Review: The Cadillac Three – 02 Academy, Glasgow

Has it honestly been 12 years since The Cadillac Three released their self-titled debut album under their previous name The Cadillac Black? 12 years since they appeared in tiny clubs up and down the UK for their debut headlining tour? 12 years of gigs gradually increasing in size from the gloriously unhip Nashville trio? So it would seem, and to tip a hat to TC3 studio album number 6: the years certainly do go fast.

With the same three members featured in an old photo taken during the early days of the trio that takes pride of place on the cover of this year’s ‘The Years Go Fast’ album – Jaren Johnston (lead vocals, guitar), Neil Mason (drums, vocals), and Kelby Ray (lap steel guitar, bass guitar, vocals) – The Cadillac Three have a second home in the UK & Ireland thanks to making a connection with like-minded fans from day one.

Their DNA might consist of “Boots and buckles, red clay and sand” but there is an eternal connection to these shores, something highlighted by dates in all 4 nations that make up the UK (as well as a show in Ireland) for the ‘The Years Go Fast Tour 2024’; a run of dates that end with a headlining appearance at the Royal Albert Hall no less. No way in hell could those 3 fresh-faced guys on the cover of ‘The Years Go Fast’ have imagined that years later they would be treading the boards at this legendary venue and in a headlining capacity. Good old boys like these still have a chance…

First to perform in a triple bill of music cooked up from across the water is Willy Cobb who endears himself to the natives with the words: “What the fuck is up, Glasgow! My name is Willy Cobb, that’s Willy with a Y, a lot of people like to say that I’m country, but I like to think that I’m a little bit punk rock, see what y’all think…”.

Making a swift return to the UK after opening for Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett back in March, Cobb is further proof if needed that you should never judge a book by its cover; in this case, the cover being denim dungarees. With TC3 drummer  Neil Mason providing the heavy hits on his first of 2 shifts tonight, Cobb, along with a bassist who looks uncannily like Jaren Johnston in disguise (JJ is producing Cobb’s forthcoming album) batters through a short 20-minute set that owes more to Seattle than Nashville. With hints of Nirvana, The Replacements, and even Radiohead, Willy (with a Y) is a breath of fresh air as he proves that music still can surprise. Once the last note fades out, Cobb leaves the stage with a legion of new fans tucked into his dungarees pockets, that bassist though…someone needs to get Columbo on the job.

Up next is Stephen Wilson Jr. a vastly experienced singer/songwriter from rural Southern Indiana who self-describes as “Death Cab For Country”. Alternating between playing with a full band and like tonight as a duo with Scotty Murray on the lap steel, Wilson Jr. is very much in a similar vein to such blue-collar heroes as John Mellencamp, Steve Earle, Neil Young, and Springsteen in ‘Tom Joad’/’Atlantic City’-mode. His songs are gritty, and honest, and strike a nerve.

Armed with just a gorgeous gut-string acoustic guitar, and one almighty pedal board, Wilson Jr. has no place to hide for the next 30 minutes as he unfolds tale after tale. There are plenty of choice pickings from his current magnum opus ‘Søn of Dad’ of which ‘billy’ and ‘Cuckoo’ are just two of the highlights with the latter especially raw. Way more than just a dude with an acoustic guitar, Wilson Jr. has some startling material that takes the listener on a journey; ‘Father’s Søn’ for instance which deals with his relationship with his late Father: “I wear his blue jean jacket & his name like a badge of honor/I used to hate being called Junior/but I don’t mind any longer” – all played out over Murray’s weeping lap steel, is something that lingers on long after the night ends and the only thing left to do is seek out a copy of the album.

TC3 set opener ‘Peace Love & Dixie’ still comes with an almighty swagger thanks, in main, to the metronome-precision drumming from the ever-reliable Neil Mason. During his first solo, Jaren Johnston takes a stand on the raised platform along the front of the stage and raises his green Gibson SG as if it were Excalibur; the crowd goes wild and Johnston retreats to his backline of Marshall’s and drops to the floor while his SG wails with distortion. The studio version from 2016’s sophomore album ‘Bury Me in My Boots’ has now grown wings and spread into an all-out jam nearly twice in length and way heavier. It’s not a traditional full-pelt set opener, instead, it hints that The Cadillac Three do things their way, which means taking it slow and kinda mellow. Nobody is in a rush here.

