Review by Pete Finn for MPM
With August being the traditional month for family holidays and festivals, myself and MPM Tog Manny haven’t seen that much of each other, he has been off tanning himself with Mrs. M in Lanzarote, whereas I’ve been to Stonedead, and to Barcelona with my brother to see Iron Maiden. But I’m reunited with my other ‘brother’ (and fellow old Muppet) Statler Manson in our tour bus, as we head to Nottingham and Rock City.
We’re off to see southern rockers The Cadillac Three, and their guest on this tour Lindsay Ell. We arrive outside, there’s a good queue, which includes a few of our friends Jay, Matt and Span, making their way in.
Once inside, it doesn’t feel like it’s been over a month since we were here, it’s reassuringly familiar, a bit like settling down in your favourite comfy pants. Tonight’s show is sold out, so it’s going to get steamy in here.
Lindsay Ell was born in Calgary, Canada. She started playing the piano at six, until she discovered her father’s collection of guitars that were scattered throughout the house, switching from keys to strings at age eight. Lindsay is a guitarist whose style has been influenced by the likes of John Mayer, Keith Urban, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Randy Bachman, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
She travelled back and forth from Calgary to Nashville for a couple years to participate in song writing sessions while playing as many live shows as she could to hone her craft. At the age of 21, she permanently moved to Nashville. Her first full length album ‘Consider This’ was recorded in 2008, her fifth and most recent ‘Heart Theory’ being released in 2020.
Lindsay Ell walks out to the front of the stage smiling, acknowledging the reception, on the stage with her tonight is a drummer (apologies, as Lindsay never introduced him to us, so I was unable to get his name), he is sat at right angles to the stage facing Lindsay, they starts with ‘Wildfire’ from the 2017 album ‘The Project’. The stage lights are a flame like mix of red and yellow.
The funk intro and quick lyrics sets the tone for the track, it’s a happy sound. The mid-track instrumental break allows Lindsay Ell, as she drops her bright white guitar down low, to show the Rock City crowd her guitar skills. They like what they see.
Taken from the recent ‘Heart Theory’ album is ‘Want Me Back’, a slow and emotional track, with intricate beat changes, Lindsay plays a squealing solo to bring the track to a close and punches the air as she does so. Lindsay tells us it’s her first time in Nottingham, and she likes what she’s seen.
A big wash of bass signals the introduction of the new single ‘Right on Time’, the steady drum beat gets us going, it’s got more of a pop feel, up-tempo, bouncy. Ell includes the line “Right on Time, Rock City” into the song, which receives a good cheer.
A blues intro which blends into a hard funk beat gives us ‘Hits Me’, which is the opening track from ‘Heart Theory’, another bouncing track, a good blues inspired lead break adds another dimension to the sound. The solo sees Lindsay bouncing in time as she plays. A few fists are raised and pumping the air in time.
With the stage now bathed in bright green lights, Lindsay starts a dirty sounding solo, this is good, the Rock City crowd show their respect as we move into the slower ‘Get Over You’ from ‘Heart Theory’ “It’s about my last break up” Lindsay tells us, the vocal is strong and assured, the rhythms are getting quicker, the sound builds and fills the hall.
Lindsay starts a Freddie Mercury style sing back, this turns into a sing back in which the crowd are echoing the guitar notes, they’re enjoying this. Without stopping, Lindsay starts playing No Doubts ‘Just A Girl’, this is fun, it then morphs into the final part of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the crowd are now on vocals.
This mini-medley has worked very well, the crowd lapped that one up.
Up next, we have ‘What Happens in a Small Town’ a single that was recorded in 2018 with Brantley Gilbert for his album ‘Fire and Brimstone’. There is a good long instrumental outro. Lindsay says that Rock City is one of her ‘Bucket List’ venues, she continues with some ‘Thank You’s for the crew, The Cadillac Three and the crowd, before bass wash announces the arrival of the ballad ‘I Don’t Love You’ from ‘Heart Theory’ this see’s Lindsay in a reflective mood as she tells the story of a relationship.
The track incorporates a couple of squealing lead breaks that emphasize the feelings of the song. The climax of the track being a huge solo, that first has Lindsay on her knees leaning over the pit, and as the pace builds, she is now lying back on the floor like Jimi Hendrix.
The final track from Lindsay is ‘Criminal’ from ‘The Project’, it starts with a gentle lyric accompanied by a purposeful and steady beat, the tempo builds as Lindsay walks to the edge of the stage, then lets rip with a solo which smoothly leads into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ for the outro.
