Review: When Rivers Meet – The Garage, Glasgow

So, after a quick drive to Barnard Castle to make sure that their eyesight was suitable enough to drive, Essex-based When Rivers Meet, aka Aaron and Grace Bond, got the all-clear and turned the Rapidsmobile North, and set off for Glasgow and the latest in a long line of stellar performances North of The Wall. With festival performances such as Steelhouse and Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea Mediterranean Cruise – and with a new album on the way later this year and already looking like it will top many end-of-year best album polls – When Rivers Meet are gearing up for what will no doubt be a crucial 12 months or so for the multi-award winning outfit.

The Bonamassa Cruise is an exceptional fit for When Rivers Meet and with the nature of the event being quite organic and jam-friendly, how much do you want to put down on Grace appearing with Mr. Bonamassa as well as other artists appearing over the 5 days such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, King King, Cardinal Black, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram? It is the thought of a Blackberry Smoke/When Rivers Meet collaboration that piques the most interest though; Grace taking on the role of Amanda Shires on a live version of the 2018 duet between Shires and Smoke main man Charlie Starr, ‘Let Me Down Easy’, would surely be one of the talking points of the trip around the Mediterranean.

Before the cruise, and the trip up the mountain in Wales for Steelhouse Festival, there is the small matter of the current ‘Breaker Of Chains’ Tour and tonight’s show in the main hall at The Garage, a step-up in venue size from the last visit to the city. Helping make this a not-to-be-missed tour is opening act, Arielle.

If the true litmus test of a performer’s quality is how they perform in a live setting, then Arielle’s last visit to these shores – as support to Dan Patlansky – was a difficult one to gauge as she performed acoustically. Although immensely enjoyable and leaving quite an impression, in order to truly rate Arielle, an all-electric plugged-in encounter was required, and thankfully it was not too long in coming around and boy, did she impress. She plays very loudly. And I mean LOUDLY. Alongside the instantly-likable American are the British pair of Sam Tookey on bass, and powerhouse drummer Emma Taylor who is hard to miss perched up high on a drum riser, and hard to ignore as she batters that kit into submission time after time, and it’s easy to see why her bite-size drum lessons on TikTok have so many views. Trios are called “power trios” for a reason and these three combine to great effect to blow the cobwebs off anyone savvy enough to get out of the pub and into the venue early. With the brand new album ’73 having just landed, the 45-minute set launches with the full-pelt title track and a glorious romp through ‘Somewhere Slow’ which sounds way faster in a live setting than it does on the album version. Such a fun way to open a show, and the latter in particular stands out due to the bodacious groove that all three players lock into.

Alternating between her trusty, reliable Two-Tone (the whammy bar gets a pounding throughout the set) and her newest baby; a custom job from Guyton Guitars that has been christened  SABAN, Arielle is a joy to watch as she plays with such passion, and a zest that can sometimes sadly be missing from guitar players. None of that “too cool for school” malarkey here. Instead, it’s one effortlessly cool tone after the other and her chops are right there on display, especially on the softer shuffle of ‘Voices In My Head’ and a killer freeform jam on ‘Kalypso’ that has so many twists and turns that at times it is almost like several individual tracks tacked together instead of just the one jaw-dropping jam. Emma Taylor is a blur at times as she hits with such force, and like every good drummer should be – is entertaining to watch. Throw in a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘You Wreck Me’, and a set-closer that segues into a few bars of ‘Scotland The Brave’, then it is job done, and consider the crowd suitably warmed-up for the headliners.

As touched on earlier, these next 12 months or so are crucial to When Rivers Meet. The first part of the battle plan landed with the announcement of forthcoming album number three ‘Aces Are High’, and the subsequent release of two singles lifted from the album;  ‘Play My Game’, and ‘Perfect Stranger’. Aaron and Grace mean business, a statement reinforced by the Reservoir Dogs-inspired “Let’s Go to Work” album cover pic on ‘Aces Are High’. An album that by all accounts sees WRM embrace more of a rockier sound, and an album that will hopefully see the band make that next leap upward in terms of audiences reached. For now though they are among friends and the gazillion-wattage smile of Grace Bond is beaming from ear to ear as the pair are welcomed onto the stage by so many familiar faces: When Rivers Meet fans are known as “Rapids” and tonight they are gathered on the barrier hanging on every word, and every note.

