At face value, this seemed like a dream gig, as along with headliners Black Star Riders, there were three other great bands on the bill with a ticket price of only £27.50. However, with this came the issue of early entry, meaning that the crowd did not really begin to pile in until later.
Dirty Thrills were first up, and hit the stage with a mass of energy and swagger. This was Dirty Thrills at their best, sounding tighter than ever, delivering their brand of sleazy rock and blues. The set started with “I’ll Be With You”, closely followed by tracks from the new album “Heavy Living.” Louis James’ vocals were faultless, looking every bit the front man in his Jeffrey West boots and fringed jacket. As the venue started to fill, Louis acknowledged the early start but told the crowd, “We have just started work and are already sweating balls.” Their short set closed with “The Brave” allowing each member of the band to shine.
After a clean turnaround, we were graced with Tax The Heat, looking dapper in their own inimitable style. Theirs is music that makes you want to dance with their funky bass lines and excellent use of slide guitar. New tracks “Money I The Bank” and “Fed To The Lions” feature massive riffs with dirty, funky blues. The venue was starting to fill up as frontman Alex Veale exclaimed to the audience that he had been joined on stage by cardboard cutouts of Professor Snape and Harry Potter, causing much hilarity for the band, but did not distract from a very accomplished set.
By now the O2 Academy was pretty full, and the crowd were certainly up for it. Sweden’s Blues Pills stoked the fires with their own style of cool as fuck rock. Opening with “Lady In Gold”, Elin Larsson commanded the crowd with her easy, smiling style. Dressed in gold ankle boots, a lacy top, and playsuit, with her blonde hair blowing in the fan-created breeze, she looked every bit a rock star, bounding about with bags of energy. The 70’s-inspired keys combine effortlessly with groove-laden guitars. The evocative “Black Smoke” gave way to the up tempo, hip-swaying, toe-tapping. “High Class Woman”, and then “Somebody to Love”, in which Elin exclaimed that she wished that she had “not smoked and drunk so much before coming on tour”, not that anyone could tell. She was a powerball of dynamic energy. The purity of her vocals and sumptuous guitar make Blues Pills a band not to be missed.
Black Star Riders came out with all guns blazing, launching straight into “All Hell Breaks Loose”, filled to the brim with swagger and attitude. Packed full of breathtaking riffs, the crowd also found their voice during “Finest Hour”, prompted by Ricky Warwick to sing along. It’s a sign that the band are up for a great night when you can feel the camaraderie between them and how they are interacting with the crowd. Tonight, Black Star Riders were definitely up for a top night. The hits kept rolling, one after another, combining stunning guitar work with elegant drumming.
Introducing “Testify”, Ricky told us that this was when his mum “finally realised that I had a proper job” as well as dealing with a heckler in a very concise fashion. “Soliderstown” and “Before The War” were gritty, visceral, and in your face, with a few words to Donald Trump about not being “an orange idiot.” Thanking the crowd for being such great supporters not only of Black Star Riders, now into their 5th year, but also of rock music, Ricky exclaimed that his “12 year old self” would be staggered to know he was playing with Scott Gorham. This came across as passionate and honest, and the crowd loved it. Chad Szeliga (formerly Breaking Benjamin and Black Label Society) is a great addition to the band, playing with flair and vibrancy, winning over the crowd with his exquisite drum solo.
All too soon we were into the final songs of the evening, “Bound for Glory” and “Whiskey in the Jar” which predictably got the whole place bouncing and singing their hearts out. This was balls out, sing a long rock at its best. Black Star Riders certainly know how to entertain. There was just the right amount of chat, everyone got their moment in the spotlight, and the music filled your heart with joy. Searing riffs, massive basslines, thundering drums, and a front man who has all of the right moves. What more could you ask for?
Black Star Riders are on tour in Europe until late November. All tour dates can be found here.
Review: Samantha Lamb
Images: Jamie McDowell