Live At The Peppermint Club
By Eleni P. Austin
This week Rival Sons announced their that seventh long-player, Darkfighter, will arrive on March 10, 2023. Preceding the highly anticipated album, the Long Beach four-piece released a tantalizing, Tarantino-esque video for the first single, “Nobody Wants To Die.” You know you want to check it out on Youtube. Go ahead, this can wait a few minutes. You watched it twice, didn’t you? Recently, the band rewarded 150 exceptionally lucky fans with a free, secret show at The Peppermint Club in West Hollywood.
Rival Sons has been a going concern since 2009. Guitarist Scott Holiday, vocalist Jay Buchanan, drummer Michael Miley and original bassist Robin Everhart hit the ground running, by touring non-stop in Europe and America they quickly built up a passionate fan base. The Rock cognoscenti quickly caught on, and superstar acts like Aerosmith, AC/DC, Judas Priest and Kiss recognized that Rival Sons were as kindred spirits. A couple years in, Robin grew weary of the road, and left the band. Luckily, Son’s compadre, Dave Beste stepped in and has been anchoring the low-end since 2014. That same year, they began augmenting their live sound with Todd Ogren-Brooks on keys.
Over the last 13 years Rival Sons have released six long-players and an EP. From the jump, their sound was a supersonic combo-platter of Blues and Soul, hints of Folk and Country and ballsy Rock N’ Roll. This band has paid its dues, opening for Deep Purple, Lenny Kravitz and Guns N’ Roses. Their profile was raised exponentially when Ozzy and Sharon Osborne picked the Sons to be the only opener for Black Sabbath’s final world tour. Their 2019 record Feral Roots, hit #22 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart, and netted them two Grammy nominations for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance. Fans were treated to a lean and mean, nine-song set on Tuesday, beginning with the one-two punch of “Do Your Worst” and “Back In The Woods.” from 2019’s Feral Roots. On the former, Scott’s signature opening riff splintered and squalled as sinewy keys and throbbing bass crested atop a bulldozing beat. Jay’s melismatic croon somersaulted into the scrum as he warned of a seductive stranger who will “blind your eyes, steal your tongue, he’ll take you when you’re old, but he likes them young.” Fans joined in on the irresistible shout-it-out chorus, as Scott unleashed a fuzz-crusted solo on the break.
The latter opened with Miley’s pummeling drum fusillade and was quickly supplanted by Scott’s snarling guitar. Grabbing the musical reins, the guitarist that the fans have dubbed The Fuzzlord, roughshod over Todd’s sylvan keys, Dave’s prowling bass and Miley’s primordial kick. Jay slipped effortlessly into the skin of a desperado on the run. His savage yowl was matched by the lyrics’ crafty and cunning guile; “That deputy don’t get paid enough, risking his life trying to catch me on this country road, we’re far from the city and this land is rough, now I’m taking him to a place that he don’t know, whoa I’m almost home, I’m back in the woods again, and I know this mountain like the back of my hand…” On the break, he cut loose with a stratospheric guitar solo that melted a few faces at the front of the house.
As a frontman, Jay has always managed to straddle the line between Dionysian Rock God and Soulful, Socratic thinker. That duplexity was on full display when the band revisited “Open My Eyes,” off their watershed LP, Great Western Valkyrie. A thick slab of heaviosity, the song was anchored by a walloping backbeat, ascendent bass lines and prickly keys. Scott pivoted between pyrotechnic electric notes and honeyed acoustic fills. Meanwhile, Jay’s keening and cathartic vocals ebbed and flowed across the see-saw beat, as lyrics like “Falling off the ladder, holy water hellhound, folding like a jack knife, but the truth, to myself you know it cuts to the bone,” longed for spiritual salvation and some emotional rescue.
Next up was a rawboned take on “Pressure And Time,” the title cut from their breakthrough 2011 record. Ricocheting guitar riffs collided with boomerang bass lines, lithe keys and a Jackrabbit beat. As Miley pounded out a triple-time tattoo on his kit, the audience joined in with some spontaneous call and response, and Jay eloquently unspooled a catalogue of woes; “Take me out of this mudslide of never enough, let me eat from the fruit right off of the trees, when God gets his rest because six days are just too rough, I can only pray he doesn’t forget about me.” A stinging guitar solo, thready bass lines, fluid keys and a whipcrack beat brought it all home.
