Following the release of Rival Sons sixth studio album Feral Roots on 25 January, the four-piece blues rockers from Long Beach, California wasted no time in coming across the pond for a six-date UK tour along with the Canadian classic rock act The Sheepdogs. This night at the sold-out Roundhouse would be their final show from this tour in the UK before heading off to the rest of Europe. Rival Sons have been quietly plugging away for the last decade with a style of rock music that has built them a dedicated following despite generally not troubling the mainstream alternative discourse. Though their retro sound has not given listeners the kind of sound that is expected from a 21st century guitar-based band, their soulful and eclectic take on the genre has earned them many plaudits from critics and fans alike. And indeed, at a time when nostalgia (particularly within rock music) is becoming increasingly popular, and with positive reviews for both their latest album and their live performances, this is a good time to be Rival Sons.
The night was opened by The Sheepdogs, returning to the UK off the back of their sixth studio album Changing Colours, and lined up on the Roundhouse stage in what can only be described as some of the most interesting suits that I’ve ever seen. These costumes, plus the use of a large neon sign behind them, told those in the crowd who had not previously heard of them that they were in for forty-five minutes of solid southern country-fused classic rock. What those new to The Sheepdogs may not have fully realised beforehand, however, is that the level of expertise they would bring to their opening set. The five-piece band are wonderfully in sync with one another, and need to be because without this tightness their wonderful guitar harmonies and well-crafted instrumental sections would have fallen flat. There was no danger of this whatsoever though and going through their eleven-song set they just go from strength to strength and are thoroughly entertaining. They are a band who are unapologetically nostalgic and hark back to a bygone era of rock ‘n’ roll, which is perfect for supporting a band like Rival Sons. What’s more, with a platform such as that given by this kind of tour, it should hopefully augment their reputation in the UK for fans of the genre, and lead to more future appearances on these shores.
Rival Sons take to the stage after the intermission to ‘Back in the Woods’ off of Feral Roots and accompanied by a giant backdrop of the cover, which very quickly sets out what was in store for the rest of the evening. Rival Sons are punchy and powerful right from the start, with Jay Buchanan’s smooth and expressive voice filling the entire venue and the rest of the band on fine form as well; and the crowd show their appreciation accordingly. This appreciation is however, somewhat muted due to the fact that Feral Roots has only been out since 25 January and it was clear that many of the audience were not all that familiar with some of the songs being played from it. Rival Sons made the bold decisions to play almost the entire album, which needless to say did not leave a lot of room for many of their older, better known tracks.
Though this was not overly noticeable at first, when they did revert back to some of their fan favourites the difference between the reactions was a clear one; particularly as songs like ‘Pressure and Time’ and ‘Electric Man’ were interspersed between the Feral Roots tracks, rather than saved until the end. It should be clarified however, that there was at no point any negativity on the part of the crowd for the band doing this, just a slight drop in enthusiasm. It is also worth stating that when the enthusiasm was at its highest, the whole room was electric and the whole crowd singing along with Buchanan; particularly memorably during the inimitable ‘Torture’. The real highlight of the show, however, was when the rockers took things in a more mellow direction with a beautiful rendition of ‘Jordan’ from 2012’s Head Down album.
Be it with old songs or new, the musicianship on display throughout the evening is truly excellent. Bassist Dave Beste and drummer Mike Miley never put a foot wrong, and guitarist Scott Holiday is the epitome of style and swagger as he brings the house down with his solos. More than their talent though, Rival Sons bring a real sense of joy to the night. The feeling that they are genuinely doing what they love in front of their adoring fans is infectious, and it is no wonder that when they finish their set with ‘Do Your Worst’ (the only single so far from Feral Roots), the crowd does not let them leave without an encore. It is quite the encore too, as they return to the stage for the gospel-inspired ‘Shooting Stars’ joined by the Roundhouse Choir before bowing out with the popular ‘Keep on Swinging’. It was the perfect way for Rival Sons to end the UK leg of their tour and to ensure that their reputation as saviours of classic rock continues.