If you’ve never heard of a little Los Angeles rock band called Rival Sons before, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and go get yourself informed. Come back to this article later. Let yourself get lost in what you find. Rival Sons may very well be one of the most exemplary representations of good old fashioned American rock ‘n roll. However, Rival Sons are also a band I haven’t been able to quite figure out — figure out why they haven’t broken out in the U.S. They have dominated cities all over Europe, and have an avid, diehard fan base in Germany. So why aren’t they huge in America? They have everything it takes — a great image, full, hard driving songs, and a guitarist that can just wail mean, fuzzy licks out of his fat stacks of Orange Amps. I have been listening to Rival Sons since 2013 and never understood why the band wasn’t already larger than life when I first discovered them.
However, last night’s show at First Avenue was the first time I felt the status quo of Rival Sons being a hidden gem changing. The people aren’t just ready for Rival Sons, they’re hungry. And they want as much as they can get. Since the drop of their hit single “Do Your Worst”, Rival Sons have finally hit the mainstream veins of America. And mark my words, Rival Sons will be the band that saves modern rock ‘n roll. Their electrifying set at First Avenue proved they have everything it takes.
But before I get ahead of myself and delve into the entity that is Rival Sons, I need to recognize the talented band that played before them. The night began with Saskatoon based folk/rock band The Sheepdogs opening up for Rival Sons. With a sound reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Black Keys and The Allman Brothers, The Sheepdogs boast a retro, guitar-driven blues-rock style described by frontman Ewan Currie as, “pure, simple, good-time music.” Since 2011 (the year the band won three CASBY Awards), The Sheepdogs have garnered a healthy attraction from Canadian fans as well as fans across the border in the U.S. While I have never seen The Sheepdogs live, I was already familiar with their song “Feeling Good” (you can thank the NHL 17 video game for that) so I was looking forward to getting a deeper exposure to their catalogue at First Avenue.
Sure enough, The Sheepdogs were a delight. They took the stage and made it their own. Dancing and performing a packed set full of feel good songs, the audience were sucked in from the start. Smiles and cheers filled the room as the band played. I really enjoyed catching these guys. Each one of their songs encapsulated a different charm. It quickly became apparent why The Sheepdogs have been able to find so much success recently — it’s because they’re really good at being a relatable, blues and folk fusion band. Aside from their music, another thing that impressed me about The Sheepdogs was their style. Dressed in western/cowboy flare, each band member was rocking a unique outfit that looked like a blend of straight 70’s fashion and working on a ranch in Saskatoon. I dug it.After The Sheepdogs left the stage, it was time for Rival Sons. In only a few minutes time, the venue went dark and the outline of a glowing dog skeleton became visible behind the stage. This skeleton art piece soon dropped, and a colorful, intricate mural of the Feral Roots album cover took its place. The band came out swinging right from the get go. Loud, passionate, and vibrant, Rival Sons took the stage by storm knocking the audience off their feet. They opened with a buoyant and heavy song, “Back in the Woods”.
Lead guitarist Scott Holiday shredded his guitar and delivered plenty of high volume fuzz and distortion. Being the sole electric guitarist in the band, Holiday is one of the main attractions of Rival Sons. Dressed to the nines in a sharp suede jacket, sporting slicked back, well-groomed hair and a twirled moustache, he can absolutely crush a guitar. Lead singer and frontman Jay Buchanan is also a sight to behold. Sporting a tight, ripped black shirt with long brown hair and jewelry around his neck and fingers, Buchanan looks like a classic rock ‘n roller. His vocal range is absolutely incredible, and gives Rival Sons their distinct and powerful sound.
After opening the night with a few loud, high energy bangers including fuzz ballad “Electric Man”, the band went on to play some slower tunes accompanied by the acoustic guitar. After “Too Bad”, Buchanan reminisced about their experience recording the song “Jordan”, which came to fruition while the band were recording their album Head Down. “I locked myself in the closet in my room because I didn’t want the guys to hear me…. I was writing a song about death and grieving. At three in the morning, I went out and showed the guys the song I had written and they said we had to record it tomorrow.” Sure enough, the band went right into the studio and recorded “Jordan”. However, Buchanan mentioned that when they were recording the song, it was the first time the band had ever played the song together. One take. No redos. The song you hear on the album is the first time they ever played the song as a band and they kept that version for the album.
This song seemed to be special from the get go, as Buchanan mentioned many people have a deep and emotional connection with this song. He ends his preface to the band’s intro to the song by saying, “You may have needed this song last year, you may need this song tomorrow, you may never need this song, or you may need this song tonight. If you need this song tonight Minneapolis the people in this room are here to pick you up.”
The rest of Rival Sons’ set fluctuated between high energy and slower songs on the acoustic guitar. It didn’t matter whether it was a slow song of a fast song. Buchanan belted out a strong and powerful scream that carried weight over the music even when he pulled his microphone away from his lips. He has a voice that will make your toes curl. It is so raw and stunning, especially hearing it live. He has such a tremendous vocal range, stylistically similar to Robert Plant. The perfect rock ‘n roll scream.
The evening wrapped up with a few of the new Feral Roots songs being played live. However, Rival Sons set was not about to end without ample credit to the fans. Buchanan mentions, “You could have stayed at home and listened to Spotify… You could have stayed at home and listened to Apple Music or Vinyl… But you’re here tonight. You spent your bread and your time because you wanted the real thing Minneapolis. You wanted to see real people doing things with their bodies.” The band then ended the main set with a loud and extremely high energy “Do Your Worst.” The encore consisted of “Shooting Stars” and “Keep on Swinging”. The audience screamed and hollered and sang along with the band before they said goodnight and left the stage for good.
Overall, Rival Sons are an incredibly entertaining band. They are the essence of a big Los Angeles rock band. Sexy, badass, loud and heavy, they have so many chops in their lineup it’s staggering to watch. They have the perfect platform to bring loud, distorted, Led Zeppelin style rock back to the masses. It’s safe to say Rival Sons are finally here, and they’re here to stay.