Doing things their way means changing the setlist nightly as the trio covers all bases from their career to date. It’s great to hear the thicker, sludgier ‘Slow Rollin” getting an early airing: heavy as hell with Mason showing time and time again why he is not just a pretty face and one hell of a songwriter (amongst others, he has a co-writing credit on the immense ‘Graffiti’ which lands later on after being cut from both Irish dates). Seamlessly leading into ‘Down to the River’, it makes for a heavy 20 minutes, where the hits are hard, and the riffs even harder – maybe even a touch of a Zeppelin-like jam here and there – which continues with ‘Sabbath On Cornbread’ (where the band proclaims that they are “Keepin’ it heavy, keepin’ it real”), and the first stop at the new album for the drum-heavy ‘Double Wide Grave’ which showcases the heavier side to TC3.

The studio version of ‘The Worst’ featured a more experimental sound from TC3, but here it’s more straight-ahead rock and roll with a killer jam toward the end where Mason’s prowess behind the kit is highlighted yet again. Always great to watch Kelby Ray as he plays with such enthusiasm and his movement is never restricted at the lap steel (he does come out from behind it and straps on a bass guitar for a few songs). Ray steals the show on a gorgeous version of ‘Runnin’ Red Lights’ that features just him and Johnston laying down one of TC3’s 2 greatest love songs – the untouchable ‘White Lightning’ being the other.

Before the first singalong of the evening (‘Bury Me in My Boots’) Johnston jokes that he visited George Square in the city centre earlier because that was where ‘World War Z’ was filmed and he “wanted to see if Brad Pitt was hanging out…he was not”, he later jokes about how much he hates it when bands that they have taken out as special guests go on to bigger success, with Whiskey Myers coming in for special mention. Just wait until he hears that Brothers Osborne have added a second night in this same venue later this year.

Always a heavier proposition live, The Cadillac Three can mix it up; the foot-stomping ‘Hillbilly’ is a great example, as is ‘Blue El Camino’ which is way faster live and has a one-man pit opening up in the crowd. Arguably 3 or 4 songs too much, a 23-song setlist does bring its problems, however, and there are moments when the atmosphere drops, in particular, ‘Sweet Southern Spirit’ followed by ‘Tabasco & Sweet Tea’ leaves proceedings a bit flat. No worries though because loitering just around the corner are TC3’s heavy hitters.

Before ‘Hank & Jesus’ Johnston quips “…we invited our friends in Primal Scream to come tonight…they did not come…we also invited Teenage Fanclub…they did not come, see, who would have known that some Country and Western fucker from Tennessee would have known that those bands were from Scotland?”. A distortion-fuelled ‘Hank & Jesus’ leads into ‘American Slang’ followed by ‘White Lightning’ where the crowd takes over and leads Johnston to joke “Y’all gave me goosebumps with that shit!” – the lights change to red, white, and blue for ‘The South’ and with the final strains of ‘I’m Southern’ ringing out, The Cadillac Three soak up the applause and take their leave, until next time.

As alluded to in the intro to this review, The Cadillac Three have outgrown the clubs and mid-size venues in the UK and are now at home in the larger Academy-sized venues; tonight’s gig takes place in a 2,500-capacity venue, and although it’s not sold-out it is busy. And herein lies the danger. The charm of The Cadillac Three is perfect for smaller venues, and the songs are ideal for that up-close and personal experience – often with a beer raised in approval. Substitute that for larger venues where the barrier between artist and audience is more profound, then you risk losing the charm that put the artist into said larger venues. That’s the conundrum that TC3 currently faces. How do you replicate the intimacy of clubs, especially in a venue notorious for poor sound? Answers on a postcard to The Cadillac Three, Nashville, Tennessee. But from a regional point of view, booking the infamous/legendary Barrowland Ballroom next time would be a start.

Next up for The Cadillac Three is a date at the 02 Academy in Leeds on May 12th, all remaining tour dates can be found HERE

Review – Dave

All images – Dave Jamieson

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