For those of you that know me, you will know that Black Stone Cherry can do no wrong in my eyes. This extends to the bands they bring on tour with them, in the past having big names such as Airborne, Theory of a Deadman, Halestorm, and Shinedown share the stage with them on their previous two arena tours.
While tonight’s support bands weren’t exactly on my radar until the tour was announced, I have been listening to them prior to the show and was looking forward to seeing performances from Monster Truck and The Cadillac Three. Unfortunately, due to the strict rules for photographers at the big arenas these days I was only able to see the first three songs of each band before being ejected from the venue. However, what I did see was massively impressive and I can’t wait to see the full performance from both bands later in the week when I will be seeing the show again in Leeds.
Monster Truck kept the stage setup simple and kicked things off with ‘True Rocker’ from their 2018 album of the same name. Guitarist Jeremy Widerman was shirtless from the beginning of the set and played up to the crowd getting them involved at every opportunity. Following the first track, the band launched straight into ‘Old Train’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me How to Live’, all receiving a positive reaction from the crowd. It was evident that the Monster Truck guys are more than worthy of the opening slot on the tour.
The Cadillac Three had the more complex stage setup of the two supports and a whole lot more smoke, with Neil Mason on drums and Kelby Ray on lap steel being raised up at either side of the stage with lead vocalist Jaren Johnston at centre stage in front of a wall of amps. With the first quarter of the set consisting of ‘Peace Love & Dixie’, ‘I’m Rocking’ and ‘Tennessee Mojo’ it was clear that the quintet from Nashville, Tennessee has some serious talent and have an ever-growing fan base with a number of people in the front row wearing their merch.
A few minutes before Black Stone Cherry were due to take to the stage, they teased fans with a pre-recorded video of them discussing their previous visits to Manchester and telling the story of having a Thanksgiving dinner backstage before the show back in 2016. Once the video had ended, the backing track of AC/DC’s ‘For Those About To Rock’ kicked in really getting the crowd in the mood for what was to come.
The show kicked off properly with a movie on the large screen with a slight horror vibe, showing a lady venturing into a creepy looking basement and finding an old box of records. After flicking through classics by bands including Def Leppard and others she comes to the band’s latest album Family Tree, at which point the stage lights lit up and the band made their way on stage. Beginning with a quick “Hey y’all” from lead vocalist Chris Robertson they wasted no time and began the proceedings with ‘Burning’, ‘Me and Mary Jane’ and ‘Bad Habit’, the perfect combination of old and new tracks to get the crowd bouncing early in the set. The energy of the crowd was matched by the band, especially from member Ben Wells on guitar and Jon Lawhon on bass who were constantly running the length of the stage, switching places from stage right to stage left. After missing one of my favourite tracks ‘Like I Roll’ while putting my camera away as quickly as possible I was escorted back into the venue during the second half of ‘My Last Breath’ the signature slow track off the Family Tree album and although it didn’t seem that many people were singing along there were a lot of people quietly observing and swaying in time to the music. In contrast to the previous song which had an elaborative floral pattern on the screens, during ‘Cheaper to Drink Alone’ the screens had the look of a backstreet rock bar with neon signs with the name of the song and the band’s logo. During the song Robertson took the opportunity to introduce the rest of the band, including an extra member who they had gained for the song, introduced only as Geoffroy on the bongos who was apparently celebrating his birthday this evening. After Wells completed the introductions by introducing Robertson, the song kicked back in for the final chorus with a blast of the CO2 cannon.
Wells then took the opportunity to speak to the crowd stating that it is always fun to play in Manchester, even if it was a Monday evening and thanked the audience for the support over the years from the small venues such as Academy 3 all the way up to the Manchester Arena. Wells then proclaimed that it was “time for a trip, a trip down soul creek”, just as the recognisable riff to ‘Soul Creek’ kicked in, a track which received a huge reaction from the crowd and got them singing the “Yeah, yeah”’s during the chorus.
Robertson then announced that he had has a nap during the afternoon today and woke up feeling funky and that it was time for the funky track, ‘James Brown’. In complete contrast to the last song there was immediately a more sombre mood in the air as soon as the first notes of ‘Things My Farther Said’ rang out through the venue, there were instantly phone in the air with the lights shining, however when Robertson asked everyone to raise their lights in the air the venue lit up for the crowd to sing the final chorus of this tearjerker at the top of their lungs. The band then returned to their funkier side with ‘Ain’t Nobody’ with Robertson asking for a dance floor in the middle of the standing area in the middle of the track.
After a singalong to ‘In My Blood’ that the entire audience joined into, the room then started bouncing in time as soon as ‘Blind Man’ began, this track also featured a mighty drum/harmonica solo from drummer John Fred Young. The harmonica tune played by Young led into the band’s rendition of Muddy Waters ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ which then became an extended jam session. Although the band were thoroughly enjoying themselves jamming on stage it seemed the crowd were eager for some more original Black Stone Cherry material. They got their wish with the next few tracks with arguably three of the bands biggest track back to back. This trio begin with ‘Lonely Train’ and was followed by ‘Blame it on the Boom Boom’ and ‘White Trash Millionaire’, all three tracks got the crowd bouncing higher than they had been all evening. With only a quick pause for Robertson to thank the crowd for being absolutely amazing and to ask if everyone had enjoyed themselves, he announced it was time for the final song of the evening, ‘Family Tree’. At the end of the track Robertson announced “Good night god bless you, were Black Stone Cherry, see you next time” as they left the stage and the stage lights faded to black.
After an interval that seemed so long many people were questioning if the show was over Robertson and Wells returned to the stage for ‘Peace Is Free’, during which the audience were asked to put their cell phones away to shut the world outside out for a few minutes and the hold hands with the person next to them for the final chorus, a really moving end to a brilliant show.
Having seen Black Stone Cherry countless times it is clear that the four guys from Glasgow, Kentucky are able to play to whatever size of audience they find themselves in front of that evening, whether that be 500 people or 5000. The love of music and a sense of pride in sharing their songs with the fans always shines through.
Review and Photos by Jack Barker