There’s a big crashing finish and the crowd are cheering and clapping as a smiling and waving Lindsay Ell leaves the stage and judging by the reaction coming from the Rock City crowd, Lindsay Ell has made some new fans tonight.
Setlist: Wildfire, Want Me Back, Right on Time, Hits Me, Get Over You, Just A Girl/Bohemian Rhapsody, What Happens in a Small Town, I Don’t Love You, Criminal
The crews clear the stage, the crowd resets itself too with essential visits to the bar. There is an extremely tall guy, who wouldn’t look out of place on an NBA court down by the barrier. I hope he stays there, as normally he would come and stand in front of me.
Formed during 2011, The Cadillac Three, originally known as The Cadillac Black, is an American Southern rock group consisting of Jaren Johnston (lead vocals, guitar), Kelby Ray (lap steel guitar, bass guitar, vocals), and Neil Mason (drums, vocals). All three members were originally in the band American Bang. The group has released five studio albums with their debut ‘The Cadillac Three’ released in 2012 which was then re-released as ‘Tennessee Mojo’ after the band changed their name, and their most recent ‘Tabasco and Sweet Tea’ released in 2020.
The trio were previously forced to postpone their 10th anniversary UK Tour late last year due to the pandemic, and now they’re returning with a new set of live shows for 2022. Tonight’s show is the penultimate date of the re-scheduled 8-venue tour, which also included a headline slot at The Long Road Festival.
The house lights go out, the stage awash in blue light, that is being sliced apart by white search-lights, the crowd move closer to the barriers cheering and clapping, as announced over the PA, “From Nashville, Tennessee, The Cadillac Three.” They make their way out onto the stage, Kelby Ray stage right on a riser with his lap steel guitar, Neil Mason, stage left again on a riser behind his kit and finally Jaren Johnston front, middle and center, a bright lime green guitar over his shoulder and wearing sunglasses.
A wave of acknowledgement and we’re straight into ‘Peace Love & Dixie’, for which we move back slightly through time to the 2016 album ‘Bury Me in My Boots’. Neil Mason counts us in, this is slower, with big circular riffs, Johnston is speaking the lyrics with clarity and purpose, we are all listening. The sound and style reminds me of early ZZ Top, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The heads are nodding throughout the crowd. A brilliant start.
Without pausing, the fast banjo style intro picks up the tempo, this is matched by Jaren Johnston’s rapid lyrics. This is ‘Slide’ again from ‘Bury Me in My Boots’. The hands are up and clapping. This track is rapid with a rattlesnake bite.
Mason’s drums slows the pace as we glide into another from ‘Bury Me in My Boots’ it’s ‘Soundtrack to a Six Pack’. Johnston’s lyrics being the prominent feature, the supporting sounds of Mason and Ray give this track real character. Kelby Ray is slapping the steel guitar; Neil Mason is off his stool orchestrating the clapping.
Jaren Johnson tells us it’s hot on stage, it’s bloody hot everywhere in Rock City tonight. He continues to say that Rock City is his favourite venue so far, and that they had a trip around Nottingham Castle and a beer in ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’. ‘Hard Out Here For A Country Boy’ taken from ‘Country Fuzz’ which was released in 2020.
The narrated intro from Johnston are followed by the beats from Mason they are slow, deliberate and hard, the heads start nodding amongst the crowd. The beats and harmonies providing the crowd with plenty of sounds to move to. The ticker tape and confetti from previous gigs is being shaken off the house lights.
We ease into ‘Blue El Camino’ again from ‘Country Fuzz’, a riff laden intro keeps the momentum and feet tapping from the previous track. The track gives Johnston the opportunity to flex his fingers along the frets, which he does with style. Jaren thanks Lindsay Ell, then the marching beats and riffs announce the arrival of ‘Crackin’ Cold Ones With the Boys’, from ‘Country Fuzz’, this is another crowd favourite and it’s not long before they’ve taken over lead vocals, a grinning Jaren stands back and lets them continue.
Jaren Johnston is rapping the intro to ‘The Jam’ providing four in a row from ‘Country Fuzz’, the track has a funk feel with a slapping bass beat. This is fun. Now we have ‘Bury Me in My Boots’ from the 2016 album of the same name. It’s slower, ballad like, a song to kick back to, with your favourite tipple as you rock on your favourite chair. It creates a fantastic image in the mind. The crowd are singing the line “And don’t forget the whiskey”, after a chorus of clapping we’re back on lead vocals. The crowd are really loving this.
Kelby Ray up on his riser is clapping his hands above his head, leading us into the title track from 2014’s ‘Tennessee Mojo’ which is next. Big slide guitar sounds supported by a heavy drum beat and pinched riffs fills the Rock City hall with a fantastic noise. Jaren has removed his baseball cap and hung it on his mic stand, as he rips into his solo, played high up on his fret board, giving a fabulous dirty sound.
