The Rival Sons show was the first of three during a 4 day stretch while visiting Atlanta (followed by Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle). It just so happened to be the second time to see these guys (The Pageant, Kansas City, MO), and boy am I thankful for that was the case. Rival Sons is a musical powerhouse, hitting with all the unrestrained force of a category 5 south Florida hurricane, however, the piss poor venue threatened to overshadow such a monumental performance. More on that later.
Anticipation was running high for the Teatro Fiasco Toure, a merry band of minstrels, which kicked off its 21 date North American romp with this Atlanta show. An eclectic collection of entertainers, seemingly hand picked by Jay Buchanan himself, Rival Sons' lead singer, included poet Derrick Brown reading/performing excerpts from his book and DJ Howie Pyro of the Intoxica Radio show filling our ears between sets with long lost 50's and 60’s rock n roll tunes. This rich, soupy mixture of vintage revelry and punchy prose willfully culminated into the grand event! Rival Sons was set to bring their soulful fusion of funk, blues and rock to the masses. Show opener, The London Souls, was actually a no-show due to a “scheduling conflict”. Disappointing as their high energy jams, example “I Think I Like It”, featured in a 2012 Adidas ad, would have fit in well with the headliner’s set.
Ripping through their high octane brand of fuzz fueled guitars, it’s safe to say that no one has ever seen a group like Rival Sons. Scott Holiday’s iconic guitar sound is matched only by the voice that is a true tour de force not heard since the likes of Robert Plant or Janice Jopplin. Jay Buchanan MUST be their love child! Backed by a stoic but masterful bassist in Dave Beste and maniac thumper, Mike Miley on the kit, it’s premeditated sonic sex. Todd Ogre-Brooks adds his beard swinging enthusiasm to the keys adding elements of funk and blues to this rock n roll outfit.
It is truly awe inspiring standing unprotected from the raw energy at a million watts blasting from the stage and hardly lets up. “Electric Man”, “Pressure and Time” and “Open My Eyes” is a 1, 2, 3 combo even Iron Mike Tyson couldn’t duplicate. And in crazy, frenetic fashion, to stay nimble on his feet, Jay removed his double monk strap ankle boots to reveal painted toe nails not even 4 songs into the night. He had a purpose, as did the rest of the gang.
Dedicated to those struggling with addiction and to the services members dealing with the unseen injuries of PTSD, “Where I’ve Been”, actually gave me goose bumps. Beautiful yet jarring, soulful yet heartbreaking, the pain is lyrically detailed so exquisitely over Holiday’s special blend of slide guitar saturated with echo and chorus pedal effects. It was a poignant moment for all.
And as only Jay can, he laid bare his soul to the adoring fans time after time in thunderous fashion launching into other tunes like, “Torture” and “Open My Eyes”. A midnight meeting “in the bushes” regales a rendezvous with a sister and a jar full shine in the hard driving number, “Secret”. The high energy never wained through “Tell Me Something”, a road house knock down drag out ditty, “Hollow Bones Pt. 1” and “Hollow Bones Pt. 2”, an epic telling of temptation in part 1 with a covenant made to protect oneself and family in part 2. And through it all, the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain, Rival Sons left us with hope via a rousing refrain, “Keep On Swinging”, to close out the show.
If anyone left the venue that night with the slightest reservation as to the power of this quintet…or of rock n’ roll, they would need to check inside their shoe for a toe tag.
Special Note: I said I would get to the venue gripes later. And just like the show, I wanted to keep the deplorable shortcomings of the host, that can only be described as amateur at best, out of the main body as not to spoil the Rival Sons’ offering. From their inability to wrangle the concert photographers, standing tall in front of the crowd for more than 5 songs (usually allowed to snap away for 3, tops) until frontman Jay Buchanan himself had to tell them to clear out, to the blinding stage back lighting subjecting all those in the audience to suffer staring straight into the sun squinting all show to try and catch their favorite artists who were regrettably cast in shadowed silhouette. Dark forms shifting about versus the ability to look into the faces of the gods delivering manna to their faithful.
The Masquerade has moved into this “new” space with 3 separate venues, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, to handle all manner of musical acts and performers. Great idea in concept, however, major failure in execution as the space is terribly ill suited for shows. The major issue in this particular setting for Rival Sons, Heaven, suffers from low ceilings. Low ceilings mean low stage lighting which translates into back lighting shining out instead of down. A few fog machines could've been employed to diffuse some of the wattage and create the awesome effect we all know and love about a live show; the ethereal UFO beams of circling and flashing red, green and blue light. Didn’t even have that. It was like showing up to an Elementary School play of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” but instead of fidgety, snot nosed 4th graders mumbling along to saloon style piano, it was an international act like Rival Sons. The stage was even covered in institutional low pile carpet for Cripe’s sake!
I know how hard these guys (lighting and sound techs) work to support an event and am one to give the benefit of the doubt, to a fault. I thought long and hard about including this portion. However, I felt so strongly that I could not keep quiet. That Just Happened is all about the live fan experience, so, it needed to be said if for that lone fact. It’s part gripe, because they got it so wrong, and part cautionary tale for anyone else considering taking in a show here. Nuff said.