Those of you who read TV Tropes may be familiar with the 'Growing The Beard' entry on that website; if not, then a quick recap. TV Tropes is a wiki that was set up to discuss storytelling conventions in TV shows (hence the title) but expanded to include other media including movies, comics and music.
The 'Growing The Beard' trope refers to the moment when a show starts to hit its stride after a slow start. It refers directly to 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' where the programme found its feet during its second season, coincidentally when (main character) Riker grew a beard. The same idea can be applied to bands as well, and in the case of US rockers Black Stone Cherry, they have definitely 'grown the beard' with the last album and current tour.
It wasn't until I saw them as special guests to Alter Bridge last autumn that I finally began to enjoy their gigs; I've seen them a number of times before, supporting major names such as Whitesnake and Nickelback, as well as headlining, and always felt that they lacked a certain 'something'. They couldn't be faulted for effort, nor talent (singer/guitarist Chris Robertson has one of the strongest voices on the rock scene today), and they had some excellent songs, but live - something didn't quite hit the spot for me and I always left their shows feeling that bit dissatisfied. All that changed on the Alter Bridge arena tour last October; their short set that night was heavy, hard and immensely satisfying. The only thing I did puzzle over was what had changed, they seemed not be be doing much different, it just clicked. So it was with interest I attended this show in Liverpool, wondering if they could carry that over into their own headlining tour.
The signs were good with the sold-out crowd really up for this show, when the band hit the stage they got things going with the hard-hitting 'Change' (I would guess their votes are going to the GOP this autumn!) from the current album 'Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea'. The set played featured most of the tracks from the latest album with choice cuts from their previous two scattered throughout the set. All through the set, they had a rowdy crowd cheering their every move (ok, apart from a few humorous boos directed at guitarist Ben Wells for his attempt at a Liverpool accent!) and they managed to get the crowd to sing the entire lyric of 'The Things My Father Said' , to the obvious delight of Chris Robertson. They played for just over an hour but packed a lot of songs (and a John Fred Young drum solo) into that time, barely pausing between songs and just getting on with it. Most of the set was the slammin' hard rock they've become known for, but mid-set the acoustics were broken out with Robertson saying that they haven't had the chance to do this before as support acts. During this section, they performed their own song 'Stay' before playing segments of other artists' songs. They opted to play a verse of Oasis's 'Champagne Supernova' (a brave move in Liverpool, perhaps they were not aware just how brave!); it went down well with much of the crowd singing, but once again a few Scouse boos could be heard! Following this, they did Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep' and Nirvana's 'Rape Me' before bringing back the electric axes. However, they demonstrated how acoustic could still be heavy with a brief thrash-about; of course the main source of the heavy was drummer John Fred Young, but they made their point!
All in all, the gig was an excellent one. I'm still at a loss to explain why it is they're now hitting the spot for me when they just weren't before, but there is no doubt they're now realising the talent they've always had. Despite the fact only Ben Wells actually has any sort of facial fuzz, metaphorically at least, this band has Grown The Beard and are now ready to step up to larger venues. Robertson said that the entire tour was sold out and was so knocked out by the crowd response, he pledged that their first gig in Liverpool would not be the last. I'll believe that when I see them pitch up in our city again in the future, but I know a large place by the river that could well see them perform in years to come.
Support was from Rival Sons, they went down very well with the early attendees and played a short but impressive set. For me though, those Zeppelin comparisons are a bit too close to the bone; vocalist Jay Buchanan has Percy's moves off to a T and dresses similarly, right down to the oval belt buckle. He does not sing like Plant though, and in a band that does otherwise ape Zeppelin very closely, that is probably enough to stave off any 'Kingdom Come' jibes.
Black Stone Cherry