LIVE PHOTOS: Black Stone Cherry, Pop Evil, Tommy Vext, Zero 9:36, Like Machines, Lansdowne
Review by Greg Maki
For better or worse, live music is back. At my first show in about 21 months, at a converted farm in middle-of-nowhere, West Virginia, you would have had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic still is in full swing around the world. Granted, this was an outdoor show, mitigating the risk by a wide margin, but it was surreal to see fans huddled in front of the stage, partying like it was 2019, after I’d spent the past year and a half masking and social distancing.
Even so, once the music started, my anxiety largely faded away in a celebratory atmosphere. It turns out that I’d missed the energy and power of live music, of feeling the bass drum rattle my chest and hearing the roar of an enthusiastic crowd, even more than I thought I did.
I entered the venue grounds just before Lansdowne, a rock band out of Boston, took the stage, following regional rockers Silvertung and the kids from the area Let There Be Rock School. I didn’t know a single song by Lansdowne, and my only prior experience with the act was seeing it live one time years ago. But it didn’t matter. After going so long without a concert, simply having guitars, bass, drums and vocals blasted at me through giant speakers for a half hour was the greatest feeling in the world.
Atlanta-based band Like Machines came next, bringing more of a modern rock sound to the stage, setting things up for Zero 9:36 and his rock/hip hop hybrid flavor. With his smash “Adrenaline” currently burning up the airwaves, Zero’s set played in a way like a prelude to that song, as there were multiple shouted requests for it in between numbers. For his sake, I hope Zero finds success with another track soon to avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.
On the other hand, Tommy Vext, in the middle of an especially ugly divorce from his former band Bad Wolves, had quite a few hits to play in his set. And the new band he’s assembled played them all well. Vext himself has a rare presence onstage, imposing and inviting all at once and a bundle of relentless energy. The set list featured mostly Bad Wolves songs, along with a new track (“The King”), a cover of Linkin Park’s “Crawling” and, of course, Bad Wolves’ rendition of The Cranberries’ hit “Zombie.” When the music stopped, however, things took a turn, with Vext railing against cancel culture, his former band (calling it a “sham”), the current U.S. president and vaccine mandates. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, I’m not looking to hear more than a word or two on that from anyone during a concert. In West Virginia, though, Vext was preaching to the choir, and his diatribes went down easy.
TOMMY VEXT SET LIST: No Messiah, Hollywood Is Bleeding, Killing Me Slowly, Learn to Live, The King, Remember When, Sober, Crawling, I’ll Be There, Zombie
The upbeat tone returned with Pop Evil, in just its second show back after frontman Leigh Kakaty’s bout with COVID. This is one of those bands where I never realize just how many big hits it’s had until seeing them live and hearing those songs one after another after another. It plays especially well in a non-headline set, just an all-out assault on the audience with songs you can sing along to without even realizing you know the words.
The band appeared to be in particularly good spirits after its unplanned break from the road, with the tracks from its latest album (“Versatile”)–“Survivor,” “Work” and “Breathe Again”–as the highlights. For “Trenches,” from Pop Evil’s 2013 album “Onyx,” the band was joined by tourmate Zero 9:36 and Blake Allison from Devour the Day. (Allison’s Devour the Day bandmate, Joey “Chicago” Walser, has been filling in on bass for Pop Evil after its longtime bassist, Matt DeRito, stepped away earlier this year.)
POP EVIL SET LIST: Deal with the Devil, Let the Chaos Reign, Torn to Pieces, Survivor, Work, Footsteps, Be Legendary, Breathe Again, Trenches (with Blake Allison of Devour the Day and Zero 9:36), Monster You Made, Waking Lions
Black Stone Cherry, looking a bit different with Steve Jewell taking the place of departed bassist Jon Lawhon, immediately kicked the party into high gear, opening with its raucous ode to herb, “Me and Mary Jane.” The Kentucky-based band continued rocking with its blend of Southern rock, blues and modern rock for an hour and change, highlighting songs from all seven of its LPs, plus its current single, a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.”
No political statements here, just pure rock ‘n’ roll from start to finish. Frontman Chris Robertson is an absolute powerhouse, bringing so much soul and feeling to his deep vocal tones, busting out some seriously scorching guitar leads and teaming with fellow axe-slinger Ben Wells on a slew of monster riffs. Jewell acquitted himself just fine on bass and admirably filled Lawhon’s backing vocal shoes, as well. And, of course, the man holding it all together was drummer John Fred Young, about as strong a backbone as a band could have. It’s time he got the widespread recognition he deserves for being one of the best in the business.
As a Black Stone Cherry fan since its debut album’s release in 2006, I was hoping for a couple more songs from its first two albums, but I can’t make an argument against anything in the set list. This was the perfect capper to a day I wasn’t sure would ever come again.
BLACK STONE CHERRY SET LIST: Me and Mary Jane, Burnin’, Again, Can’t You See/In My Blood, Blind Man, Ringin’ in My Head, Like I Roll, Give Me One Reason, Cheaper to Drink Alone, Drum solo, Blame It on the Boom Boom, White Trash Millionaire, Lonely Train