Blackberry Smoke & The Biters - O2 Academy, Bristol
It's been over six months since Atlanta's Blackberry Smoke released their country rock Like an Arrow, a fine release that moved more toward the country than the rock. That may be the case on record, but live, these boys continue to demonstrate that they can shake it with the best of them. Our last encounter with the band was a raucous London Forum gig back in November 2015, and the delight at finally getting the band on the doorstep, albeit the travel challenging O2 Academy in Bristol was unrestrained.
The Smoke usually have a decent support act worth forgoing a pint or two in order to get in early doors. In 2015 it was the excellent The Record Company (see our recent review of their show at The Fleece a few weeks ago) and on this tour it was their fellow brethren Biters (7) who opened the evening. A very healthy crowd had gathered, no doubt lured in partly by a band who are getting some big plaudits within the Classic Rock fraternity but also by the sneaky opening of doors at 7pm for an 8pm start.
Led by the very visual and energetic Steven Tyler styled Tuk Smith, Biters sound mixes Cheap Trick, Bowie, The Sweet, Slade and the New York Dolls. They put a sterling effort into their 40 minute set, with some early crowd participation and an amusing anecdote about a surprising hand job for their merchandising man in Helsinki keeping the interest. Musically they are extremely competent, with guitarist Matt Gabs showing some great chops, especially in the extended guitar duel with Smith on final track 1975. Ultimately, the band appeared to be showing the strains of a long tour, with a slightly forced effort pushing them towards appearing more British than they needed, something that they will never comfortably achieve. A rousing reception alright, but not a band that had me racing to the merch stall to pick up their latest CD for.
We've written about the live show of Blackberry Smoke (9) twice before in the Musipedia. My two previous encounters in Birmingham and London saw the Georgia outfit increase the quality at each show and once again they proved to be a superbly slick outfit. A set which consisted close to 20 songs, lasted close to two hours and crammed full of Smoke classics old and new. Their set was bookended with Fire In The Hole and Ain't Much Left Of Me. In between, the band, led by the utterly captivating Charlie Starr ploughed through a perfectly paced set which picked up tempo for the traditional mid-set musical diversion of Sleeping Dogs which segued into Zeppelin's Your Time Is Going To Come, slowed perfectly for Ain't Got The Blues and Sunrise In Texas before a wonderful climax of The Move's California Man, One Horse Town and the aforementioned Ain't Much Left Of Me which allowed guitarist Paul Jackson to show once more that he isn't here just to add those delicious backing vocals. 'too country to be called rock, too rock to be called country' said the t-shirt. All I know is that this is a band slowly easing into their rightful place at the top table. Stunning stuff.