(Originally published in The Upcoming: http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2015/04/02/rival-sons-at-the-roundhouse-live-review/)
Jay Buchanan of Rival Sons is clearly an intense man. Not big on conversing directly with his audience, he spends a lot of his non-singing time on stage at the Roundhouse with his head thrown back, eyes closed in trance-like rapture, palms outstretched before him. Is he sending a silent spirit message to a rock deity? Perhaps he’s asking for divine guidance on how to cram in more influences from his record collection into his band’s performance. If that’s the case, he’s doing a pretty good job already; over the nearly two-hour long show, his band, having come onstage to the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, switch from Doors-esque psychedelia to AC/DC-ish riffing to mega-weight Soundgarden-style grunge. There’s a pretty, Joni Mitchell style folk section in the middle (including a gorgeously delicate rendition of Nava), followed by some Woody Guthrie-inspired dustbowl Americana. Jay Buchanan has a voice like Robert Plant, emotes like Steve Tyler and dances like Prince. Even his keyboardist seems to have half-inched his magnificent beard from a member of ZZ Top. Classic rock is a slippery, catch-all term these days, but Rival Sons do their best to embody its every interpretation.
Buchanan is a charismatic frontman, writhing across the stage, clawing at the air and wrapping himself seductively around his mic stand, but even he can’t consistently hold the audience captive over such a lengthy show. Guitarist Scott Holiday is an engaging foil, bouncing around the stage with boyish enthusiasm and displaying some impressive shredding, but some of the solos meander for too long and the crowd’s interest wanes. It’s not until Torture, nearly 40 minutes in, that they convince the audience to show some real enthusiasm, prompting air-guitaring and devil horns held high. But then the pace flags, and the excitement subsides. Half a dozen false finishes, encores, and numerous influences later, Keep On Swinging is a crowd-pleasing closer, but through the 180-odd minutes, it’s difficult to pick out an original idea that’s truly their own.
Rival Sons are band of solid musicians with a great frontman, but they need to come up with some fresh concepts and cherry pick their strongest moments if they’re going to reach the heights of their rock heroes. It’s a fine line between passion and self-indulgence, but Rival Sons have managed to stay the right side of it. Just.