RIVAL SONS - FONDA THEATRE - THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2019
This past Thursday, May 9th, my year of living musically continued with a jaunt to one of my favorite venues, The Fonda Theatre, to see a local band on the rise, Rival Sons.
Rival Sons are a hard rock/blues band from Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, that is made up of Jay Buchanan (lead vocals), Scott Holiday (guitar), Mike Miley (drums), Dave Beste (bass) and touring member Todd Ogren (keyboards). The band are currently touring in support of their sixth and most recent album, Feral Roots, which was released on January 25th of this year.
Rival Sons formed in 2009 and even though they have put out a solid collection of rock albums into a rock starved world over the last decade, they have yet to “hit it big”. That all could be changing this year though, as the band performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden on the night before I saw them, are slated to co-headline a tour this summer and fall with Stone Temple Pilots and even have one of their earlier songs, Electric Man, featured on a Mountain Dew commercial. In the crazy, upside down, topsy-turvy world of modern rock music, being on Corden and in a Mountain Dew ad are signs of a band’s momentum.
I was turned on to Rival Sons a few years ago by my buddy Red Dragon, who is a walking encyclopedia of music past and present. Dragon sent me some links to a few songs off of the bands 2014 album Great Western Valkyrie, and I was hooked. From there I made the expedition through the band’s earlier work, which includes their self-titled EP as well as their first full length album, the self-released Before the Fire, both of which are outstanding. The band then signed with Earache and released Pressure and Time (2011), Head Down (2012), Great Western Valkyrie (2014) and Hollow Bones (2016) and toured extensively in support of those albums and as an opening act for bigger and more established acts like Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Sammy Hagar. In 2018, Rival Sons left Earache and signed on with Low Country Sound, a division of Elektra Records…which brings us to today.
When I saw that Rival Sons were playing at The Fonda I snatched up two tickets ($40 each) the very first day they went on sale. I had long wanted to see the band live but had never had the opportunity until now so I didn’t want to miss it. It was a wise move to get my tickets as early as I did as the general admission show ended up selling out.
My evening of rock started out with my new beloved ritual of grabbing a burger from the Shake Shack across the street from The Fonda before the show. Shake Shack burgers are either God’s or the devil’s work, for they are much too delicious to be of this world. I also treated myself to a Root Beer, a treat which I have not indulged in for quite some time, and hoo-boy if that wasn’t a tasty beer of root. A Shake Shack burger and a root beer and the night was off to a good start.
M’lady, the incomparable Lady Pumpernickle Dusseldorf and I then headed to the venue to join the line that stretched down Hollywood Boulevard and around the corner. After a short wait we were let in through security and made our way to a good spot for the show.
The thing that stood out the most to me about the audience was that the vast majority of them were middle-aged men and women. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting that. It makes sense though as Rival Sons are a throwback, a sort of cross between Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, that would have been right at home in the world of 70’s rock. The graying crowd represents an under-served music market that is hungry for new rock and roll, and there are very few places where they can get it. Rival Sons, with their hard-driving, guitar driven sound, are an injection of high voltage energy into the genre, and they fill that “classic rock” void for those who were raised on that music before it was considered “classic”…to them it was just “rock”.
The opening act were The Sheepdogs, a Canadian band heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers and Creedance Clearwater Revival. I had never heard of The Sheepdogs, but as is often the case, seeing them play live turned me into a fan. The musicianship of lead singer/guitarist Ewan Currie and virtuoso lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, was jaw-droppingly impressive. Bowskill and Currie would often play in “guitar-mony” (guitar + harmony) with exquisite precision. While their songs were good, but not great, the showmanship, craftsmanship and vitality displayed by Bowskill was well worth the price of admission alone.
