I just saw Black Stone Cherry for the seventh time on Thursday. To provide context, I only bought the tickets on Tuesday evening, I was reluctant to go for two reasons: firstly, their new album did not impress me at all, secondly, and more positively, whenever my Dad and I have seen BSC before, they've always put on a better gig than their previous gig. They've always gotten better, although the last time we saw them we saw their 'evening with' Kentucky tour, this was the set list:https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/black-stone-cherry/2016/st-davids-hall-cardiff-wales-53fa578d.html
Their last show was an incredible show, so I was being a bit pessimistic thinking they couldn't top their last show. However, my Dad was really keen on going, and I literally walk past the arena on my way home from work each day, so I got last minute tickets.
This was their setlist:https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/black-stone-cherry/2018/motorpoint-arena-cardiff-wales-b9755c2.html
The support bands did a good job of getting us ready, and by the time The Cadillac Three came off stage, I was really excited to see some of my favourite songs live again. But I noticed that the arena was quite far from full. I was sat on the balcony, and you could see that there was a fair amount of space at the back of the floor and around the sides. I was curious to see what their stage set up was like as well, the last time I saw them in this arena (2014 - I think) they had quite a cool stage set up with walkways for the band to walk behind the drums.
When BSC came on it turned out that their stage set up was actually quite minimal, they had three screens behind their drummer, but they offered very little throughout the show and mainly displayed the band's logo. They opened with Burning, I feel like Burning is a pretty crap song anyway, and I don't think it did much to get the crowd going. But then they jumped into Me and Mary Jane and the crowd loved it. My Dad even stood up, kicked his chair back and started dancing (he's 52 and I've never seen such a reaction from him before). They then planned Rain Wizard, and as expected, they were building up some serious crowd energy, but then they played Bad Habit and the crowd didn't react as much. Them playing Bad Habit reminded me why I dislike the song, the shitty lyrics, the similarities to Van Halen's Hot for Teacher's chorus and the ridiculous wedged-in heavy bridge.
One of the things that jumped at me almost immediately is how this band has changed their image, they seem a lot more focused on their wardrobe now. Chris was wearing a hat with sunglasses (in an indoor arena?), the bassist looked like he was going through a mid-life crisis with a denim jacket and a hat, and the guitarist was wearing an absurd jacket. I also noticed the guitarist and bassist would do synchronised runs across the stage, they appear like they're more dressed up than Steel Panther. It's not very rock and roll and it's certainly not the same band I saw back in 2008 supporting Nickelback. But obviously, I appreciate things change.
Like I Roll is one of my favourite songs, so I was pleased they played it. I know this may be a controversial opinion, but I think their drummer is very sloppy and he frequently overplays songs. I'm a drummer and I love to listen to the drums, so I guess I'm a bit more tuned into hearing when the beat drop offs, but the drummer has made a good number of mistakes by this point already by either throwing his sticks and not catching them or by trying an over-ambitious fill and dropping his sticks. Whenever I've heard them play Like I Roll before, I've always thought the drummer ruined it slightly by playing these massive over the top fills on a rock ballad. During the second verse he decided to play some funk-type groove on his hi-hat and I think it killed the initial feel of the song. I get the impression he plays to entertain himself instead of serving the songs. Plus there are far too many mistakes or dropped beats for a professional drummer of this level. But I fully recognise that I'm in the minority with this view and I bet the majority of the crowd love his energy.
After this they played a new ballad-type song which I thought was nice. I noticed that the drum tech is also doubling up as a percussionist for a couple of songs, which adds a cool new dynamic and it would be nice if they could incorporate him into more of the set.
Next up was Cheaper to Drink Alone. I always thought this song was a bonus track from Kentucky? I was disappointed that this was the only song they chose from Kentucky, it's a good song, but not one of their best, I think In Our Dreams, Shaking My Cage, Rescue Me or Soul Machine are much better songs. Although Cheaper does fit in within their new classic rock vibe. Cheaper featured one of the first unnecessarily long jams of the night, although they introduced the band at the same time and it featured some cool percussive action from the drum tech. I may be nitpicking here, but their guitarist had a tambourine for most of the jam, which was fine when he was next to a mic and you could hear the instrument, but he spent a very long time away from the mic, shaking a tambourine which none of us can actually hear. It seemed a bit surplus to purpose to me.
Cheaper dragged along for a while, but the energy soon picked back up again when they played Soulcreek. After Soulcreek they played another forgettable new song and the energy dropped. Things picked up again with Things My Father Said, but shortly after there was another forgettable new song which featured another unnecessary extended jam. I left during this song, went for a piss and went to the bar for a couple of drinks and they were still playing it when I got back!
In My Blood and Blind Man were great and it felt like things were picking up again for good.... until a drum solo, the drum solo lead to a somber blues cover and my god, they dragged it out for so long. It must have gone on for around 15 minutes, it felt like an eternity. Just went you think they were going to wrap it up, they kept on playing. Even my Dad, who was previously losing his mind to BSC not that long ago, was sat in his chair struggling to stay awake. There was a significant amount of crowd noise so they were really losing the crowd.
Immediately after the cover finished, we got back to classic BSC and they played Lonely Train, I can never tire of hearing that song live. A couple of classic songs later they closed the main set with a new song. It was probably the best new song I heard all night, but I thought it was a ballsy move to end on a new song. They did an encore of Peace Is Free which was brilliant as expected. Chris asked the crowd to link hands towards the end and I don't think he fully appreciated our British/Welsh awkwardness, but a good majority of the crowd participated.
To conclude, it was a really mixed set for me. When it good, it was fucking good. Classic live BSC and I would love to see more of that again, but their new album is so bland, forgettable and lacking in energy. Normally I love it when you see a band and they're not afraid to play their new songs, but the crowd simply weren't responding to the new songs, and they don't compare to songs like Rain Wizard, Soul Creek or Lonely Train. The set featured three extended jams which just felt really bloated and unnecessary, especially their cover. I felt like BSC were playing for themselves, as opposed to playing for the audience. I don't necessarily have anything against jams at a concert, but they easily could have fit in another three classic songs but for these jams. I've seen them in this arena before and they've kicked ass, but this show felt more like a club show, as opposed to an arena show, and it didn't work, they weren't able to capture and maintain the crowd's energy. I feel this show, especially with the extended jams and minimal stage show, would have been much more suited to a club setting where you can have a more intimate connection between the band and the crowd.
I'll definitely see them when I can, but I hope that they have left behind this silly classic rock phase by the time they tour over here again.
I'm not entirely sure why I spent all this time typing this out. Apologies if there's any typos or grammatical errors (presuming anyone reads this, of course).