Gig review: BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

The Best of 2016

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

To say Black Stone Cherry deliver the kind of impassioned Southern tinged classic rock that their fans demand, is to grossly underestimate the versatility of a remarkable performance and the strength of their songs.

Tonight they lyrically bare their soul in an opening unplugged set and then crank things up in a second set full of searing intensity.

They make light of the transition from arenas to mid-range theatres on this tour, simply because of the emotional weight and beefy hooks of their songs,  which consistently draws the crowd in.

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

The cross generational crowd, suggests they have hit the mainstream full on with their own brand of southern tinged Classic rock.

By time they deliver the first of several uplifting hooks, we’re on a well honed musical rollercoaster that builds momentum and by the second set reaches levels of fever pitch.

Black Stone Cherry are steeped in old-school musical values but they give them a modern context. They are from the South (Kentucky) and 2 family members are in the enduring roots rock band The Kentucky Headhunters.

And it’s that blood line that makes Black Stone Cherry different from their contemporaries. They have the chops, the harmonies, and above all songs full of lyrical veracity, which they introduce to us in tonight’s unplugged set like an intimate conversation on a Kentucky back porch.

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

The acoustic mode provides an insight as to how the songs were shaped. ‘In Our Dreams’ could almost be REM and front man Chris Robertson  confides in us that ‘Hell & High Water’ was originally envisaged acoustically.

‘Like I Roll’ benefits from being stripped down as the clarity of diction serves to lever us into a classic opening line with a universal appeal: “Got my daddy’s car, and his old guitar”.

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

It’s the depth of their lyrics that makes this acoustic set more than a Rascal Flatts style sing-along. The southern narratives and uplifting hooks may be similar, but it’s the joy of their song craft that cements their first half triumph.

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

They crank up the tension by adding an extra ten minutes to their break, and folks are already in full voice before they return with blaze of pyrotechnics and an explosive opening.

They lean into the chant-along ‘Soul Machine’ and move to a pulverising version of George Thorogood’s ‘Bad To The Bone’, notable for guitarist Ben Wells’s parodic head banging and 80′s hair metal poses, before he swaps the wings of the stage with bass player John Lawhon. This blur of perpetual motion is in sharp contrast with vocalist Robertson who anchors the show and drives the rig forwards as the band slam out their brand of gigantic classic rock.

BLACK STONE CHERRY – Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 5 December 2016

Having hit fever pitch and overseen several waves of adrenalin rushes, the band then face the precipitous fall into silence as the incredible audience energy levels can’t be sustained. But vocalist Robertson make light of this with countless exhortations to clap-along and sing-along, as he introduces each song to us as if a gift.

The band reaches for the next level with the staccato  ’Me and Mary Jane,’ and the crowd commune as one on ‘White Trash Millionaire,’ both of which are notable highlights.

BSC- Ben Wells by MHPStudios

We’re quickly into ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ as the room visibly bounces and the band hit overdrive as they head into the home straight.

Tonight, Black Stone Cherry triumphantly re-size their operation through a leap of faith with their fans who match their intensity levels song for song.


They came, they saw and they conquer and leave behind the true spirit of their Bluegrass state and a bunch of ringing ears, job done!

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes at MHP Studios

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00

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Featured Albums w/c 3 August (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 LIONVILLE Magic Is Alive (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 MAD MAX Stormchild Rising (SPV)
14:00-16:00 MARY COUGHLAN Life Stories (2020)

Power Plays w/c 3 August (Mon-Fri)

SOUTH OF SALEM Cold Day In Hell (indie)
BLACK LESION Sins (indie)
CAROLINE JONES All Of The Boys (Social Family Records)
BLACK SUN Resist (Rockshot Records)
THE JAILBIRDS Dull My Brain (Golden Robot Records)
FROM ASHES TO NEW Scars That I’m Hiding (Better Noise Records)
THE GEORGIA THUNDERBOLTS Spirit Of A Workin’ Man (Mascot)

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