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!