Halestorm, Rival Sons, Black Stone Cherry…stylistically all very different, of course, but in their own ways these big American hitters have made rock popular in the 21st century. Really popular, at a time when it supposedly shouldn’t stand a chance of making a dent on the mainstream. All three of them draw consistently rapturous crowds, all three of them hit the UK top 20 with their latest album, and tonight Classic Rock’s former cover stars Black Stone Cherry get a huge Download crowd singing heartily to every lyric - in a career-spanning, hit-tastic set.
By the time the earnest (yet friendly) Kentucky foursome come onstage, it’s raining. It’s really raining. That relentless, horizontal kind that penetrates the most industrial of waterproofs. Naturally the way to start in such conditions is with 2006’s The Rain Wizard, with stoic frontman Chris Robertson flanked by the perennially chipper Ben Wells (guitarist/vocalist) and Jon Lawhon (bassist/excellent backing vocalist, he proves tonight) - both darting up and down the stage like men being chased with lasers.
Follow-up Blind Man goes down well with those who are evidently fans, but it’s 2014 chest-thumper Me And Mary Jane that really pushes everyone through unforgiving elements - in a soaked, bouncing sea of grinning ponchos and pack-a-macs, bellowing it’s robust chorus. The infectious singalong machine White Trash Millionaire bounds forth with gratifying heft, upbeat newbie Roadrunner is debuted to enthused reception, and loveable ballad In My Blood provides heavy, heartstring-tugging prettiness. Groups of friends hug (ok, partly to create rain shields), two big blokes in Judas Priest T-shirts sway arm in arm bellowing out every word… It’s a nice moment of very British rock camaraderie in the face of shite weather. At this point Wells can’t contain himself any more and hits the mic, practically bursting out into a ‘howahyahdoin’outthere?!’, before leading into the hard rocking Back Luck & Hard Love.
Guitar antics get fuzzed and bluesy in Soulcreek, and Robertson - a trucker-capped bundle of Southern sincerity and raw soul - smiles in seemingly very genuine delight at the response, with many a tactfully-placed “you guys are beautiful man!”, “we always love playing Download!” etc. It’s then left for Blame It On The Boom Boom and Lonely Train to wrap things up in a gunpowder barrel of melodic, Kentucky-fried oomph. The four old friends head downstage to bow and throw picks and drumsticks, and we all make a beeline for shelter/beer/chips/Slipknot/all of the above. Job well done.