Despite turning 19 in Vancouver, studying at UBC and living in Kits for most of my adult life, not a single one of my late night forays along the Granville Street Strip has ever started or ended at the Roxy. With my university days well behind me, I had come to terms with that fact that I may never actually enter that infamous Vancouver nightclub. And then came Rival Sons.
Rival Sons was formed back in 2008 and came together in a fairly unusual way. Unlike the more common tale of a band developing around a lead singer and/or guitarist, in the case of Rival Sons, lead singer Jay Buchanan was the last to join the group. Drummer Michael Miley had heard Buchanan sing before. He attempted to contact him via MySpace, initially with no success. Thankfully Miley’s pursuits paid off and & Rival Sons were born. They have been captivating their audiences ever since.
Live Youtube performances continue to amaze first time listeners. The quality of their digital recordings is also quite remarkable, especially considering that their first record was produced with no label. In the last couple years, the LA Band has played a number of festivals in Europe and have spent a considerable amount of time touring there. So much so in fact, I was shocked to discover their American accents last night. Their (or their Canadian Booking Agent’s) choice of venue for Vancouver was intriguing to me. I’m not sure if the band was looking for a small venue with a mixed crowd or not but mixed is what they got. Their gig at the Roxy (to the surprise of Rival Sons fans) also coincided with the Roxy’s 2nd Annual “Jager Blackout Party.” With Jager girls scantly clad, free drinks, shot glasses, temporary tattoos, tanks and other gadgets being handed out, it definitely made for an interesting concert going experience.
To the credit of Rival Sons, the entire venue (fan or no fan) was quickly drawn into their performance. In stark contrast to the opener, Static in the Stars, Rival Sons proved very early on that they were masters at their craft. In fact, it was only late into the set that lead singer Buchanan conceded that he in fact had been in bed all day with a fever. I was pleasantly surprised that they opened their set with their current radio single, Keep on Swinging. Every time I have seen a band do this, the single quickly acts as an initial hook in their audience. The hook instantly brings both the energy and enthusiasm in the room to an unbelievable high. Amazingly enough, Rival Sons were able to maintain that energy and level of engagement throughout their set. They played a well-balanced set, maintaining smooth transitions between songs and were able to integrate their more subdued material well into the set as a whole. I was grinning ear to ear when Buchanan informed the crowd, “we are not going to do the encore thing of walking off stage and coming back on again, we are just going to give you what we’ve got instead.” I was already impressed with his vocal skill and finesse, but with that statement, I Rival Sons gained further respect and admiration from me.
I hope to see Rival Sons back in Vancouver in the not too distant future. Perhaps they will decide to play some Canadian music festivals this coming summer. For now anyways they are off to Alberta and I am left feeling grateful for the chance to see them at a small, intimate (if not slightly bizarre) concert setting, knowing full well that when they return they will be selling out much bigger Vancouver venues.