Blackberry Smoke touring in support of their fourth album, Holding All the Roses (which debuted at Number 1 on the top Country albums chart) was all smiles and swagger as they hit the stage in Boston; exuding not a cockiness but rather a quiet “we will never have to sleep in the van again” confidence. Dressed in 1970’s jeans and shirts, bassist Richard Turner took the style to another level in a Clint Eastwood poncho and shades, before a life-size backdrop of the album artwork’s donkey, the band opened with “Six Ways to Sunday.” With an audience comprised of former hippies, college kids, cowgirls and après hunting camo-clad “good old boys” the room was comfortably full.
Lead singer, Charlie Starr was centered between bassist,Turner and guitarist Paul Jackson with drummer, Brit Turner and keyboardist, Brandon Stills in the background. “Let Me Help You (Find the Door)” had the trademark BBS sound of layered guitar riffs interspersed with brief individual musical interludes. After the jangle of “Pretty Little Lie” and “Rock and Roll Again” (which came off better live than the more generic album take) the audience participated fully in the “explicit” version of “Good One Comin’ On”. “Sleeping Dogs” predictably morphed into an unpredictable blues jam which segued in and out of Zepplin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come.” Possibly BBS’ best attribute is whether its country, blues, southern rock, hard rock or some combination thereof the band does not imitate rather they create an amazing sound.
With thousands of shows of experience the band knows how to build the ebb and flow throughout the set list. The back porch, boogie woogie, piano blues of ‘Ain’t Got the Blues” was followed by the guitar hammer of “Up in Smoke” leading to the commercial country of “One Horse Town.” However, when the band ultimately slowed the momentum late in the set with the acoustic “Holding All the Roses” and a subdued “Crimson Moon” the crowd’s attention began to divide. This was unfortunate as the rarity “Lesson in a Bottle” and the new album’s strongest track, the countrippy, “Too High” were somewhat lost on the distracted audience.
As in previous Boston shows the first encore paid tribute to Aerosmith. But to BBS credit they preferred a deep cut, this time it was “Chip Away the Stone” which was initially only available on 1978’s “Live! Bootleg.” The night ended with the band firing on all cylinders with an extended “Ain’t Much Left of Me.”
With all of their hard work finally resulting in larger audiences and mainstream exposure BBS now faces that commercial dilemma; honor the hard core fans with jams and obscure tracks or play the hits the new fans paid to hear? On Friday night the band seemed to find a balance that left everyone leaving satisfied.
Live photos by Marc Lacatell