It is 91 degrees: the hottest day Boston has seen yet. A waiting crowd gathers along Comm Ave, eagerly anticipating the opening of the doors of Paradise Rock Club. Boston’s rock and roll fans have come here tonight to enjoy the sounds of Rival Sons, hailing from Long Beach, California. “There’s just so much more guitar,” says a guy beside me, while taking a break from reading off epic internet fails to his friends. When the doors finally open, the crowd that has now stretched around the block pours into the cooler, darker womb of the Paradise, that for one night only is hosting the band that last year served as main support to Black Sabbath on their farewell tour. Now on a tour of their own, dubbed Teatro Fiasco, Rival Sons are gearing up to cross the pond to hit the road with Aerosmith. Hollow Bones, released in June of 2016, is their sixth album and, following their impending European tour, we can only expect to hear more leg-shakin’, wailing’ good tracks from these chaps.
Before Rival Sons can shake the stage, the crowd bobs and churns to the sounds of DJ Howie Pyro, as brief revolving clips of classic propaganda films (provided by Something Weird Video) of the order of Reefer Madness, Child Bride, Teenage Gang Debs, I Eat Your Skin, She Freak, and Scum of the Earth, among others, flicker across small screens on either side of the stage. My one question as DJ Howie Pyro spins a brilliantly nostalgic set is, “Why is no one dancing?” All eyes are transfixed on the stage that is full of waiting instruments and empty of the artists who will be bringing them to life. Just behind the throne, where drummer Michael Miley will be keeping the beat, is an enormous banner donning the band’s name betwixt a pair of angelic wings.
There is no question that Rival Sons is badass, their sound electric indeed, harkening to the haunting and rollicking sounds of pioneers like Led Zeppelin and The Animals. When frontman Jay Buchanan emerges on the stage he is soft and breezy – a contrast to the charcoal lidded, sweat drenched greaser screaming the soundboard broken in the Electric Man video – as he welcomes the audience, salutes the players of the Teatro Fiasco, and warmly introduces The London Souls, the blues rock duo from NYC. Tonight Jay’s long hair is bundled in a loose knot and he has all the grace of a Master of Ceremonies, his demeanor belying the passionate and undisputed voice of Rival Sons.
Tash Niel and Chris St. Hilaire do not disappoint, though it’s clear that the audience does not want to see Jay leave the stage just yet. Dirty drums and twanging guitar fuse perfectly as Tash and Chris holler back and forth, impressing and making immediate fans of the full house. “Steady” primes the crowd, and the duo enchants with “Old Country Road,” describing a near deal with the devil and the constant struggle of life that makes the blues so damn fun and beautiful. You’d never guess that this down home jam hails from the Big Apple, where “life is always good.”
The London Souls represent an old sound with a new (old – read: familiar) voice: real live instruments, stunning harmonies, and genuine soul, free of the traps of backbeats, pop fads, or generic themes. Formed in 2008, London Souls have been finding their way into the ears and hearts of fans all over the world, bringing old school influence from bands like Cream, The Beatles, The Hollies, and Led Zeppelin to a modern world. The audience is so taken with them that as Chris St. Helaire and Tash Neil belt out the last words and the final reverberations of drums and guitar wash over the crowd in the fading lights, a man screams out, “NOW THAT’S HOW YOU PLAY ROCK AND ROLL!” DJ Howie Pyro and the Weird projections are back at it as roadies tune up a seemingly endless rack of electric and bass guitars, and the stage is set for the next act: poet Derrick C. Brown.
Jay Buchanan again floats across the stage, exciting hoots and applause from the floor of the Paradise. He introduces Write Bloody Publishing founder, and seasoned performer as a man he is inspired by and truly loves and appreciates. It is Derrick’s last night of touring with Teatro Fiasco and he opens his set with a new poem, dedicated to Jay Buchanan and read from a torn out page of notebook . It is a love-filled roast of Jay, whose “stupid voice” and terrible character he abhors with every fiber of his being. It is the perfect “Fuck you. I love you, bro.” He corrects Jay’s previous statement that he’ll be selling books and taking twenty five cents for kisses: he’ll be taking ten cents for kisses, as “there are a lot of dads in the house,” referencing the primarily older, white, male audience. Derrick’s tongue-in-cheek routine turns intimate and sorrowfully intense as he recites Helicopter to the sounds of chopping air-born blades that whir from his computer, making me think of Ice Cube’s “Ghetto Bird.” His poems are backed by synthesized cinematic orchestral tracks, as he evokes unexpected laughter and heartache. His timing could not be more perfect as his hands dance in accompaniment and he jumps between the music, his jokes, and incredibly poignant prose, pointing at the forever awkwardness of adulthood. The audience is rapt and it seems that for the duration they have nearly forgotten that they are at a rock and roll show, so enrapturing is the performance of Derrick C. Brown. Uh Oh: The Collected Poetry, Stories, and Erotic Sass of Derrick C. Brown is his latest collection. Stay tuned for How the Body Works the Dark to be released in 2017 by not a cult press.
At long last, the band that everyone has been waiting for takes the stage. Rival Sons is looking sharp and polished and ready to rock. The music has started, ticked off by Jay’s signature wail and the crowd has surged into a wave of dancing, howling fans, most singing along with their favorite rock and rollers. Two men in their sixties hug the corner of stage right with flowing beards and hair of white as they jam along, playing air guitar and drums, fully entranced by the music. Scott Holiday cranks out the charged riffs that drive the mood of the Sons. In his suit and shades, he is the picture of the expression, “cool, man, very cool,” like a younger, cleaner, musically inclined Dude (as in Jeffrey Lebowski). Jay dances across the stage, cradling the microphone, conjuring Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Touring player Todd Ogren-Brooks dashes the keys with verve and simultaneously raps the tambourine beside bassist Dave Beste, the eldest brother of Rival Sons. Drummer Michael Miley is the effervescent heartbeat, clad in a vest and slacks. As the show charges on, Jay loosens his mane, kicks off his shoes, and he and Scott toss their jackets to really get down.
Rival Sons are a powerhouse who, while rocking the house, are perfectly effortless, the music transporting not just the audience, but the band themselves. Before they play “Face of Light,” Jay remarks that as a traveling band they spend much time away from family. He dedicates the song to their children. His, he says, have kept him out of trouble and this song is for them, to help them become the best people they can be, as they remind their parents to do the same. Generosity, authenticity, self awareness, discipline, and fun seem to be the trademarks of Rival Sons – not to mention a tremendous sense of style. They play nonstop, save for a Jay and Scott ballad and traded solos that further show off the immense talent of the Sons, as evident in their live chops and the fact that their last album, Hollow Bones, was written and recorded in an impressive thirty days. The Rival Sons put on one hell of a show. Teatro Fiasco could not be a better troupe to celebrate the tradition of rock ‘n’ roll or to make converts of the uninitiated. As I saw at Paradise Rock Club on May 19, 2017, rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well.