Review: When Rivers Meet – St. Lukes, Glasgow

When Rivers Meet – the likeable husband-and-wife duo of Aaron and Grace Bond – are back on the road again, this time armed with their stunning latest album ‘Aces Are High’, and along with compadres James Fox (drums/guitar) and Adam Bowers (bass/keys/guitar) they are out to convert those on the WRM-periphery into fully fledged “Rapids”. And what better place to preach the good word than a former church?

Acting as special guests on this 8-date jaunt are the infuriatingly talented duo Gray and Iain ‘E’ Moncrieff, better known as purveyors of ‘dark swamp blues’: Dusk Brothers.

Why “infuriatingly talented” you might ask? Well, not only do the brothers create the cacophony of noise coming from the stage themselves, but they also play all the music on custom, self-made instruments. Imagine, if you will, an episode of Channel 4’s ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ where 2 gnarly bearded dudes are tasked with creating musical instruments out of anything lying around the junkyard; the result is Dusk Brothers, and what sweet music the pair make.

Although they hail from Bristol, as E points out they were indeed born in Scotland “…just down the road from here, somewhere around Irvine…so a guy asked whereabouts, so we replied; well, in the hospital of course”.

Both brothers share the vocal duties, and Gray is on cigar-box guitar, harmonica, and two separate drums, made out of discarded oil drums – one in front and one behind – controlled by his feet (try it, it’s harder than it looks). E is seated at a large bass drum surrounded by assorted percussive equipment that includes (instead of a gong) a sheet of metal that could have been used as a grill in a takeaway in a previous life; it’s all very industrial, and very steam-punk. The cymbals look like something Willy Wonka might have created (Gene Wilder as Wonka, of course). Guys aren’t supposed to be able to multitask, it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card passed down from father to son for generations. Not anymore though. Cheers guys. Thanks for that.

Not only visually stunning but Dusk Brothers also make themself heard and thanks to the heavy hits are soon rattling loose the dental work of everyone within a 5-mile radius. It’s difficult to see what Gray has packed on his pedalboard, but there is a fair amount of distortion, fuzz, and perhaps even some samples through his board. ‘Hold On’ is a fantastic representation of all of these and much more.

E is giving the sheet metal hanging behind him a proper seeing to and combined with his hits on various parts of his kit, he is getting a decent workout. The footwork from both is impressive (especially on the slower tempo of ‘Ladies Man’ where the false ending catches everyone out) and it’s quite hypnotic at times watching Gray’s legs rise and fall like a pile driver on a construction site. Set highlight? Quite a few, but the “Reggae-Country” of ‘The Last Damn Troubadour’ takes some beating, especially when E breaks out a theremin. Any fans of Murderfolk should certainly check this one out.

Talented, inventive, organic, and great fun. Headline dates are a must. Connect with Dusk Brothers, HERE.

It is fitting to watch When Rivers Meet performing in a former church. Especially when the venue still has a pulpit and two stained glass windows, the fading daylight shines through for the opening 30 minutes or so and illuminates all those onstage. Even those who lack spirituality could not have failed to be moved by the scene as dusk gradually gives way to nightfall in the most incredible surroundings. Even more so considering how otherworldly the vocals of Grace Bond are; a statement enhanced by the kind of acoustics you would expect in such a venue.

Seldom will you see a band perform a new album in its entirety, but that is exactly what When Rivers Meet are doing on this tour. Which makes sense given how strong an album ‘Aces Are High’ is. In a 19-song setlist, 10 are new, with the same trio that opens the album; ‘Infected’, ‘Seen It All Before’, and ‘Play The Game’ opening the set. ‘Infected’ is a perfect showcase for what could be referred to as the trademark When Rivers Meet sound: intoxicating lead vocals from Grace, fantastic slide work from her on the Mandolin, strong co-vocals between Grace and Aaron, and Aaron rolling out the licks on his trusted Fender – “Scotchy”. The slow, brooding ‘Seen It All Before’ is one of the highlights of the album, and happy to report that it slaps even harder in a live setting. The backbone of the band (Ads and Foxy to their mates) might be cloaked in darkness but they are certainly making themselves heard (as they also do on the foot-stomping ‘Play The Game’).

Keeping an audience engaged for such a long set (normally a 20-song set but ‘A Dead Man Doesn’t Lie’ is dropped tonight due to time restrictions) is quite difficult but When Rivers Meet make it look easy by mixing the newer material with choice cuts from the past; of which ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling’ is the first. The exceptional ‘Bound For Nowhere’ quickly follows on with a simple introduction of “Ready, baby?” from Grace to Aaron on a track that features Grace on violin for the first time this evening. Aaron is still on “Scotchy” but soon changes to a Les Paul for the heavier, grungier pair of ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’, and ‘Battleground’ that showcases WRM’s blues-rock credentials.

That usual mid-set lull – a feature of most gigs regardless of the band – never comes, if anything, the middle of the set brings the majority of the highlights. First, the band head back to 2020’s debut album ‘We Fly Free’ for a gorgeous, spellbinding version of ‘I’d Have Fallen’ that save for what came up 10 minutes later, would have been THE standout moment of the set. Grace is back on the violin for an evocative, mournful solo that brings the great Amanda Shires to mind. Simply stunning. As is Aaron’s new cigar box guitar that he unveils for ‘Trail to Avalon’.

But the highlight of the evening is the acoustic section (“The erection section”) that features Aaron and Grace sans instruments with Foxy on acoustic guitar and Ads on “Scotchy” for a beautiful arrangement of ‘Eye of A Hurricane (Friend of Mine Pt. 2)’ that surpasses what was already a stunning track – Aaron on lead vocals and Grace on vocalisation – and a drop-dead gorgeous rendition of ‘By Your Side’ (from ‘Aces Are High’) that sees the massive mirrorball in the venue finally come to life. Finishing with Aaron leaning into Grace for a tender kiss on the cheek, it ended a gorgeous 10 minutes which highlighted the power and connection that music can have, even without the amplification. This was a moment that could have gone so wrong simply because once the Marshalls are turned off, the chatterers usually start-up and ruin it for everyone else. Not the case this evening, and even from the balcony, every whispered lyric between Aaron and Grace could be heard.

Had the gig ended there then most would not have grumbled. But it didn’t; the rhythmic beats of ‘Perfect Stranger’ either make you want to air-drum or dance (albeit badly), or even both; then there is one of the heaviest tracks of the evening ‘The Secret’ which has a fantastic change in tempo towards the end when the band floor it as Grace is wailing on the slide mandolin; the glam-infused stomp of ‘5 Minutes Until Midnight’ hits the spot; the sublime ‘Golden’ has Ads at the piano while Aaron and Grace duet (the control in Grace’s voice is just one aspect that sets her apart from the pack); and the venue is lit up by red and blue flashing lights for what else but set closer ‘Did I Break The Law’.

Having released arguably the strongest album of their career thus far, When Rivers Meet are on a hot streak at the minute. A hot streak of form that shows no sign of abating. Catch them on one of the remaining dates:

Epic Studios, Norwich – Thursday 9 May 2024

Rescue Rooms, Nottingham – Friday 10 May 2024

The Garage, London – Saturday 11 May 2024

Tickets HERE

Connect with When Rivers Meet HERE

All live images – Dave Jamieson

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