Black Stone Cherry/The Cadillac Three/Monster Truck @ Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, December 7 2018

More than a decade ago a little known four piece from Kentucky took its first tentative steps onto the Newcastle Arena stage, opening up for classic rock behemoths Def Leppard. Fast forward 10 years and Black Stone Cherry headlined the same venue in their own right – 48 hours before Leppard moved in for their latest Tyneside showstopper.

That perfect symmetry can’t have been lost on a typically emotional Chris Robertson. Black Stone Cherry’s frontman is no stranger to baring his soul but whereas the band’s previous headline show in the city was dominated by a moving soliloquy on mental health and depression, the prevailing mood on this occasion was one of unbridled optimism. 

Robertson came across like a kid in a sweetshop as he giggled uncontrollably under a white trilby and dark shades – frequently referring to the joy he felt at being allowed to ply his trade in front of so many fans at a venue that must have seemed completely out of reach during the band’s infancy in small town America.

Busy sidekick Ben Wells made a point of the fact that Black Stone Cherry had answered the call to play Newcastle and if the venue was far from full then there was no hint of disappointment on stage. And why should there be? Even a three-quarters capacity arena represents a significant step up from the City Hall and underpins the steady progress of a constantly evolving quartet.

That evolution was never more obvious than when Robertson broke into the funky James Brown, from latest long player Family Tree, and followed up with an equally upbeat version of Ain’t Nobody. Not afraid to break the mould, Black Stone Cherry pushed the creative boundaries on their sixth long player and had the confidence to play six tracks from that game changing record here. Ending their main set with the evocative title track set the seal on a polished show screaming ambition. 

Only Rain Wizard, Lonely Train and Blind Man survived from that first arena set in the summer of 2008 but all three have aged remarkably well. Def Leppard saw something special in the Southern rockers 10 years ago and now the world has opened its eyes to Black Stone Cherry’s unique talent.

Three Is The Magic Number

But on a three-band bill designed to breathe new life into live rock, Robertson and co. weren’t the only cause for celebration. The Cadillac Three’s casually effective run through a growing catalogue of country rock classics was worthy of headline status with the uplifting American Slang and homegrown anthem The South particularly affecting.

Like Black Stone Cherry, the Nashville trio replete with soaring pedal steel, have made a concerted push for the hearts and minds of British fans and that hard work’s paying off. Not since prog rock maestros Rush have three musicians filled a vacuous stage with such ease and it can’t be long before The Cadillac Three make their own play for the UK’s biggest venues.

Monster Truck are another band familiar with Newcastle’s arena. Opening up for Nickelback two years ago, theirs is a transformation almost beyond belief. Perhaps beaten by nerves when asked to support their fellow Canadians in October 2016, this was an altogether more assured display by a quartet tipped for glory. The deliciously provocative Don’t Tell Me How To Live and soaring set closer Sweet Mountain River were worthy of the masses who’d headed down early for a snapshot of 70s-inspired heavy rock. If only the keys had made their presence felt in the mix…

*Images By John Burrows