With two full albums and a few EPs to call on, this is a lengthy set. 20 tracks to be precise, and that would have been a few more had the curfew not been so strict and the kids not been waiting to get in to bust a move at the club night. Opening with a new track might sound risky but the aforementioned ‘Play My Game’ is a perfect set opener. It’s been around since its release as a single in March and most in attendance are familiar with it, but it’s the boot-stomping hits from drummer Foxy and thicker-than-a-barrel-of-molasses riffs from Aaron that make it a perfect opener. Aaron is on a gorgeous Fender and his riffs sound way bigger live – they are huge. Grace makes it look easy. She really does. Along with solo star Elles Bailey, SJ Mortimer of Morganway, and the twin vocals of Chloe Josephine and Lindsey Bonnick from Brave Rival, there is an abundance of top-quality female vocalists from these shores who are making people from the rock/blues/Americana scene sit up and take notice, and long may it continue – sisters are doing it for themselves.

The cheers from the opener haven’t yet faded and Aaron breaks out the bottleneck for a rip-roaring run-through of ‘Never Coming Home’, a track that perfectly highlights the glorious vocal harmonies between Grace and Aaron, and from here, the band slams into the foot-stomping, shit-kicking ‘Did I Break The Law’ and the first chance for Grace to cajole some audience participation out of the Rapids on the barrier. The howling vocals from Grace that fill spaces while Aaron impresses with the bottleneck are hair-raising and act as an indication to the crowd to get ready to let themselves go. Grace’s smile and enthusiasm are infectious and she breaks out her box of tricks for the first time tonight on ‘Take Me To The River’ when her stunning custom mandolin puts in its first appearance. Aaron is on lead vocals and his deeper tones work perfectly with the darker, more mysterious tones of the track.  The cigar-box guitar lands on a gnarly version of ‘Shoot The Breeze’ (which also has a brief trumpet solo from bassist and producer Adam Bowers) and anytime Aaron breaks it out the crowd ooohs and aaaahs more and more.

Set highlights are plenty; the acoustic-driven lament ‘Bury My Body’ is utterly gorgeous, especially when Grace turns to the violin for the haunting last few moments; the atmospheric opening moments of ‘I Will Fight’ with Grace on the mandolin are special, and as the song grows into a bit of a beast the only question left to ponder is “Why hasn’t HBO or someone similar picked this up for some dark, brooding TV show?”; the swampy ‘He’ll Drive You Crazy’ always impresses (as does Aarons’s cigar-box guitar); ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’ and ‘Tomorrow’ from the early days are timely reminders that When Rivers Meet had the choons from day one and when Aaron peels out some wacka-wacka guitar licks on the former, then I’ll be damned if the opening to ‘Jive Talkin’ from The Bee Gees doesn’t spring to mind; the mournful ‘Breaker Of Chains’ should be on every Spotify playlist called “Dustbowl classics”; the vocal gymnastics from Grace on ‘Free Man’ elevate the evening to another level; and another new track ‘Perfect Stranger’ is strong enough (thanks to some magical tom-tom work from Foxy) to slot into the tail end of the set normally reserved for more familiar material.

Arielle (and Two-Tone) make an appearance on a rollicking version of ‘Lost & Found’ which would have sent the many Rapids home with a smile on their face had it been the last song, but there is time for one encore and this arrives in the guise of ‘Testify’ which sees Grace down at the barrier working the crowd. The perfect way to end a sensational evening of top-quality music and stellar musicianship from all involved. The sky really is the limit for both acts and with the Bonamassa Cruise, When Rivers Meet have the chance to go one step further and make inward steps to the lucrative blues scene in America. When Rivers Meet and North America are a perfect match. Make it happen.

After a few day’s break, the ‘Breaker Of Chains’ tour resumes in Nottingham on May 25th, all remaining tour dates and festival appearances can be found here.

All live images credit Dave Jamieson except When Rivers Meet/Arielle pic credit Colin Robertson via Noble PR.

‘Aces Are High’ album cover – Rob Blackham

 

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