Are Black Stone Cherry ready to fill the cavernous Wembley Arena? Here's what we learnt at the band's biggest headline show to date.
Black Stone Cherry may not look like a glam band, but their sound says otherwise. The sharp, earthy tones of Chris Robertson’s voice are reminiscent of Audioslave-era Chris Cornell’s snarl, but their choice of chord patterns and innuendo-strewn lyrics owe more to the likes of Motley Crue. Opener Rain Wizard is a chugging, grungy number, but it doesn’t take long for them to come into their own with the abrasive sing-along number Me and Mary Jane. Their sound isn’t the only thing borrowing from Eighties glam-rock, either – the show is theatrical from the off, with guitarist Ben Wells and bassist John Lawhon head-banging earnestly along to their riffs and making full use of the ramps set up for them to run along.
They’ve taken a bunch of rock clichés and rolled them into a credible band. Bon Jovi introduced the talkbox to the mainstream. Clutch frontman Neil Fallon, and later Fred Durst, both rocked the hillbilly-skater look. Pantera got the aggressive, chugging riff down to a T. Black Stone Cherry? They’re cramming all of those devices into their songs, and far from being a parody of their own sound, it works. They know they owe their sound to other bands, and halfway through the set, pull out a heavied-up cover of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, which seamlessly segues into one of their own songs, Like I Roll. The band start going back to their roots at this point, bringing out an unmistakable Southern country sound that’s only got Lynyrd Skynyrd to thank. It should sound dated, but they do it with aplomb.
Their humility is genuine. It’s become de rigueur for bands to gush to their audience about how grateful they are for their support, but when Robertson does it, it really seems to come from the heart. Before they burst into the powerhouse that is Blame it on the Boom Boom – in which Robertson and Wells battle it out in a joint solo – he stops and reminsices about their first show, which had a grand total of eight paying customers, and seems genuinely in awe of the fact that they’re blowing the roof off Wembley Arena. They don’t milk the crowd before the encore, either – stepping off stage for just a few seconds before reappearing and launching into Peace is Free, an emotionally charged power ballad that has every iPhone light in the stadium pointed at the stage, then finishing with the loud, abrasive early hit Lonely Train, which could easily be a b-side from early Guns N’ Roses.
Entertaining an arena comes naturally to them. Tunes like Hell and High Water, Soul Creek and White Trash Millionaire were written to be performed in a huge room to a screaming crowd. They might not win points for originality, but their energy is tangible and their sound isn’t lost to the echoes of the arena. Every harmony is clear, and their performance is even more impressive in that there’s no backing tracks or effects used – it’s just four guys and their instruments, making a huge sound. They certainly don’t scrimp on melody; every note rings out sharp inside the cavernous atrium of Wembley Arena, and judging by the roar of the audience, they agree that Black Stone Cherry certainly know how to put on a show.