First song into Rival Sons’ set at Liverpool and vocalist Jay Buchanan turns to the packed o2 Academy crowd and addresses them with just one word: ‘Liverpool’. Second song in, he adds: ‘So how you doing?’ before the band launched into the fuzz-heavy ‘Electric Man’.
With those two gestures, he set the tone of this show in a much more effective manner than the last time Rival Sons played this venue, almost two years ago. That night, I felt a distinct disconnect between the band and audience as the frontman seemed to shy away from the crowd, almost totally ignoring them until the end. That gave the gig the impression of a rehearsal (albeit with 1200 people present) but tonight was a far cry from then. The band have been opening for Black Sabbath throughout their ‘The End’ world tour, playing large-scale arenas (this show was one of a handful of headline dates squeezed in between Sabbath’s current arena tour of the UK) and opening for the Brummie veterans has clearly had an effect on the singer. He is much more confident on the stage now, facing the crowd, speaking much more than he did in 2015. It was such a difference, it actually felt like a proper rock gig – it was the show I’d hoped to see from them last time out.
‘We’ve been touring with Black Sabbath, as you know’, said Buchanan to a big cheer from the crowd. ‘But we’ve missed these more intimate venues, sharing the sweat’, he added. There were several Sabbath T-shirts in evidence in the crowd, illustrating that some were here to take the rare chance to see the band do a full set as opposed to the 45 minutes or so they get with Iommi and company. They are promoting current album ‘Hollow Bones’ but the set played tonight was a fairly even spread of all their albums. As lazy a description as it is, their sound is still essentially Zeppelin with a fuzz pedal; I lost count of how many guitars axeman Scott Holliday went through during the set but his riffs all were drenched in that trademark sludgy tone. They seemed to play their best stuff early on; ‘Pressure And Time’ came five songs in, preceded by ‘Secret’ from 2014’s ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ album (basically ‘How Many More Times’ revisited). Nonetheless, this was a tighter, slicker Rival Sons than I saw here last time, they dispensed with the acoustic section of the show tonight preferring to stay electric (man) all the way.
One effect of the frontman’s improved interaction with the crowd came after they played ‘Torture’ from their debut EP; the ‘whoa-whoa’ refrain was taken up by the audience, who chanted it back long after the song had ended, picked up upon by drummer Michael Miley who saluted the crowd. Almost everything they played was greeted with huge cheers, this is a band now ready to make the jump to headline the large venues they’ve been playing as an opening act.
I caught the last few numbers of The Virginmarys; the Macclesfield trio delivered a set of heavier rock than their rather ‘casual’ look might suggest. They got a decent reception themselves from an already full venue, and will no doubt be back for a headline appearance here in their own right before long.