Rival Sons: Electric Ballroom

There is an orderly queue stretching down Camden High Street as a mixed bag of grey haired rockers in waistcoats and paisley shirts, younger women in denim skirts with layered brown hair and male teenagers in slouchy jeans start to gather for a sold out show at the Electric Ballroom, the last night of Californian rock band Rival Sons’ UK tour.

Inside, the venue is crawling with music industry types and the photographers are having to fight for space in the press pit.  New album Head Down is riding high in the rock charts. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that this is the last opportunity to see Rival Sons play a venue of this size.  Big things are predicted for this band.

Pint Sized Hero
The opening act, Pint Size Hero, are falling over themselves to thank Rival Sons for allowing them to play.  Apparently they had just bought tickets for the tour when they got the call.  Their songs are well structured and competently executed and the singer can hold a tune well, but that fairy dust sparkle is missing.

that fairy dust sparkle is missing


It doesn’t help that the bassist is wearing a suit jacket with jeans.  Thankfully the sleeves aren’t rolled up, but his head is going back and forth in that ageing rocker chicken move.  When the singer refers to his mates in the audience by name, it all gives the impression of a school band trying to impress the big boys.

The are followed by Ulysses, a psychedelic glam band rich with every rock cliché going but sadly lacking in glamour.  They are also grateful to be supporting Rival Sons and dedicate a song to them.  Shouldn’t support bands want to blow the main act off the stage and steal their rider?  My attention starts to wane but I am unable to escape as the crowd move away from the bar area and start to position themselves for the headliners.


Shouldn’t support bands want to blow the main act off the stage and steal their rider?

The atmosphere in the Ballroom is indeed electric as Radio 2 DJ, Bob Harris walks on stage to introduce and endorse Rival Sons.  If the boys in the lower school looked up to them, their music teacher is now singing their praises.  By now it’s virtually a love-in and I almost expect the band to descend to the stage from the heavens.

They open with current single, “Keep On Swinging” and follow with more tracks from the new album. The audience are appreciative although not completely unrestrained.  The party really starts when they get on to numbers from last year’s “Pressure and Time”.
Rival Sons

It’s not too difficult to understand the appeal of Rival Sons.  They do classic rock extremely well. Jay Buchanan is without doubt a charismatic lead vocalist who, despite his relatively small stature, has the presence to command the stage.  His voice is immensely powerful but he’s not a shouter or a screecher; there’s depth, tone and musicality to his vocals. The textbook perfect bluesy rock frontman.

The drummer, Mike Miley avoids the common mistake amongst rock drummers of over extravagant, showy playing, instead sticking to solid yet varied beats. The bass guitarist, Robin Everhart plays some funky bass lines that give the songs a groove and a danceable catchiness that many rock bands lack. Surprisingly for a band of this type, the weak link is the lead guitarist, Scott Holiday.  The riffs are fairly stock and the solos just don’t cut the mustard, at times sounding like an unrehearsed jam, which is worrying for a band with stadium ambitions.

Rival Sons
The other problem with Rival Sons is that they are so obviously standing on the shoulders of Led Zeppelin and Black Crowes. You could probably get away with singing “Whole Lotta Love” over the top of some of their songs and not notice too much of a difference.  There’s little here that’s truly original, challenging or dangerous. Having said that, I can’t imagine that anyone in the crowd was asking for a refund and fans of classic rock will love them.

After a while I retreat to the back of the venue and whilst resting a pint on the merch stall, I comment to our photographer that the band might be a tad overhyped.  A passing old rocker type overhears and gives me a withering look.  The photographer splutters on his pint.  Well, how was I to know that the old rocker type was Jimmy Page. Yeah, yeah, of Led Zeppelin fame.  If I was him, I’d be considering suing them.

professional in every sense of the word – wild in a sanitised kind of way

I have no doubt that in a year or so, Rival Sons will be packing out larger London venues and rocking festival crowds (they have already played Download).  They are professional in every sense of the word – wild in a sanitised kind of way.  Introduced and given the stamp of approval by a respected broadcaster with an OBE; watched by one of their main influences.  They rock out, but there ain’t no stains on those leopard print trousers.

Photos: Carl Byron Batson

Interview with Robin and Miley from the Rival Sons. 

Interview with Jay from the Rival Sons.


Rival Sons Home


  1. If you think Scott Holidays guitar playing is a problem i question your ability to be writing music reviews. The man is without a doubt one of the most talanted guitar players of this generation.