A stuttery drum salvo signaled the intro to the Grammy-nominated Too Bad. Snake-charmer guitar riffs coiled around menacing bass lines, sinister keys and piledriving rhythm. The lyrics find Jay deftly excoriating a former flame; “I know you better than you think I do, you could’ve stuck with me, but I guess a girl’s got to do what she has to/But every now and then, my name passes your lips, your late night strolls down memory lane on your, your fingertips, do you miss me so much? Well, that’s too bad.”
At that point, the rest of the Sons peeled off the stage, as Jay picked up his acoustic guitar and took the audience to church, offering up a solo version of the anthemic Feral Roots closer, “Shooting Stars.” Part Gospel-inflected plea, part sanctified stomp, the lyrics judiciously takes a page from Michelle Obama’s playbook, suggesting that we go high, when they go low. Strumming his guitar as the crowd provided staccato handclaps between verses that deliver a potent message; “My love is stronger than yours, it’s stronger than yours, it’s stronger than yours, my love is stronger than your hate will ever be.”
The beautiful thing about live performance is songs that are succinct in the studio are given the opportunity to stretch out on stage. This has become especially true with the song “Feral Roots.” On vinyl, it was originally a track that celebrated Jay’s return to his rural beginnings, these days it has become the shapeshifter centerpiece of the ‘Sons live sets.
As Scott strapped on his double neck guitar, Jay began unfurling concentric rhythm riffs on his acoustic, rather quickly, bucolic keys feathered atop a ticklish backbeat. Scott teased out a few sugary notes as the opening verse set the scene; “On the mountain where I was born, there are trees that would call my name, on the wind, they would bring a song for every feral ear to claim/They’d say keep your eyes open and we’ll teach you how to dream when you are awake, well, they haven’t spoken, since their branches were broken by the fire they to me to make.” The explosive chorus is juxtaposed by the meandering chord progressions between the verses. Scott toggled back and forth, latticing spacey, Prog-Rock riffs with the sort of chromatic harmonics favored by Jerry Garcia, before looping in a banshee wail solo. On the extended break, the Fuzzlord’s willowy wah-wah floated like a butterfly and stung like a swarm of murder hornets. As Miley parried each guitar thrust with a Jazzy contrapuntal kick, Jay, Dave and Todd locked into a polyphonic groove that was simply hypnotic. Coming in at just under 10 minutes it was the evening’s tour de force. As the song powered down the audience was spent, but satisfied.
Eschewing that postcoital exhale, the band sprinted through the thunderous crunch of “Keep On Swinging” off their Head Down album. As buzzsaw guitars partnered with angular bass, spidery keys and a bone-crusher beat, Jay’s stentorian howl cut through the calibrated chaos, as he offered up a mantra that of personal perseverance that has served this band well; “One day, my prayers are going to be answered, so long I been hungry for something else, where there’s a will, there’s a way…I work hard, cause at the end of the day, the Lord helps those who help themselves.”
As the guys caught their breath, Jay sincerely thanked the audience, their label, Atlantic, as well as the venue and their crew. Then he slyly asked the crowd if they wanted to hear something new, and launched into Darkfighter’s apocalyptic first single, “Nobody Wants To Die. The song exhibited a Punky intensity that was mirrored by scorching guitar, guttural bass, frenetic keys and a locomotive rhythm. Provocative and cinematic lyrics like “The priest took off his collar started wearing it like a headband, he said ‘X’s and O’s fingers and toes now, you want to kiss a dead man, do you want to kiss a dead man?’” conjure up a vivid tableau. The action accelerated on the break as Miley’s percussive attack detonated like cluster bombs and Scott’s strafing licks threatened to spontaneously combust. As Jay brought it back to its cataclysmic conclusion the band stopped on a dime.
The show at The Peppermint Club was a gift to longtime fans, some, there from the beginning. Their mission has always been to “share the Sons.” Tuesday night, their loyalty was amply rewarded.