The Sheepdogs went on at 8 p.m. and played for about 45 minutes. After they departed the stage the roadies then broke down their equipment and set up for Rival Sons. At this point things got interesting, but not in a good way. The show was General Admission - no seats - so Lady Pumpernickle and I had been standing in the same spot, about five rows of people from the stage, for about an hour and change when two women, one in her 60’s but dressed like a teenager in a mini-skirt and halter top, and the other, her daughter, in her 20’s, came and stood right in front of Lady Pumpernickle. We rolled our eyes at the desperate attention-seeking slutty outfits and behavior of these hussies, and to avoid irritation Lady Pumpernickle simply moved over to the other side of me, using me as a wall between her and the harlots. Lady Pumpernickle could now see the show and not worry about getting crabs…well, at least not getting crabs from those two filthy tramps. But then the patriarch of the whore family, Senor Dicknose, came stumbling through the crowd, bumping into everyone yet miraculously keeping his two beers above his head. Senor Dicknose then made the potentially fatal error of nearly spilling the beer on m’lady…and tensions rose. Now…this guy was in his 60’s, and just like his whore wife, was dressed about four decades too inappropriately. His leather jacket and jeans looked freshly bought and, like his face, harshly creased, and his Ed Hardy t-shirt was like the waving flag of his home country of Douchebagia. This guy was such a gigantic twat it is difficult to fully and accurately describe him and his leathery, fake tanned, botoxed face and super-gelled hair. Think of it this way…if Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein had a 60 year old baby, it would be this useless cunt.
I am a large mammal, and the best way to describe me is that I look like an unfrozen caveman and a Hells Angel had a baby that the Aryan Brotherhood tried to abort by leaving in the woods to die but who miraculously survived when it was adopted and raised by a pack of rabid wolves and a pod of Sasquatch. The bottom line is this, I sort of look like trouble and maybe even the type of person who carries a battle axe hidden on his person somewhere. Senor Dicknose caught my vibe very quickly because he looked like a geriatric member of Circue du Soleil contorting himself to get around me without ever coming into contact with me. Of course, I wasn’t afraid of him because as the old joke goes, I’ve been beat up by guys half his size…and certainly half his age, so I didn’t help him out at all by moving out of his way because…well…fuck that guy. I was so irritated by this turd with feet that Lady Pumpernickle tapped my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “he’s not worth getting arrested over”. As always, Lady Pumpernickle was right…but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out ways I could elbow this shitbag in the face and shatter his nose while NOT getting arrested.
Thankfully…sort of…Senor Dicknose abruptly left the scene after some rude words towards his streetwalker wife, and I had to listen to her babble on to her floozy daughter about what a prick he is…I guess it runs in the family. Then just as the show was about to start, another couple, the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, squirmed there way right in front of me. Once again I was itching to go full on Hulk and smash, but Lady Pumpernickle’s calm and cool nature intervened and she reminded me that life isn’t Goodfellas and you can’t go around kicking peoples’ face in and burying them in a shallow grave upstate without dire legal consequences. I hate it when she’s right.
Right before the show started, the old floozy and her apprentice whore daughter, started literally kicking a big fat guy standing next to me. He was an older guy, there by himself, sort of a sad fellow, and they were kicking his legs and talking shit to him. It was insane. What the hell is wrong with these people? Then Senor Dicknose returned and was nudging the older, fat guy. The guy then turned to me and said apologetically, “hey, if I bump into you it’s because they pushed me.” I could see he was really unnerved, so I told him, “it’s a rock show, don’t worry about it.” He then said that if they push him into me, that he wanted me to push him back into them. I assured him I wouldn’t push him at all and then he told me he really wanted me to push him if they started it. I tried to ease his anxiety and said that I knew the patriarch of the whore family was a real piece of work, and he replied by telling me the women were “absolute cunts”…which I thought would make for an interesting Absolute Vodka ad. It is always fun to make new friends.
Then, surrounded by the House of Needledicks, Tarts and Hussys and the Douche and Douchess of Assholestan, the lights went down and, thank the good Lord, Rival Sons finally hit the stage.
When Rival Sons perform they aren’t so much a rock band as they are a street gang, and the show they put on Thursday night was less a rock show and more a tenacious rock and roll rumble. I mean that in the very best sense. Rival Sons absolutely dropped the hammer on The Fonda Theatre with the power and authority of a Norse god, and it was glorious to behold.
They opened the show with the song Back in the Woods off of the new album and the Fonda erupted and things took off from there. Unlike say, Muse, a band I saw a few months ago who put on a great and big spectacle of a concert, Rival Sons put on a down and dirty, stripped down fistfight of a show. With Rival Sons it is just them, their music and their attitude…and it is impressively forceful.
Miley and Beste’s rhythm section were relentless throughout, keeping a steady and bone crunching beat that was an anchor keeping the band’s soaring music firmly grounded on Mother Earth.
Scott Holiday’s guitar playing was Jimmy Page-esque in its majesty and dynamism. Holiday is a phenomenal player and is without question the musical center of the band. Holliday looks the part of the guitar hero, with his leather and leopard print outfit and handlebar mustache he was the cool ice regulating the temperature of a volcanically hot show.