    • How much knowledge do you need to be a music critic ???? These are four of the most talented men in their own right; putting all of the amazing talent together is just beyond comprehension. The Rival Sons top the charts because that’s where they belong. Finally getting what they deserve…… fans that appreciate REAL ROCK AND ROLL BACKED WITH REAL SOUL!!

  2. Jimmy Page should consider suing them?!? On the contrary, he is a huge fan. The whole Led Zeppelin comparison crops up in almost every review. How about some original thoughts? Scott Holiday is an extremely talented musician. How you can state he is weak is beyond me. Maybe you should have left your beer at the merch stand and paid attention to the show. This review is bollocks. How about actually reviewing what was played instead of just naming 2 songs? Go back to covering One Direction where your true heart lies. What a load of crap.

  3. Call yourself a reviewer? You were obviously at a different gig than I was. Something makes me think you were not paying attention, and couldn’t be assed to write something constructive or factually correct about the whole evening. I was gonna say a whole lot more, but like you, I can’t be assed.

  4. I disagree with most of this revue. Derivative they ain’t. Pagey was there to admire not to ask for his money back. You are welcome to opinion but you are wrong so you can sit there in your wrongness and be wrong on your own. RS are the real deal and they ROCK.

  5. What is the term you use in the UK? Rubbish??? That’s what I think of your comment about Scott Holiday!
    We Canadians can’t wait for Rival Sons return!

  6. Hey dick, as a matter of fact i’m considering suing you for libel and slander, this review is just a huge pile of bullshit filled with obvious defamation. I went to two of their shows on this tour, and both night every single band was off the hook. Sure, ulysses and pint sized hero might lack the individuality and spark that some other bands posses, but never the less they were highly entertaining, and that is their job isn’t it?

    And then you go on to shit-talk rival sons, I’m sick and tired of all the zepplin comparisons, personally i think its bullshit. And plus, i don’t hear you complaining about the fact that zep ripped off most of their songs from old blues artists?

    No music is completely original these days, and no music has been for centuries. Scott Holiday a weak link? stock riffs? Solo’s dont cut the mustard? Well i think you are a bloody weak link, and how you got this job in the first place is astounding.

    He is a bloody great guitar player, his riffs are fantastic and his solo’s are unbelievably good, and anyway, lets see you get on a stage and play like him you talent less hack. As already stated, maybe you should have been listening to the music and watching the show rather than sitting in the back drinking a beer like the arrogant arse you are.

    You are there to review a band, not going out to get pissed down the local, and if you aren’t a complete idiot you will know that alcohol affects your judgement, so if you weren’t a complete tosspot maybe you could actually do your job. If you can get your head out to make enough space, kindly go shove your banjo up your arse and stop thinking yourself better than everyone else you egotistical, arrogant cow.

    yours sincerely

      • Personally, I think you’d make better use of your time proofreading your staff’s work rather than the comments. Maybe then you would realize what a hack job this review is and hire someone of the appropriate sensibilities and knowledge to write about gigs. A gig review requires discussing the music played, not just clothing, who was in attendance, and an air of self import. It requires naming songs that were played, elaborating on subjects such as time signatures, how a certain song differs from the album cut when played live, and audience interaction with and reaction to the band. Try setting the scene through the use of descriptive language. The point should be to take the reader to that show in his or her mind. This does none of that. Instead, the reader is asked to slog through a piece full of hipster attitude with no genuine journalistic substance or pay off. It’s amateurish and lazy writing in a provocative style without depth or real weight.

        • I thought it was a reasonable and well balanced review. If you were there it was quite obvious RS weren’t as together as they are normally at their shows and your asinine simian countenance alludes that your fetid stench has anulled the anthropoid ape species diversity.

        • “A gig review requires discussing the music played, not just clothing”
          – There was mention of several songs played and their relation to Black Crowes and Led Zeppelin.

          “who was in attendance”
          – Bob Harris, Jimmy Page, the bands and the Rival Sons. I’m assuming you don’t mean the names of EVERYONE in attendance, do you?

          “and an air of self import”.
          – I take it then that “Hipster attitude” doesn’t count. A shame.

          “It requires naming songs that were played, elaborating on subjects such as time signatures”
          – see above. viz contradistinction to Black Croze and Lez Hibbleweed.