Then without stopping it’s the more conventional sounding ‘Back It Up’ from ‘Tennessee Mojo’ next, it continues to show off the great variety in sounds and techniques that The Cadillac Three possess. Neil Mason stands up behind his kit smashing his drum sticks together in time with the clapping crowd.
Another ballad like intro gives us ‘Hank & Jesus’ from ‘Legacy’ which was released in 2017. A big feature of the track is Neil Mason’s snare drum, it sounds great, it’s level is just above the other sounds, it’s reverberating around the hall.
It continues as he leads us out of the track accompanied by a clever solo from Johnston as he sits perched on the edge of the stage. Sticking with ‘Legacy’ next it’s ‘American Slang’, this has all the ingredients of that fabulous iconic Southern sound, jangling guitar, steady beats and passionate lyrics.
All the lights go out momentarily, when they’re back Kelby and Neil have left the stage, Jaren starts strumming and singing ‘Running Red Lights’, which is from ‘Bury Me in My Boots’. The crowd are singing the words as Jaren plays along with them, The Cadillac Three now have 2500 lead vocalists, and they cheer and applaud themselves at the end. Ray and Mason return to the stage, the slow and steady beats introduces ‘Take Me to the Bottom’ from ‘Legacy’.
The tempo is slower, this has an emotional feel to it, it’s moody, this means something. The deliberate lyrics builds the atmosphere, up until a big solo concludes the track.
We’re treated to a funky jam as Lindsay Ell joins the band on stage, Kelby Ray is down off the riser and has a bass guitar over his shoulder. Jaren Johnston is carrying a striking red flying ‘V’. We move to the most recent release ‘Tabasco and Sweet Tea’ for ‘Head Over Wheels’. Again, this is a funk-based sound, with a fat bass from Ray and Mason’s pounding drum beat. The stop/start musical accompaniment to Johnston’s vocal works well, we get treated to a mini-jam mid-way through the track before Lindsay Ell takes over with the lead solo.
Next, it’s ‘Sweet Southern Spirit’ again from ‘Tabasco and Sweet Tea’. The lyrics to this are brilliant, full of references to Southern life, from the F-150 pick-up truck to John Deere to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Very clever and good fun.
It’s the title track to ‘Tabasco & Sweet Tea’ next, the rapping verses are trading blows with a great riff, this song has everything, big bass and harmonies washed down with a smashing solo. All on stage are jamming and rocking out together, the crowd are invited to sing the chorus. The band all take it in turns to thank Lindsay Ell, she leaves the stage, the Rock City crowd thank her too.
Kelby returns back to his steel guitar up on the riser. Jaren thanks the crowd in Rock City tonight, then tells us they’re going to “Take you back to the old days”, we return to the first album ‘Tennessee Mojo’/’The Cadillac Three’ for ‘Down to the River’. Jaren calls for the band to slow it down, then asks the crowd to sing with him. He climbs up onto one of the monitors as he crashes out his solo. The crowd sing the intro for ‘White Lightning’ from ‘Bury Me in My Boots’, an arm waving anthem that allows us to get our breath back. We get to join in with a few ‘Woah’s before the crowd sing the remaining lines. A huge cheer meets the end of the track.
The penultimate track of what has been a brilliant set is ‘The South’ taken off ‘Bury Me in My Boots’, another classic southern blues rock track, full of passion, clever lyrics and awesome sounds. We arrive at the final track of the evening; a big riff starts ‘I’m Southern’ taken from the 2014 album ‘Tennessee Mojo’. A more traditional Southern Rock track, it has Johnston telling us all a story. Mason’s beats are on the money, slow and hard.
The crowd are cheering, clapping and whistling, The Cadillac Three rightfully take the applause and show their appreciation of the Rock City audience. Then smiling and waving exit the stage.
The Cadillac Three are proud of their roots and this comes across in their music and show, it’s one I’d recommend anyone who enjoys live music to experience, it’s been a great evening.
Setlist: Peace Love & Dixie, Slide, Soundtrack to a Six Pack, Hard Out Here For A Country Boy, Blue El Camino, Crackin’ Cold Ones With the Boys, The Jam, Bury Me in My Boots, Tennessee Mojo, Back It Up, Hank & Jesus, American Slang, Running Red Lights, Take Me to the Bottom, Head Over Wheels, Sweet Southern Spirit, Tabasco & Sweet Tea, Down to The River, White Lightning, The South, I’m Southern
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM