Live Review: The Cold Stares with support from Big River at Bourne Music Club, Sittingbourne on 30-06-22

All the way from America's Heartland, The Cold Stares with Big River at Bourne Music Club, Sittinbourne

Written By: Scott Brett

Photos By: John Bull – Rockrpix

Habits, on the whole, tend to drift into negative territory – smoking, drinking, watching Arsenal etc. – whereas the one being painstakingly nurtured by Mark and Ellie in Sittingbourne at The Bourne Music Club is very much of the positive persuasion; namely, the knack of regularly attracting top class, international acts to the stage of The Appleyard, the former social club for the local paper-making industry in the heart of the town. Tonight proves no exception, and deliciously feeds that particularly welcome habit, as they bring to this part of North Kent – all the way from America’s Heartland – The Cold Stares.

But before the gents from across the pond enter stage left, Kent itself provides the energising support required to get the party started in the shape of the mighty, heavy blues laden, Big River, with their big, big sound.

Drawing their set, in the main, from their 2019 debut album Redemption, the four-piece instantly set about turning heads and grabbing attention, launching into the rousing Mama with a gusto nothing short of hurricane-grade. As guitarist Damo Fawsett showcases his intricate picking to great effect, bending strings to create slick sounds unheard before, singer Adam Barron unleashes his own type of ‘chords’ – namely vocal – in a barrage of bluesy brilliance, at times his execution of the tune feeling akin to a ‘blues rap’ (is that a thing?), such is the speed and clarity of his addictive delivery. The appeal of this catchy, driving tune cannot be overstated.

Follow-ups Blues Blood Baby and Beautiful Trauma further impale the gathered hordes on their barbed musical hook, where the backline of Simon Gardiner (bass) and Joe Martin (drums) really stands out in providing solid foundations from which their compadres can build from.

Bringing out the electric ukulele next (like you do!) for Don’t Hold Out certainly intrigued – how will the instrument made famous by a down-to-earth, northern lad integrate into this well-oiled blues machine? Needn’t have worried. Barron’s voice synchs perfectly with its tone and the other instruments are complemented nicely. The song has a wonderfully optimistic air about it – if only we could bottle that feeling and take a swig every now and then, life would be a whole lot rosier! The track proves one of the best of the set, very uplifting!

Returning to the melting blues of earlier, first Devil’s Whiskey (with it’s dirty, bass-y groove), then latest single The Long Way (a real foot stomper), and finally Hometown Hustler (featuring some thumping drum work from Martin), prove to be a trio of tunes that instantly satisfy, exemplifying just how well honed this quartet’s songwriting, and indeed stagecraft, really is. The applause volume from the appreciative crowd ratchets up at the end of each subsequent track.

Penultimate song Blackened Rain, again from the Redemption album, begins with a crystal-shattering, Gillan-infused scream, before locating a crisp, classic rock vibe, sending us reeling against the ropes, punch-drunk from some ferocious bass uppercuts and vocal jabs. A sensational round for the River boys!

Disappointingly though, the set must have an end, but I’m stoked to report that bringing up the rear is the storming Dancing with the Devil, which is played with a conviction, freedom and commitment which comes only from having total confidence in the players around you. With Gardiner and Martin’s backline flowing like sweet honey, Fawsett and Barron let loose in a fiery fiesta of a finale, hitting their highest peaks and demonstrating so ably why Big River have amassed the following they have. A spectacular climax to what has been a simply irresistible set. Superb!

A short break ensues for me to catch up with friends old and new, before the lights are once again dimmed and our host Mark springs enthusiastically onto the stage to introduce our headliners for the evening … and boy, does he look rightly proud! Tip-of-the-hat to you Sir for pulling tonight together.

The Cold Stares, hailing from Evansville, Indiana, are on their first UK trio tour. Originally scheduled to cover ten UK venues, the guys unfortunately advised the day before our gig that they were having to cancel that day’s show in Chester due to feeling unwell, so we were rightly concerned that tonight’s performance may not happen. As is the nature of these illnesses on some occasions though, the short rest appeared to have worked wonders. Sometimes the toast lands butter side up!

So, with the illnesses not exactly a distant memory, but feeling leaps and bounds better, Chris Tapp (guitar/vocals), Brian Mullins (drums) and Bryce Klueh (bass on this tour) set about blowing away the cobwebs and blowing the roof off the place.

Opening up with the mid-tempo Come for Me, the band are straight into their stride, with Tapp putting in some dexterously impressive fretwork containing plenty of rise and fall, layered over the top of an all-so-tight backline provided by Klueh and Mullins, who makes full use of the sonic boom created by his big bass drum. I’ll put this out there now; as the show progresses, ‘tight’ is the perfect descriptive I’d use when discussing the band’s presentation of their tunes this evening – you couldn’t locate a cranny, let alone a nook, to slide a Rizla into!

Switching seamlessly into the title track of their 2021 album Heavy Shoes, it was obvious from my earlier conversations with my fellow gig goers that hearing this particular song was high on their list of priorities, so it was wall-to-wall smiles when those opening bars crashed through the air and hit us right between the eyes. Tapp’s vocals are pitched at the optimum tempo level as he carries the tune flawlessly, proficiently emphasising in all the right places, taking zero prisoners in his pursuit of a place in Sittingbourne folklore. The crowd are visibly beginning to warm to the trio at this point, exemplified by the whoops and hollers that followed the final note. The ‘roll’ has begun!

Follow-up tracks include new single Waiting On The Rain Again, previous single Mojo Hand (as used in the trailer to Keanu Reeves mega popular Cyberpunk 2077 video game), and the fabulously funky In The Night Time, which has a real ’60s vibe about it, reminiscent of Booker T’s Green Onions, definitely my pick of the evening! From the smiles beaming from the faces in the band, they get a kick out of playing it as well!

Shifting through the gears now, the band fire off a mighty version of I Was a Fool from 2019’s Ways album, with Mullins pounding out a series of thunderous beats, Klueh hitting a solid, bass-y groove, and Tapp bending strings and distorting sonics like his life depended on it. A truly spectacular rendition!

The guys have such a wealth of quality tracks to draw from and they make full use of that classy back catalogue on the next few cuts: the sublime Any Way the Wind Blows; the heavyweight Two Keys and a Good Book; the melancholy Headstone Blues; and the powerful Hard Times, the lyrics of which,  I’m sure, resonated with some throughout the hall due to its contemporary subject matter.

We’re all flying down the highway as one now, as the guys hit top gear with the driving 40 Dead Men. It’s immediately apparent that Tapp means MEAN business with this one, ripping it up with some rampant, buzz saw runs and licks, squeezing all the fun he can find out of it, ably assisted by the equally enthused rhythm department who put a terrific shift in. Breath taking stuff!

Hitting the home stretch, they launch into a steaming version of Nothing But The Blues, where Tapp cranks the fuzz to 11, and Mullins and Klueh punch out a ferocious, bossing beat that shakes your very foundations, finishing up in a hail of bassline bullets, Fender firecrackers and high-hat heat seekers – what a way to sign off! Or so we thought.

Following a very short break, and with some encouragement from the pumped-up punters, Tapp returns to the stage alone and provides us with one final, beautiful memory – a weeping, wailing rendition of the Allman Brother’s Whipping Post, where the nuances within his vocals lend themselves perfectly to the heartache running through the track – a truly special moment!

With the lights up, “see you laters” said, and one final visit to the merch stand made, I head home with the melody of that last track still swirling around in my head, and thoughts of what powerful performances both bands gave us tonight, bands that I’ll most definitely be moving Heaven and Earth to experience ‘Live’ again!

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