Spirits are high among the gathered throng queued outside The Telegraph Building tonight. Despite the drizzle and chill, there’s a palpable vibe of affability and a sense of significance to the approaching performance. For you see, although it’s been fourteen years since their debut dropped, this is Blackberry Smoke’s first show in our fair city; a fact that is stated by many in the crowd – indicative of how feverish the demand has been from local fans to finally welcome the Georgia lads to Belfast, as they promote this years’ stellar ‘Find A Light.’ Expectations, therefore, are rather high for tonight.
The Quaker City Night Hawks, kick off proceedings. On paper the Texas quartet’s brand of boogie-inspired Southern rock seem like a sure fit as the sole support act, they lay down a solid foundation for the night ahead as soon as they hit the stage. The dual vocals of Sam Anderson and David Mastler contrast well with each other, and new song ‘Colorado’ adds a little more bounce. There’s certainly talent present amongst this band of brothers.
Blackberry Smoke, however, provide both in spades. From the moment Charlie Starr and co. emerge, they have the crowd eating out of their hands. Launching straight into the rollicking ‘Fire In The Hole’, the band are the antithesis of their support act by seeming like they’re having the time of their lives onstage. And the hits keep coming thick and fast; ‘Nobody Gives A Damn’, ‘Good One Comin’ On’, and ‘Rock And Roll Again’ are all fired out early and in quick succession. Aside from a brief acknowledgement of keyboardist Brandon Still’s birthday, the band do little in the way of inter-song banter, instead opting to cram as many songs into their set as possible.
The fans clearly appreciate it. The audience participation never once lets up throughout the evening, providing particularly enthusiastic sing-alongs to the massive ‘Waiting For Thunder’ and ‘Medicate My Mind,’ and almost reaching fever pitch during a spirited medley of ‘Sleeping Dogs’ with a cover of ‘Come Together.’
The band themselves sound phenomenal. Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson’s riffs sound positively gargantuan, anchored by Richard Turner’s deliciously prominent bass grooves and the added flourish of Brandon Still’s organ antics. Fundamentally though, Blackberry Smoke are an incredibly fun band to watch perform. Charlie, as his surname attests, is a consummate showman, exuding a sense of swagger and soul to every movement and behind every syllable sung. Looking all the world like Rob Zombie’s groovier twin brother, Richard Turner does manage to inadvertently steal the focus away from his impeccable frontman on a couple of occasions – I mean, he just looks so damn cool.
Even as the final chords of ‘Ain’t Much Left Of Me’ ring out, it’s feels like the crowd could easily watch this band for a further two hours. With their newer material sitting comfortably alongside their older catalogue, it seems like Blackberry Smoke keep going from strength to strength, with an oustanding live show that relies solely on the band’s innate charisma and the staggering consistency of their songwriting. “I like this city,” Charlie muses out loud at one point. Judging by Belfast’s response, the feeling is undeniably mutual.
Review: Jonni Davidson
Photography: Marc Leach
Originally published on Rock N’ Load