Review: Blackberry Smoke – O2 Academy, Glasgow

A sold-out 2,500-capacity O2 Academy Glasgow on a Monday night and there is a lot of love in the room. A lot of love that after the ‘You Hear Georgia Tour’ was pushed back due to C***d, Blackberry Smoke stayed true to their word and returned for a lengthy 22-date tour of Europe and the UK. A lot of love that finally audiences outwith America are hearing material from the ‘You Hear Georgia’ album released in 2021. And lastly, a lot of love – a hell of a lot of love – for Smoke drummer Brit Turner who is back behind the kit after having to sit out a few shows as he battles a brain tumor. When Brit is introduced to the packed crowd during band introductions by frontman Charlie Starr, the response that he receives is genuinely heartwarming, and the longer it goes on, the wider the smile on his face becomes. On a night of so many highlights, this took the gold medal. And with so many libations being consumed (purely to deal with the stifling heat in the venue, of course), there were quite a few eyes suffering from dust in them, mainly, it has to be said, from big beefy fellas caught up in the moment. A lot of love in this room.

Originally started as a solo acoustic project, the Read Southall Band is now a fully-formed kicking and screaming rock ’n’ roll outfit that teeters on the border of many genres. But if Lemmy could go onstage night after night and utter the immortal words: “We are Motörhead, and we play rock ’n’ roll” then the proof is right there that the genre is all-encompassing, and chasing a pigeonhole is purely semantic. Serving as the opening act on the tour, the Oklahoma-based outfit – named after vocalist and band leader Read Southall – has forty minutes or so to make their mark, and while the laid-back stage presence is better suited to a smaller venue where projection and interaction are not that necessary, the material on offer hits the spot on multiple occasions. ‘Out of My Mind’ is perhaps the best grunge track to not come out of Seattle – the guitar work is especially fiery – and on ‘High-Speed Feed’ guitarist Ryan Wellman does indeed make a beautiful noise. Keys player Ryan Wellman excels on ‘DLTGYD’, and the lengthy doom-infused jam that opens the show, ‘For the Birds’, is worth the price of admission alone. The experience that Read Southall will gain on this tour will no doubt be invaluable, large rooms need working, especially those full of fans catching the band for the first time – the songs are already there, a bit of stagecraft is what is needed.

If Blackberry Smoke were a hard rock group, then they would be Clutch. The same consistency in everything that they do, the same laidback sense of rolling in off the street and straight onto the stage and hitting the sweet spot every time, the same non-fussy approach, and the same talent that makes this music malarkey look easy. The differences between the two acts being a different slant on rock and roll, and in the case of Blackberry Smoke – six extra legs.

No long, laborious intro tape that stretches things out as the band makes their way to the stage; tonight it’s just a few bars of a slowed down funkier version of Bo Diddleys ‘Road Runner’ and then the unmistakable guitar intro to ‘Six Ways To Sunday’ begins an exhilarating 21-song setlist that features many surprises over the next two hours or so. With his left boot keeping time like an out-of-control jackhammer, Charlie Starr’s easy-going persona is infectious and his smile lights up the room at every opportunity. Never flash or overplaying, his guitar skills are deft and subtle; why bother with multiple licks when one killer tone will suffice? With fellow guitarist Paul Jackson (who along with Starr and Benji Shanks, forms an impressive guitar trio) and bassist Richard Turner on backing vocals, the ridiculously hooky opener provides the first of many, many singalongs from the crowd.

With the setlist constantly changing from gig to gig, the many people who are catching multiple shows on the tour are treated each night with something that they never heard at the previous gig, or will hear at the next.  There is a core setlist that features amongst others; ‘Good One Comin’ On’, which is always thrilling to hear, ‘Let It Burn’ – still a fantastic toe-tapper, and many bands will try for decades but they will never have a song as good as ‘Pretty Little Lie’ (jeez, the crowd goes nuts for this one – such a great, identifiable song that talks to the crowd, and by the looks of it, many here know someone similar to the offender in the song) and in so many other band’s sets, this would be an encore, ‘Sleeping Dogs’ (incredible keys sound from Brandon Still throughout, and crucial touches from percussionist Preston Holcomb) sprawls out into an 11-minute jam that pushes the guitar work from Starr to the forefront, and casually drops in a few bars of Tom Petty’s ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’ before turning into a Zeppelin-tinged jam here and there; ‘Waiting for the Thunder’ is totally badass and features Blackberry Smoke at their heaviest.

The songs that are dropped into the set include ‘Medicate My Mind’ and a gorgeous version of ‘No Way Back to Eden’, both seem to be airing for only the third time on the tour and after the latter ends, Charlie jokes about how when his wife heard the song for the first time she said “That song sounds like The Doobie Brothers…” so his response was “…what the hell is wrong with that!”. Once the band hit the back nine, it’s into a run of songs that roll off the tongue with ease: the whimsical ‘Ain’t Got the Blues’ would surely force a smile out of the most cynical of cynics, ‘Run Away From It All’ has a fantastic Stonesy feel to the guitars, ‘One Horse Town’ has the crowd bellowing the lyrics back at the band, and the closing pair of ‘Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost’ (one of the best song openings, ever, one of the best guitar tones, ever)  and ‘Ain’t Much Left of Me’ send the Blackberry Smoke family home with their ears ringing, their throats hoarse from the singing, and their feet bruised from kicking up so much dust.

Beefs? Only one – loving the social media setlist pictures with the movie quotes at the bottom of the setlists. Choice cuts from the tour have included: “Now go home and get yer fuckin’ shine box”, “Indy, why does the floor move?”, and “Don’t sell yourself short Judge, you’re a tremendous slouch”. And whilst the quote for Glasgow from Braveheart was decent, the clear bookies’ favourite was the immortal line from Trainspotting: “It’s shite being Scottish”.  Next time lads, eh?

Catch one of the best live acts around today on one of their remaining UK & Ireland tour dates:

March 30th – Dublin

April 1st – London

April 2nd – Manchester

More information here.  

Images – Dave Jamieson

 

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