Concert Review: Rival Sons (Friday, August 23 with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony Live at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island)

Concert Review: Rival Sons (Friday, August 23 with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony Live at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island)
Photo by Barry Brecheisen

Friday night, as part of the "Four Decades of Rock" tour, Rival Sons opened up for Sammy Hagar at the new FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island...

If the most successful rock acts of the past fifty years have taught us nothing else, it's that great rock n' roll music is two parts music, one part attitude.  We're nearly as fascinated by what Keith Richards says and does as we are what he plays.

"Rock music has become the used car people buy for the flawless paint and luxury interior without looking under the hood. It's the guts. It's all in the guts. She was so hot when she was young and hungry, but now she's too married and too satisfied. No more passionate quickies in restaurant bathrooms, it's all been traded for scheduled sex on the weekends and a blowjob on your anniversary."

That was the response from Rival Sons frontman Jay Buchanan in May when I asked him if rock was dead.

Attitude?  Check.

That answer also made it clear I needed to finally catch Rival Sons live.  Attitude is great... but can you deliver musically in the live setting?  The ability to bring it live has always been important but in an era where the album has become devalued and people don't buy recorded music, it's crucial.  Afterall, it's a great live show that gets people talking.  It takes an incredible live performance, one oozing with attitude and chops, that gets people to forward a YouTube video.

Rival Sons album cover - Head Down

Hailing from Long Beach, California, Rival Sons formed in 2008, which suggests that as good as they are now, they're likely still developing their sound and act.  Having flirted with major labels, the band ultimately released their sophomore full-length Head Down in September of 2012 on Earache Records (eschewing U.S. majors for a British metal label).

Taking an average of about twenty days to record each of their two albums, the band thrives on spontaneity and live performance - qualities perfected on the road while honing their craft as opening act to a variety of similarly performance oriented rock acts (AC/DC, Alice Cooper and Kid Rock amongst them).

"Getting a framed snapshot of the spontaneous combustion that can sometimes happen between us is really the imperative when making a record... Sure, the music is there but what we're really selling to our audience is energy. All the energy we can conjure" says Buchanan of the band's attempts to recapture the attitude of their live show in the often staid state of the studio environment.

This month the band continues to up the ante, joining Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Sammy Hagar on the road and performing in larger venues as the opening act on the "Four Decades of Rock" tour (Hagar's most ambitious tour since 1998 features collaborations with former bandmates Denny Carmassi and Bill Church of Montrose and Michael Anthony of Van Halen - not to mention the larger crowds that revisiting such a catalog brings with it).

Friday night at the new FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, Rival Sons touched briefly on psychedelic rock ("Manifest Destiny") and slowed things down for a bit ("Jordan" and "Face of Light"), but it was primarily blues drenched rock n' roll that filled their forty-five minute set ("Wild Animal").

Rival Sons pulls from a variety of artists and sounds both classic and more contemporary, three of which seemed most noteworthy: Led Zeppelin, Guns N' Roses and the Black Crowes - the bombastic sound of Zeppelin and the Crowes more mellow moments alongside the gritty, bordering on irreverent, attitude of early GNR.

The key to it, and the single reason that formula works, is the fact that the band draws from their influences but never attempts to duplicate them - so they never sound dated.  Rival Sons manage to forge ahead with a fresh, original sound and a live set powered by presence, charisma and rock and roll.  They want you to think they don't care - that classic, rock sense of  irreverance - but they do.  Their forty-five minutes Friday night was sufficient evidence of that.

Rival Sons - Live at Reggie's Rock Club Chicago - 5/30/13 (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

Photo by Barry Brecheisen

"You know I'm never gonna do what I'm told" sang Buchanan about ten minutes into the' set Friday night as Rival Sons launched into the driving "Wild Animal," the tale of a relationship doomed before it began.  The chorus builds on the cutting guitar licks of Scott Holiday as the bass kicks in to establish the beat.

But Friday night, it wasn't co-founding band member Robin Everhart on bass.

"After years of intensive touring with Rival Sons, I have come to the conclusion that I am not a road-warrior and that the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle is not for me" said Everhart in a recent press release announcing his amicable departure.  David Beste is filling in.

"My God, Chicago in the summertime" mused Buchanan as the band slowed things down with "Jordan."  Heart-on-sleeve lyrics, the song's more mellow vibe was a distinct highlight outdoors, amidst a cool summer breeze off the lake Friday night.

"This song is about letting go.  Our music is the gift that we have that helps us deal with things.  I truly believe that's what music is for."

Music?  Check.

- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)

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