By Nick Stalford
On May 11, Rival Sons played the Paradise Rock Club. As I waited outside the venue an hour before doors opened, I knew it was going to be a good show. Many fans joined me in lining up early, all decked out in their favorite hard-rock band merch, boasting how many time they’d seen Rival Sons play live, and proudly waving around magazines featuring Rival Sons on the cover. Once I grabbed my press pass, I followed the stampede of fans to the front of the stage, where I luckily managed to grab a prime spot before the front row quickly filled up after a few minutes.
Two opening bands played that night, including Robert Jon & The Wreck and Black Stone Cherry. After a lively and soulful country-rock performance from The Wreck, the crowd began to loosen up just in time for Cherry to hit the stage. The lift in the crowd’s energy was immediate, as the drummer wildly spun his sticks and shook his lion’s mane from side to side, and the lead guitarist zipped back and forth across the stage.
But it was clear that the crowd was there for Rival Sons. After Cherry left the stage, fans anxiously awaited the main event, keeping close tabs on the stage set-up progress. Around quarter to 10pm, without much warning, Rival Sons took to the stage and immediately began playing.
Rival Sons is an American blues and hard-rock band from Long Beach, California, formed in early 2009. Singer Jay Buchanan joined the band after being recruited via MySpace by lead guitarist Scott Holiday. Coming from a background of blues and singer-songwriter music, Buchanan was at first skeptical at the prospect of joining a hard-rock band, but the success of the band’s debut album Before The Fire in 2009 cemented his decision to join. Since then, the band has continued to grow with the release of three more albums and playing with big-name acts like Sammy Hagar, Kiss, and Aerosmith.
Buchanan walked on stage in style, swaggering with confidence and wearing a blazer, trousers with suspenders, a wife-beater undershirt, and dress shoes. The rest of the band sported similar vintage “cool guy” looks, including drummer Mike Miley’s bowler hat and suspenders, bassist Dave Beste’s beard and flat-cap, and Holiday’s suit, sunglasses, and waxed mustache.
Limiting the banter to a minimum, Rival Sons concentrated on their music, not speaking directly to the crowd until they had played several songs. But when Buchanan did speak, his words carefully chosen; he preached words of wisdom to the crowd, offered his thanks to the fans and the opening acts, and credited Boston’s own Morphine as his biggest musical influence.
As the show progressed, Buchanan’s clothes slowly began to slip off of him. His blazer came off first, followed by his shoes. His neatly combed hair quickly became disheveled and spread out over his face as he sang. At one point Buchanan danced barefoot on the stage and I couldn’t help myself from comparing him to one of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits, happily dancing on a table in The Shire to a folk ditty.
To my surprise, about halfway through their set, Rival Sons left the stage only to reappear a few minutes later to play a small acoustic set sandwiched between the two acts of their main performance. The crowd quietly swayed back and forth as they guys played an odd mix of acoustic instruments ,including a melodica, upright bass, and a block of wood that Miley masterfully slapped with his hands. After completing the brief acoustic set, the guys returned to stage ready to rock.
Throughout the show, Buchanan made sure not to hog all the attention. He made frequent trips off to various parts of the stage out of the spotlight. Off in the shadows, he conducted a series of meditational exercises–holding out his hands, bowing down his head, crouching–and he even left the stage for a time, allowing Holiday to spring into a beautiful guitar solo.
After a particularly engaging song, the guys all bowed their heads in thanks towards the crowd and left the stage. They let the suspense build, but after a hearty chant from the crowd, Rival Sons returned to the stage for a three song encore. They ended the night with another thank you to the opening bands, tossed guitar picks, drum sticks, face cloths, and set lists to eagerly reaching out fans, and said goodnight.
Rival Sons will continue their west coast tour before a brief stop in Canada, and then on to Europe. Make sure to catch them on tour, and check out their music at http://www.rivalsons.com/.