Being a metal-head in Portsmouth can be a real pain. Often, when big bands are touring in South-East England they chose Brighton or Southampton and we miss out. November seems to be a lucky month for us though, as we are usually fortunate enough to get one or two of the bigger bands coming to town, and this year was no different as Black Stone Cherry graced the stage at the Portsmouth Guildhall on their Experience Kentucky tour. This show was different from most as there was no support act. Black Stone Cherry are performing two sets on this tour- the first, acoustic and the second, electric.
After “Blue Moon of Kentucky” brought the band on stage, the guys started off with “In Our Dreams” a track from their new album, ‘Kentucky’. It was a nice way to start, if a little odd hearing it done acoustically, but it went down well with the crowd. Chris Robertson then welcomed the audience to the Experience Kentucky tour, joking that “we have gotten so big, now we can open for ourselves!” and after some comic back-and-forth between him and drummer John Young, he announces that the next song, “Hell and High Water” was always intended to be played acoustically. After listening to it, I certainly agree, it really does sound a lot better than the electric version, there is a lot more feeling to the lyrics when the band performs it like this.
Black Stone Cherry then performed “Like I roll” from The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea album, which is another song that seems immensely improved when performed in this way. The lyrics seem to have a lot more power to them, and the acoustic sound compliments Chris’ vocals fantastically. The set then takes a sombre turn as the guys play another track from the new album, “The Rambler”, which you can tell from the way Chris sings and the passion in the whole performance is a song that has a great deal of meaning to the band.
They didn’t let up with the emotional songs, as Chris announces that ‘this song is for anybody you have ever lost’ before the group launch into “Things My Father Said”. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the song, and many around me were openly crying, such is the power of this song and the emotions the passionate performance evokes. Lightening the mood, Chris then told the crowd that the fun part of being their own opening act is that they can play songs they don’t normally get to, and that they haven’t played live in years. With that we got to hear “Big City Lights”, a real crowd-pleaser.
The evening then took an unusual but happy turn as he brings out ‘some new friends’. No-one was really sure what was happening until the guy drops to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend! Luckily for him she does say yes. To close out the first set, the band then performed “All I’m Dreaming Of”, a song they tell us has only been played once before this tour, and it was a very powerful song, a magnificent way to bring the curtain down on the first half of the show.
BSC open up the second half of the second half of the show to a much more familiar sound, with “Devil’s Queen” and “Soul Machine” being performed with the backdrop of Ben Well’s trademark kicks. They then treated us to the first of the three covers in the electric set as they broke out “Bad to the Bone”, which I found a little odd, but it was easy to shrug off – it had not exactly been a normal evening.
The crowd’s energy seemed to go up a notch as the band started playing “Please Come In” and that excitement carried over to “Darkest Secrets” another new track from the ‘Kentucky’ album, which is played to perfection and sounds even better live than it did in the recording studio. Then came my personal highlight of the night as we get “White Trash Millionaire” and “Killing Floor” back-to-back. I’ve always felt that these songs showcase the best of Ben Wells and John Young, and they are at their fantastic best with them here, as the entire audience singing their hearts out to both tracks. It was an amazing and memorable moment to be a part of.
The band keeps up the high energy and audience participation with “Cheaper to Drink and Mary Jane” both of which go down very well with the crowd. It was funny to watch the hyperactive Ben Wells doing so many kicks he looked like a marionette being jerked around, but his boundless enthusiasm and energy certainly added something to the show. I’ve got no idea where he finds the energy to do that every night. We then got our second cover of the evening with “Built for Comfort” which seemed a nice fit for this part of the show, and then another favourite with “In My Blood” a song which BSC performed so well that it sent shivers up my spine. The guys were certainly in top form.
Rather than going off and coming back for the encore, the band simply let John Young go wild as were got a 5 minute drum solo before the band re-appeared for the home stretch. We were treated to one last song from the new album in “Shakin’ My Cage” Chris’ vocals in particular being a standout performance of a fantastic song. Every track from the new album Black Stone Cherry performed was just amazing. We finished up the night with two classics, “Blame It on the Boom Boom” followed by “Lonely Train”. Just when we thought the band were at last ready to say goodnight, they broke out one last cover – “Ace of Spades”. With it being one year to the night since Motorhead’s final show in Berlin, it was fantastic to have one last scream for Lemmy before the band finished for the night, having given a truly memorable performance full of energy, passion, and plenty of emotion.
What a gig this was, right from when they first came on stage the band gave you everything they had and then some. I’ve not been to a gig in some time where there has been quite so much energy, passion and emotion in one evening. I hope Black Stone Cherry keep going with these kind of gigs in the future so we get to hear more of the songs that the band don’t normally play. It makes a real change that one band can do both the opener slot and still have the energy to give a headline performance. If I had to sum up this in gig in one word it would be outstanding.