Boston Rocks With Rival Sons

Charlie Greenwald ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Contributor

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Upon entering the Paradise Rock Club on Monday, May 11th, I instantly realized I was the youngest person there. It was a show put on by this 5-piece California band, Rival Sons. This made me sad and disappointed, similarly to the way I felt about the final episode of Seinfeld (it went against everything the show stood for, everyone knows this). It shouldn’t be like this. I was the youngest person at a rock concert that should have been filled with all kinds of people; a show put on by the grittiest rock band in America.

Soon, however, my frustration transitioned into a feeling of immense joy and honor. I got to see the wastiest cats in music play for two straight hours. What a thrill.

Comprised of 5 uniquely virtuosic musicians, including Scott Holiday, a new-age Tony Iommi with a perfectly coiffed mustache, and Jay Buchanan, a firecracker singer with a ridiculous range and more soul than South Korea, the Rival Sons are a must-watch band of the 2000’s. They have been around for six years, and in that time have catapulted themselves up the ranks, headlining festivals with rock revival contemporaries such as Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood. Genres themselves cannot and do not do justice to the brand of music that these guys play. It’s hard, fast, melodic, and raw, and it never lets up. These are long beach natives emptying the tank for a dying breed of musicians. Deep Purple would be so, so proud.

The band opened with their new big hit, “Electric Man.” It sounds so much like something off of Jack White’s Lazaretto that you might even be convinced upon first listen that it is the former White Stripes singer on the vocals. But quickly you see that Jay Buchanan is running this show and there is no slowing down. They are prepared to smash down the doors and kick you in the teeth like a group of well-dressed steam trains.

The Boston show was simply nasty. The band kept kicking down the door and playing hit after hit, including the blustering “Secrets” and the relentlessly funky “Keep on Swinging.” During “Manifest Destiny Part I,” Holiday distorted his Gibson to perfection, playing with no regard for any such eardrums. He has a wonderful style, very controlled, very technical, but also soulful and jazzy. He has speed like Eddie Van Halen when he wants to, but other times he chooses to keep it all about the harmonics. New bass player Dave Beste, the youngest member of the band, kept things steady on bass, Michael Miley was chaotic and forceful on the drum kit, and touring keyboard playing Todd Ogren-Brooks banged his head off all night, especially during his dirty solo after “Rich and the Poor.”

The band played an acoustic set, consisting of instrumental piece “Nava” and a couple tracks from their first record, Before the Fire. It was a terrific moment in the show, and a nice and relaxing respite. I remember seeing a Wilco show in Scranton, Pennsylvania many years ago with my ex-girlfriend and thinking about their acoustic set – how the audience relished the moment to sing along and sway their heads in peace, recharge, and go back at it in the third part of the show. It was a veteran move by a relatively new band, and a rewarding one.

My favorite moment of the performance was when they played “Pressure and Time,” their single from the 2011 album of the same title. It’s not because it’s my favorite song of theirs – “Open My Eyes” has that title – but it’s because that was the song that started it all.

“That song started it all for us, didn’t it?” Jay Buchanan said.

No, brother. It started it all for us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MA0m1K2jW4

After the show, I was treated to a brief interview with drummer Michael Miley, who anchored strong grooves all night.

Emertainment Monthly: I know it’s far from over, but how has this tour different from your previous road trips?

Miley: Well, we’re ever incrementally growing so some of the venues are getting bigger, we hit some new regions, namely a lot of France. There’s a lot of back and forth between Europe and America. We also did South America for the first time.

When you’re out on the road, how do you stay fresh every night for different shows?

I personally warm up for one hour before hand; I make sure I walk on stage with a little sweat going on.  But sleep is the biggest goal as it’s hard to come by.

Boston is an interesting place to play because it’s such a young town. How would you describe the typical Rival Sons fan?

Rival Sons fans are very special; these are people who “get” music.  They listen to what’s going on and see inside it.  There’s a lot to hear, a lot going on.  Every night is special. We treat every night like it’s special and new or as if it’s the last time we’ll ever play. So the hardcore fans get that and appreciate that, I think.

That certainly came out in the show and in your music tonight. Speaking of that, you guys said in a previous interview that your music is a combo of “blues, garage rock, blue eyed soul, and a little jazz.” The Long Beach music scene has produced hip-hop artists like Snoop Dogg and reggae bands like Sublime. In an area not known for rock and roll, how did that genre of music find its way to you?

Well, that’s just it. Long Beach is a diverse melting pot of people, culture, and influence.  The Blue Cafe used to be a staple for the Blues in Southern California.  I played in tons of bands there. I met Jay there.

Years ago, you guys supported artists such as AC/DC and Alice Cooper. What have you learned from watching and playing with 40-year veterans that you wouldn’t have learned without them? Did they give you any tips on a long and rewarding career?

We learned how to use pyrotechnic (smiles). No, all in all, those veterans were all very supportive and encouraging.  One of my favorite experiences was with Steven Tyler; he watched us, talked with us, hung out with us, and encouraged us.

That’s incredible… Tyler’s a legend. When you were growing up, when did you decide that you wanted to be professional musicians? Was there one particular moment that swayed you toward it?

We all decided very young.  We all had very musical upbringings.  For me personally it was hearing Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight”.

That makes sense, since it’s such a drum-heavy song. Your new album, “Great Western Valkyrie,” got a stellar review in Ultimate Guitar, which said that you guys “deliver potent, uncut retro vibes that would not only impress Millennials looking for some rough & tumble rock, but would also impress the older generations that listen to the classic rock station religiously and are adamant about not listening to any rock music made after 1984.” To me, this album feels a little dirtier than Head Down. How do you guys evolve on each album, both adventuring and exploring new things but also staying true to the core of your musical DNA?

We’re dynamic.  There’s never a same show.  We write in the studio and don’t prepare, so everything with us is on the spot, on the edge, improvised.  You’re pulling into your instincts; and we’ve developed collective instinct playing so much together.  There’s never an “agenda” going in to make an album.  So GWV is just a snapshot of where we were at that time; but there is a sort or “realized” thread weaved throughout it.

When you’re writing songs for a new record, how do you choose which ones to release as singles, which ones to keep, and which ones to cut? Is it ultimately your call as a band, or do you look for input from industry professionals/friends?

We leave that to the business folks, the singles, that is.  The ones that get cut are sometimes like amputation, but an obviousness pervades that lets us know what stays and what goes.

As a band, what’s your ultimate, collective goal?

Wembley Stadium.

We all know about guys like the Black Keys and The White Stripes, 21st Century blues rock bands that helped jump-start the millennial revival. They had the talent to pen great tunes, but also a steady rapport between members. What’s comes first – the songwriting or the chemistry?

Those are synonymous. Two sides of the same coin, a “both/and”…  But chemistry was an instant factor with us and we all had histories of songwriting individually so there was a trust in place.

If you were to give advice to an aspiring musician, what would it be?

Learn the business and master your instrument.

If you were to help them name their new band, what would you call it?

Probably after some muscle car. How bout Super Bee?

You can buy the new Rival Sons album, Great Western Valkyrie, on iTunes today.

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3 Comments

  1. How old are ya? I was there too at age 24, although i was there mostly for Black Stone Cherry, but Rival Sons put on a hell of a show!

  2. Hey Scott Holiday is a great player, but he’s definitely not technical and has NOTHING to do with Eddie Van Halen, Holiday is not a fast player.

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