Rival Sons @ Newcastle Northumbria Institute, January 31 2019
Greta Van who? Better than Fleet? You bet. This ain’t no classic rock competition – in spite of the intense Rivalry – but if it was then there’d only be one winner. The Sons are all grown up and the cool kids snapping at their heels simply can’t compete with expansive, abrasive, immersive rock on roll on this frankly terrifying scale.
On a night when ardent new album Feral Roots was played in its entirety – 10 of that visceral record’s 11 tracks were rolled out for the first time after Do Your Worst had muscled its way into the set before Christmas – Rival Sons made a statement. An address to the live music nation, if you like. A declaration that they remain the most relevant and radical classic rock combo on the planet. Forget the Fleet. A whole armada couldn’t sink this lot right now.
That more than half of an utterly absorbing set was comprised of new material demonstrated the faith Rival Sons have in their considerable ability. Brave enough to bombard early adopters and late converters alike with a battery of brilliantly conceived modern anthems, the band’s striking self-belief proved intoxicating. Less an exercise in vainglorious fluff and more a ferocious manifesto for global domination, this was the triumphant validation of a decade spent honing their intuitive craft.
If the unnerving intro was more Jurassic Park than Back In The Woods, then let’s make one thing clear: in spite of their experience and retro leanings these are no classic rock dinosaurs in thrall to a bygone era and frantically trying to turn back time. Rival Sons aren’t reinventing the wheel – they’re creating something entirely new and reassuringly unpredictable.
Feral Roots‘ title track, the sumptuous Stood By Me and the Moby-esque Shooting Stars (think Natural Blues given a feral twist) might have been premiered on Tyneside but the pick of the new tunes proved Jay Buchanan and co. have ascended to a higher creative plain in the two-and-a-half years since Hollow Bones rattled a few cages. There were no first night nerves, no predictable missteps and no sense that these sensational new songs belonged anywhere other than slap bang in the middle of a typically savage Rival Sons set.
There were gasps when the peerless Scott Holiday fired up Pressure And Time five songs in but such is the quality of the band’s new material it mattered very little. Saving Electric Man and Keep On Swinging for the final salvo was a sensible move but this was all about the future and not so much about the past.
It was all about a commitment to the cause. A keen sense of self-worth. A moment in time that will never be repeated but will always be the blueprint. “You are the only ones who will ever hear this for the first time,” Buchanan reminded a Newcastle crowd that didn’t always appear to appreciate the magnitude of an historic night. Believe the hype and Greta Van Fleet are the saviours of 70s-soaked cool. Rival Sons just ripped that hype to shreds. They did it 10 years ago and a decade down the line Buchanan and Holiday have done it again: classic rock is all shook up all over again.
Images courtesy of Adam Kennedy