By 4:00 p.m. on the third and final day of this year’s Rock on the Range festival, a noisy horde, several thousand strong, have gathered in front of the Ernie Ball stage, baking in the sticky Ohio heat as they wait for Rival Sons. We’ve received word that singer Jay Buchanan has fallen quite ill, but rather than cancel outright, the band have elected to play a shortened set.
They take the stage to a thunderous ovation, diving headlong into the elasticky jangle of Electric Man, and the party is underway. While other artists have attracted curious onlookers — fans of other musical stylings who might not normally attend their show — Rival Sons enjoy massive support here in the American heartland, a fact underscored by the scale and volume of the crowd.
Behind the bluesy pentatonic mastery of guitarist Scott Holiday on Secret, the band sound exceedingly tight, a siege of rugged licks, bourbon-soaked leads and filthy, hip-shaking tempos. Jay betrays not the slightest hint of incapacity, howling with chest-beating virility and trembling with the eye-rolling fervor of an old-time Southern snake handler.
During Open My Eyes he collapses on all fours and unleashes an otherworldly roar that sees the lads from Anthrax, sitting reverentially at the side of the stage, drop their jaws in rapt assent. Closing their abbreviated set with Keep On Swinging, the Sons have just packed more raw, undiluted intensity into four songs than many other bands on the lineup manage in twice the time.
What a difference a few years can make. Only a few short years ago, Halestorm played the festival’s tiny Jagermeister stage but the Grammy winners mark their return to Rock on the Range as main stage heavyweights, with upwards of 20,000 screaming punters welcoming them back. Going straight for the jugular is always a good idea at a festival and Love Bites (And So Do I) proves an ideal opener, its muscular hooks and provocative, chorus joyfully arousing the beer-sodden legions all the way back to the soundboard.
Moving through fan favourites like Freak Like Me, It’s Not You and the scuffled punch of new single Amen, Halestorm fire off one stadium-sized anthem after another, uniting shirtless biker dudes, tatted-up metalheads and teenybopping girls in a sweaty, pogoing frenzy. Today’s high-energy, aggressively paced set squarely establishes that mainstream appeal and bone-crushing heaviness are in no way an either-or proposition. Lzzy will always be the star of the show — an arresting vortex of snarling vocals, horn-throwing solos and utterly captivating charisma — but propelled by the concussive shelling of drummer Arejay Hale, the entire band turn in a performance worthy of a headlining set.