this is years to come. Absolutely Top Drawer. 10/10