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LIVE: Rival Sons @ O2 Academy Birmingham 17/10/23

A band born for stadiums, Long Beach’s Rival Sons return to the UK after just a year, in celebration of their two album releases this year - Darkfighter and Lightbringer. Living up to their reputation of producing some of the biggest sounds in the modern rock landscape, the California’s hit the stage at Birmingham’s O2 Academy for a two hour set of bluesy rock compositions and the promise of keeping rock and roll alive.

Let’s just say it straight off the bat, it’s evident that Rival Sons are a top-tier act - an arena band playing Wembley sized shows in 3000 cap venues around the UK. Every time they step on stage, they reaffirm their global status. Across a career spanning nine records, two Grammy nominations, and support slots with rock and roll royalty, Rival Sons not only pay homage to the classics but carve out their own identity with a sweet and unique cocktail of seventies swagger and contemporary rock and roll.

Mirrors, taken from this year’s first album release, DARKFIGHTER, kicks off the night with a bang, the crowd instantly hooked. They went on to play every song from that album, Nobody Wants to Die came second; a fast paced, almost western-gangster track perfect for the car radio, thrilled with electric choruses and that signature Rival Sons spark. Frontman Jay Buchanan added a bohemian flair to the stage with his lively presence, whilst guitar maestro Scott Holiday impressed with his intricate skills, delivering several standout solos and oozing heaps of rock and roll mastery throughout the night.

Their band's performance is truly enthralling, yet it's the lyrics that elevates it to another level. Jay possesses lyrical prowess, acting as a poet wielding a microphone, skillfully weaving narratives with profound depth. Where I’ve Been, Jay’s mid-set speech about forgiveness, projected a wave of emotion around the room, as captivated faces peered up at the stage.

Their performance featured a mix of fresh tracks from this year and cherished fan favourites. From Rapture and Mercy to Open Your Eyes and Feral Roots, the setlist catered to a diverse audience, appealing to both long-time enthusiasts and newcomers alike. A stand-out one for myself, and the band due to their calls of appreciation and them stating that this one had been a longtime coming, was Mosaic - the last track from their new album (released today) LIGHTBRINGER. You could almost feel the relief that people could finally hear it, and it was clear to see the band were happy with its reception. A particular standout, not only for me but also for the band, was Mosaic. The audience's enthusiastic response and the band's expression of it being a long-awaited moment made this track special. It was the closing song from their brand new album LIGHTBRINGER (out today). The sense of somewhat relief and happiness amongst the band on stage was palpable as the audience embraced the song with open arms and heaps of enthusiasm.

Stepping onto the stage for a solo performance of "Shooting Stars," a beloved fan favourite, Buchanan united with the entire crowd in perfect harmony. Rival Sons' distinctive quality lies in their ability to craft massive arena anthems, complete with bold guitar riffs and electrifying energy. However, they also possess the skill to shift gears, infusing their music with deep emotion through rich harmonies and acoustic rock ballads. This versatility keeps the audience engaged, offering a change of pace and thought-provoking lyrics to complement their high-octane offerings.

Concluding a dynamic two-hour performance, which slightly exceeded the curfew, was Keep On Swinging, their 2012 hit taken from their studio album Head Down. It was a testament to their ability to channel the essence of classic rock whilst infusing it with their own style and energy. They demanded attention from the crowd, whilst giving them their final dose of adrenaline to ride the night out on a high. Buchanan’s vocals were a perfect match for their unapologetic sound, whilst Holiday’s solos were nothing short of electrifying, adding another layer of intensity to an already emotionally charged and high octane set. The rhythm section, anchored by drummer Michael Miley and bassist Dave Beste, kept the song thundering forward with an irresistible groove, making not just the final song but the entire set a true sonic powerhouse. Rival Sons’ capacity to invigorate their audience through their fusion of rock and roll was on full display, leaving an undeniable mark on an unforgettable night.

Rival Sons continue their UK/European tour, purchase tickets here.

Their latest album LIGHTBRINGER is out now.

Words/Images: Tate Powell @tatepowellx

Keep your eyes peeled, my interview with vocalist Jay Buchanan will be live soon!


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