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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blackberry Smoke (Review By Paul)

Blackberry Smoke: 02 Forum, Kentish Town, London

Our recent gigs have thrown up some pretty impressive supporting acts that have enhanced the experience and generally made the overall experience even more entertaining. The challenge for any support act is to win over an often partisan crowd. During AC/DC’s epic show at Wembley stadium in July, Vintage Trouble, a band who has scored notable conversions throughout the world had to work incredibly hard to garner a reaction from the diehards who were there for just one band. The Record Company (9) from California had no such trouble in their opening role for Blackberry Smoke. Hitting the stage to an already packed Forum, the three piece packed incredible energy into their 40 minutes with some of the most enthusiastic blues based rock ‘n’ roll seen for a long time. The crowd reaction said it all with increasingly vociferous responses as their short set progressed. Led by the hyperactive Chris Vos on vocals, guitar, slide guitar and incredible lap steel, the band powered through some of their raw almost punk infused numbers from their early EPs and a couple of tunes from their forthcoming debut album, out in February 2016. Alongside Vos, Alex Stiff with his dirty distorted bass and drummer Marc Cazorla maintained a steady rhythm which allowed Vos to shine. Some of his playing was quite stunning and the man is no slouch on the harmonica either. When he wasn’t sat on his stool he was running around the stage, cajoling and spinning like a man possessed. At times the band looked slightly overwhelmed by the massive response, with Vos continually expressing genuine gratitude to the sold out crowd. As the crowd rushed to snap up the final copies of their releases at the merchandise tables, it is clear that The Record Company are a band that will definitely require further watching in 2016.

Few bands seem to be on tour as often as Blackberry Smoke (10). (In fact, only Vintage Trouble appears on the road with more regularity). Our first sighting of the Southern Country Rock outfit came almost exactly a year ago in the cramped confines of the Institute in Birmingham where the band provided an exhibition in top drawer rock ‘n’ roll. A year later, with February’s excellent Holding All The Roses no longer considered a new album, the band looked confident, relaxed and polished in the much bigger surroundings of The Forum as they smoothly manoeuvred through a 22 song set. They have clearly reaped the benefits of their road time, particularly their recent US tour with the mighty ZZ Top. With five albums behind them, the band chose to focus more on their recent music with 15 of the tracks featured coming from Holding All The Roses and 2012’s The Whippoorwill. Opening with the foot stomping Leave A Scar, the incidental chatter was kept to a minimum as the ‘Smoke let their music do the talking. In fact, I think it wasn't until the beautifully crafted Pretty Little Lie had concluded that front man and main focus Charlie Starr even said “hello”. To be honest, this didn't bother the ecstatic crowd in the slightest, as Blackberry Smoke in full flow is an absolute delight to watch. The interaction between the band is noticeable with huge smiles from guitarist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still particularly warming. Elsewhere the ‘Smoke sound is underpinned by the bass and drumming of Richard and Brit Turner which allows Starr to humbly demonstrate that not only is he a superb singer but also a smoking hot axe man.

The band has an affinity with Led Zeppelin and Sleeping Dogs contained a smart segue into Your Time Is Gonna Come. It’s not all heads down rock ‘n’ roll though and as the pace slowed the beautifully crafted title track from 2012’s The Whippoorwill and the sentimental One Horse Town demonstrated that this band is not a one trick pony (What you did there...I see it - Ed). Finishing their main set with Holding All The Roses and the infectious Shake Your Magnolia, the crowd was baying for more. The band duly obliged, with Too High followed by a fine version of The Rover (their cover for the Mojo CD earlier this year) before Ain't Much Left Of Me brought an excellent evening to an end. I looked at my review from last year before writing this. My concluding remarks then were “Blackberry Smoke has the confidence and ability to be headlining much bigger venues that this in years to come”. I rest my case.

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