Lead singer Jay Buchanan is the fire to Holiday’s ice, and he is definitely the straw that stirs the drink of Rival Sons. Buchanan is a charismatic front man with a magnetic stage presence who demands and commands the attention of the entire audience. Buchanan looks and moves sort of like a poor man’s Jim Morrison/Michael Hutchence, but his voice is more reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Buchanan’s bluesy voice has a Tom Jones sort of foundational power to it, that originates deep in his soul and growls out upon the audience like dragon’s fire. Buchanan’s voice, which is so strong he actually filled the theatre on numerous occasions without a microphone, is distinct with a surprising range and level of emotionality, which is accentuated by the accompaniment of some good old fashioned rock screams.
Buchanan and Holiday are a potent and dynamic rock duo that play the role of rock star with aplomb. The two of them carry the weight of the show and their on-stage chemistry is compelling.
After the initial rush of the opening song, Rival Sons refused to let up as they cranked out four more hard driving songs that kept the energy high at the Fonda. Songs four and five of the set were the back to back combination of Electric Man and Too Bad, which brought the crowd to a dizzying frenzy.
The band then shifted gears a bit and played the soulful Jordan, off of the Heads Down album. Buchanan introduced the song as being about grief, and that it was dedicated to the people who needed to hear it tonight. The song and its performance were reminiscent of Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck’s version of People Get Ready in its emotional depth and nuance and revealed an impressive level of musical dexterity.
The band then stayed in the blues bin for the next few songs, keeping things more subdued as they and the audience caught their breath. That all came to a close with the explosive Torture off of their early career EP, and they followed that up with the pulsating Open My Eyes. From then on Rival Sons kept their foot on the pedal and never let up for an instant.
The band finished up the set with Do Your Worst and then took a momentary break while the crowd chanted for an encore. The encore was interesting because once again the band sort of shifted gears. They brought out The Sheepdogs and had them sing background on the less explosive, more radio-friendly, anthem-esque song, Shooting Stars, off of the new album. It was surprising that they went with a song that is somewhat less energetic for an encore, but it worked and the audience knew the lyrics by heart and sang along with Buchanan’s encouragement. Shooting Stars is an emotionally resonant song that speaks to our turbulent times and it carried a startling gravitas at the Fonda Thursday night.
The hour and forty-five minute show ended with irrepressible Keep on Swinging, which is ironic since I made the decision to not start swinging earlier in the night. When the song ended the drummer threw a drum stick into the area near me and a twenty something guy and a sixty something guy fell on the floor wrestling to get it. The older guy’s wife was knocked to the ground in the melee. It was insane as her husband was so desperate to have the stupid drum stick he never stopped wrestling to see if his poor wife was alright. As the deeply chivalrous man that I am, I was going to help her up but was too busy going through her pocket book which had fallen at my feet in the scrum. I did get $12, a Costco card and a hard candy out of the whole incident though so…I felt pretty good about how things turned out (relax…I’m just kidding). But this incident was emblematic of the type of band that Rival Sons are…they are so intoxicating and persuasive that a sixty year old man would throw his long time wife aside just for the chance to fight for one of their drum sticks.
While there was the downside of some in the crowd being typical L.A.-holes, overall the night was a stirring success and felt like being transported back in time to the 60’s or 70’s to see early Led Zeppelin or Bad Company play at one of Bill Graham’s famous venues The Wonderland or the Fillmore. The reality is that we aren’t living in the 60’s or 70’s, but some in the crowd certainly are in their 60’s or 70’s. It seems to me that the older audience is emblematic of that fact that Rival Sons are a very bright spot in our very bleak rock universe.
In conclusion, Rival Sons are a fantastic band who play with a mesmerizing fury and ferocity rarely seen nowadays. The band’s musical power, stellar musicianship and dynamic yet natural showmanship puts them in the upper echelon of rock acts working today. If you like hard rock music, I wholly encourage you to give Rival Sons a listen and to make the effort to go see them live, especially while they are still playing smaller venues at cheaper prices. Due to the current nature of the music industry and rock’s ever fading spot in the culture, Rival Sons will most likely never become as big a success as their rock forefathers like Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith or The Cult…but let there be no doubt…they do deserve to be a very big success, and their show at The Fonda was undeniable proof of that.
Back in the Woods
Sugar on the Bone
Pressure and Time
Face of Light
Open My Eyes
End of Forever
Do Your Worst
Keep on Swinging