          “how a certain song differs from the album cut when played live, and audience interaction with and reaction to the band.”
          – Perhaps there was no differences of note. If you read the interviews they say themselves that don’t necessarily go for improv. much.

          “Try setting the scene through the use of descriptive language.”
          – what like descriptions of the clothing, the crowd, the music and particular oeuvre. Apologies that beer temperature wasn’t party to a tomelike exegesis.

        • BTW.
          “no genuine journalistic substance or pay off”
          – How dare you say that Jimmy Page isn’t a pay off.

          It’s Jimmy ‘effing’ Page man. Mad respect for the bloke that played with Puff Daddy.

          • I stand corrected. You obviously did proofread your reviewer’s work. It appears to have been done with the same attention to detail that was given to my comment above, which would be nil. Your grasp of the English language is tenuous at best.

  7. First off any music journo worth their salt would know who Jimmy Page is, also if you’ve even remotely studied your craft you would have also spotted Phil Alexander at the gig!

    A reviewer who identifies their music of choice as either Psychobilly, Punk or the Smiths was perhaps a little out of their comfort zone with this gig. I agree that everyone has the right to their own opinion, it just strikes me as odd that a magazine which has shown such support for the band would be so dismissive to send an obviously uninterested reviewer.

    One of the reasons Jimmy Page and Bob Harris were there is their appreciation for the musical talent of each member of Rival Sons, so maybe we’ll take the word of these highly respected individuals over this reviewer who freely admits to being in ‘terrible’ bands. oh and lets not discount one of the most talented and noteworthy music journalists Phil Alexander who offered a much more insightful review on the spot which didn’t include churning out over used cliches.

    Your bio says you’re a criminal law lecturer? You best head back to the classroom as this review is a crime against journalism!

  8. Dear fangirls and fanboys,

    Of course I know who Jimmy Page is, but it was a fleeting glance in the dark, which just goes to show the inherent problems with identification evidence, a point I made in a lecture only last week.

    I’m sorry that you have overlooked the positive comments I made about the band and that my review wasn’t the sycophantic advertising copy that some of you had hoped for. I’m sure that there are many publications out there to cater for your needs in that respect, so do not fret.

    You should also not worry about your heroes, I’m sure they are too busy having a great time on tour to worry about what the likes of me think of their music and if it doesn’t work out for them, there’s always that Led Zep tribute band to fall back on.

    Please do not make abusive personal comments about me – you are only embarrassing yourselves and your parents.

    I’m sure that you were raised much better than that.

  9. It’s very difficult to not be jaded in this Business.

    Even moreso in the Journalistic aspect.


  10. I think these “fanboys and fangirls” would have been much happier to accept this review… ignore this review even – if you didn’t come across as have the agenda of doing down the band from the time doors opened. Carl/Big Carrot its a shame you feel the need to chime in here as your photos are great.
    In any case, jaded reviewers hold as much weight as a sieve of water in a monsoon; whatever water does hold its unnecessary anyway – and the tide is without a doubt in Rival Sons favour and justifiably so. The fact that you decided to paddle against the tide for some unknown reason is your business, reviewers are entitled to their own opinions, the fact that its their job to make them public means that they understandably come in for criticism when they seem to be blinkered from the start. How icy you heart must be not to be melted by this band, and this particular show, but all’s fair in love and music right? You get to sarcastically insult the guys and they get to ignore it. Its a delightful business.

  11. Have a look at my reviews of Chris Isaak, Wanda Jackson, Viza, Hank 3 et al and you’ll see that I’m anything but jaded.

    This review isn’t a slating at all, it’s a balanced and honest review with no prior agenda. I make several positive comments about the band.

    It’s a shame that people don’t have the courage of their convictions to use their full names when commenting.

  12. When are ‘music journalists’ going to get off the ‘Rival Sons sound like Led Zeppelin’ band wagon and think of something original to say about their live shows. Maybe if Sarah stopped ‘guzzling Jack Daniels’ at gigs she would be able to spot rock legends before slating a band with someone else’s tired rhetoric. I’ve never seen the electric ballrooms so full in all my years of music appreciation. And if that isn’t an Americana revival comeback statement I don’t know what is.

  13. ‘When are ‘music journalists’ going to get off the ‘Rival Sons sound like Led Zeppelin’ band wagon and think of something original to say[?]’

    Good call. Actually, they sound more like Wolfmother.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.