The Cafe du Nord was furnished by the quintessential imagery of a concert circa 1970-something with tight corduroy pants, glorious facial hair and weed emanation. Except with iPhones ever-present. How did this apparent time travel happen? Because classic rock revivalists Rival Sons were in the house this past Friday.
Formed in 2008, the Los Angeles-based band is a continuation of the music scene which elapsed from yester-decades. And it’s not even corny in the your-creepy-uncle’s-middle-aged-cover-band kind of way. Their sound is actually refreshing in this lo-fi-drenched, electronica-layered, blog-circulated sonic environment where we currently live.
In a strangely poignant outburst, one rowdy enthusiast in the crowd shouted, “real rock’n’roll, baby!” And as so many YouTubers bemoan the loss of “real music” in the top comments of music videos, the Sons’ throwback seems like a universal godsend.
The band’s musical authenticity doesn’t derive from their cultivated appearance of perfectly choreographed rock god stances or custom-made blazers. Rather, it’s all in their soul. Not in the metaphysical sense of the word, but more like, “dang, you can tell they’re really feeling the music.”
Front man Jay Buchanan’s emotionally-charged, breath-defying wails created a synergy when combined with guitarist Scott Holiday’s mastery of his strings. The trick to pulling off old blues rock is to swerve gracefully between rollicking grit and soul-baring slow jams. And they did just that. Songs like “You Want To” built the audience into a head-banging frenzy and, within minutes, broke into the soft, gospel-influenced plea of “let me in.” You know the music is good when soaring riffs and sore sentiments flow organically.
Their stage presence was a fitting accompaniment to the aforementioned tonal shifts. There was a Dionysian quality to the band members’ enrapture in their performance. Yet, Buchanan exhibited that he has moves like the actual Jagger (not just Maroon 5 backup dancers) via rapid foot shuffling.
At some points during their generous hour and forty-five minute set, the band moved into free-form jazz territory with their stream-of-consciousness jam sessions. Buchanan’s voice rivaled Holiday’s guitar and Robin Everhart’s bass in the challenge of hitting the most complex notes. The band just makes you want to rev a motorcycle into a really badass sunset. That’s generally the vibe you should get from hard rock.
Their sound might not be forging an original path, but they tread along a well-noted, nostalgic one. Those with the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality would ideally apply it as skillfully as these guys. And they tap into that classic aesthetic in a distinguished embrace of the cliché.
It’s important to note that the Sons – whose latest album, Head Down, hit number one on the UK’s rock charts – played San Francisco for the first time at this sold out show. Granted, the venue is relatively intimate. But it’s a milestone for a band that performs the lyric “this time I’m going all the way” in such a heartfelt manner. Other signs that they’re doing well for themselves: people sound checking their instruments for them, cool Fleetwood Mac-esque typography on a perfectly-aligned drum set and a ridiculously decked-out pedal board.
With such large aspirations and larger-than-life personas, it’s natural to wonder if they’ll make it big in America. Ultimately, their future success lies in whether the rapid progression of modern music can make room for this sound. But if the recent rise of such dirty blues brothers as The Black Keys is any indication, Rival Sons should be able to make their own space.
Contact Caitlin at [email protected]