Blackberry Smoke at the Roundhouse, London, gig review

This raucous quintet  delivers a crisp and generous 21-song set, which is peppered with tracks from their polished latest album, Like an Arrow

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“It’s great to be here with people who like real music,” maintains Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr, who also admits that a few years ago his (quite heavy) country rock act played across the road at the Barfly in front of “about 10 people”. Tonight, the Roundhouse is rammed with (mostly male) converts.

If you like your guitar solos (and hair) very long, then Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke should be right up your dirt track.

The raucous quintet, led by their suitably crowd-pleasing and kind-spirited Starr (during “Up in Smoke” he stops the concert mid-song because a woman has collapsed at the barrier), specialise in unapologetic, sprawling, blues-infused hoedowns – and their cover of the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” is a scruffy highlight here. 

Their Southern rock songs, led by the often squealing guitar of Paul Jackson, mull over the finer points of cars, hillbillies, rednecks, shotgun shacks, open highways, being burned (by people and – literally – by flames) and generally embrace the idea of (in the words of New Kids on the Block) hanging tough.

They sound not unlike fellow country soul rockers Cadillac Three and A Thousand Horses, while also tipping their Stetsons to the likes of Black Crowes, Gregg Allman (“Free on the Wing” is dedicated to the Southern rock giant) and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

The diligent Blackberry Smoke, who play around 250 gigs a year, deliver a crisp, generous 21-song set, which is peppered with tracks from their polished latest album, Like an Arrow, which shot to number one on both the US country and Americana charts.

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Unfortunately, standout track “The Good Life” is omitted here, but “Let It Burn” (dedicated to Chuck Berry), “Waiting for the Thunder” and “Like an Arrow” (with an introduction from the Faces “Gasoline Alley”) all receive a welcome airing.

As does the rousing “Good One Comin’ On” from their 2009’s Little Pieces of Dixie and the evocative/provocative honky-tonky 2013 single “Pretty Little Lie” (where Starr claims “There’s a box full of wine in the fridge/ We won’t talk about what’s his name/ That’s just water under the bridge”).

“This is beautiful,” maintains Starr at one point, and it has been. A sensational live band.