Gig review: BLACK STONE CHERRY – Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

Black Stone Cherry have a unique relationship with the UK. The Kentucky rockers broke big over here while still young and their home country to this day has struggled to catch up. Their popularity has continued through hard work and an accessible approach to maintain a big fan base.

Other international acts have been cancelling shows while faced with current restrictions, yet even when they announced they had to give up a European tour, my spirits lifted when the small print said that the UK leg of the tour would go ahead.

I still didn’t quite believe this could happen, so it was a thrilling moment, and almost a turning point in the return to normalcy, to see them post their airport arrival on social media. This was an observation similarly made by Kris Barras, whose eponymous band opened proceedings as an extensive tour concluded in grand style at the Royal Albert Hall.

The decision to open with current single ‘Dead Horses’ was fully justified as it sparked off an opening salvo of four snappy songs with barely a pause for breath- ‘Rock n Roll Running Through My Veins’, ‘Ignite (Light It Up)’  which saw the first stirrings amongst his fans dotted around the audience, and ‘What You Get’.

Kris Barras Band

Those confirmed the impression I formed from the band’s recent Stonedead Festival appearance that he has deliberately positioned himself away from the blues rock pigeonhole towards the rock mainstream, almost like Gary Moore in reverse. I found myself drawing comparisons with melodic British bands like Kiss Of The Gypsy and even FM in their less AOR moments, and another new song in ‘Who Needs Enemies’  even had a bit of a power pop feel to it.

Even one of the most played blues standards, ‘Going Down’, had a heavy feel as he and keyboardist now turned second guitarist Josiah J Manning traded solos in the sort of style that Black Stone Cherry themselves approach their blues rock renditions.

He showed absolute confidence in a yet to be released album whose tunes featured heavily. ‘My Parade’ saw him invite participation in its lines ‘fall into line or get out of my way…don’t give a f— what people say‘, while ‘These Voices ‘ had more of a modern feel including what sounded like some off stage keys and effects.

Kris Barras Band

It was back to familiar territory with his best known song ‘Hail Mary’ getting a good reception as it was spun out into a lengthy jam, the way the tempo was slowed and sped up reminding me of Peter Frampton’s live marathons of ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’. It concluded a thoroughly enjoyable 50 minute set that was well matched with the headliners and nicely whets the appetite for KBB’s own headline tour next spring.

Sadly the Albert Hall was far from full with only a smattering of people in the circle – a disappointment  given that Black Stone Cherry have headlined Wembley Arena on three occasions, but perhaps sadly not surprising in the current climate. Nevertheless the expectation from those there only grew when a production executive announced in the interval the show was being filmed, with Tenacious D and some rock classics played to generate a party mood.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

BSC have no need for such gimmicks, when they are able to start with as big a crowd favourite as ‘Me And Mary Jane’, not least as the chorus, with its stripped down musical backing is made for roaring along to, and ‘Burning’ with its chugging ZZ Top-esque riff and a touch of twin lead guitar and new song ‘Again’ completed an impressive opening trio.

There was a surprise as frontman Chris Robertson introduced ‘Yeah Man’ which was an early live favourite and bonus track (though to me it still sounds like ZZ’s ‘Arrested For Driving While Blind’). Other than occasional appearances from a conga player, the band had somewhat returned to basics with the keyboard player they had for a while ditched, while new touring bass player Steve Jewell had a more metallic look and heavier playing style compared to his laid back predecessor Jon Lawhon.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

Being honest, the past few albums have seen them fail to capture the heights of their first three releases, and the fact that two thirds of the set was drawn from the latter suggests that deep down they realise that. So the relatively average lead off cut from ‘The Human Condition’, ‘Ringin’ In My Head’ was rather overshadowed by two firm favourites either side, namely  ‘In My Blood’ – developing into a bit of a jam with a reggae-fied section and the crowd swaying  – and the anthemic ‘Like I Roll’.

‘Cheaper To Drink Alone’  was better than expected, though broken up by lengthy band intros, while Chris spoke of his pride of playing this prestigious venue being the culmination of 15 years hard work, marked by a song from their debut in ‘Hell & High Water’, whose melodic and anthemic qualities I’d forgotten about.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

Of course many bands come up with similar shtick, but as hard-working and humble blue collar heroes, epitomised by Chris’ no nonsense baseball cap and vest, it seems more genuinely sincere coming from them.

Hyperactive rhythm guitarist and whipper-upper in chief Ben Wells, whose hair has begun to grow back, also took a greater share of the between song chat than I remembered- possibly as Chris sounded a touch croaky at the end of a long tour. He painted imagery of their native Kentucky to introduce ‘Soul Creek’ which got a great reception with its ‘yeah-eh’ chant, but I was even more pleased at the less frequently played ‘Devil’s Queen’, the solo where Chris speeds up in southern rock epic fashion worth the anticipation.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

After John Fred Young’s drum solo, Chris returned with just a guitar, explaining that ‘Things My Father Said’ held new meaning since his own Dad recently passed away, and bravely carrying the tune alone with only the fans for support. ‘In Love With The Pain’ was surprisingly excellent and the pick of the new songs, then it was into the home straight as ‘Blind Man’,  which I was beginning to fear they had missed out,  warmed a crowd probably more sedate than it would have been pre-pandemic.

Then a one-two of the Nickelback-like fun songs from ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’,  ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ and ‘White Trash Millionaire’ were, as always, riotous live anthems before the traditional  closer of the rawer, grungier sounds of ‘Lonely Train’. As usual a circle pit formed and though it was much smaller than usual, we were within a whisker of a historical event when only an alert security guard held back what would have been the first crowd surfer in the Albert Hall’s 150 years.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

Chris returned, with just him and Ben on guitar, speaking about coming through the hard times of the pandemic and never again taking for granted live music, as it had been snatched away so easily, before a stripped down ‘Peace Is Free’.

Midway through he again stopped the show to talk of music representing a time and a place and that we should all cherish this moment, a great piece of theatre as the crowd then let out a mighty cathartic roar as the whole of the band then kicked into finish the song. My only disappointment was that it was the only encore in a set that had flashed by in an hour and 40 minutes.

BLACK STONE CHERRY- Royal Albert Hall, London, 29 September 2021

What made this a memorable evening was the combination of their usual hard-working live show  with the surroundings of such a prestigious venue,  and the thrill of seeing an American band tour here once more and give us hope for better days ahead.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan





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Power Plays w/c 8 August 2022 (Mon-Fri)
BORN LOST Take Time (Mouthpiece) (Revolver Records)
JAIME KYLE Driving With The Brakes On (Conquest Music)
SCARLET DORN Born To Suffer (SPV Recordings)
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KROOKED TONGUE When The Beaches Bleed (indie)
SKYPILOT Knifed On The Beach (The Distortion Project)

Featured Albums w/c 8 August (Mon-Fri)
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14:00-16:00 THE SLAMBOVIAN CIRCUS OF DREAMS A Very Unusual Head (indie)



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