By Mark Lear, Rock At Night Manchester
Live Review: When Rivers Meet w/Arielle – The Asylum Venue, Birmingham, UK – May 12, 2023
My trials and tribulations – make that downright dislike – of Birmingham’s road network is well documented as regular readers will know, but when Blues Royalty come to town and bring with them an acclaimed Support you just have to make the effort. When Rivers Meet arrive in Birmingham as part of their 14 date ‘Breaker of Chains’ tour with Support from Arielle.
I arrive at The Asylum Venue quite early, such is the provision you have to make to get anywhere in Birmingham and find that there is already a queue waiting outside, such is the interest in the thrice winners of the UK’s Blues Band of the Year award. Those that selected the ‘meet and greet’ package are making their way out of the venue with their prized lanyards so that they can queue to go back in again, such is our love for standing in a line – it’s a British thing and can’t just be explained away easily.
Inside, the atmosphere quickly builds as everyone piles in. They all jockey for a good position and are just about to pass the time of day for a while when they’re awakened by a huge smack on the snare drum and before we know it Arielle arrives on stage in an outfit straight from the 70’s and as big an advert as you can get to her latest album ‘73.
She opens with the title track and takes no time in proving just how talented she is at the old guitar playing. It’s a very strong start and Birmingham warms to her immediately. She continues without taking a breath with ‘Somewhere Slow’ followed by ‘Voices in My Head’ before she finally takes a moment to breath and explain to us that she’s from Nashville and was the inspiration for that track.
‘Weakness for You’ gets us back to where we started before she shows her allegiance to Tom Petty with a blinding cover of ‘You Wreck Me’. It starts with big punchy drums – from a lady drummer (of which there should be more of), and is backed up with a thumping bass line, before Arielle makes her contribution and it’s all flawless and a pleasure to see and hear.
Arielle takes time out to explain that the half a dozen guitars she’s brought with her, all have a back story, most notably ‘Two-Tone’ a version of which is available to buy on her website, if you so wished, but it’s an acoustic ‘who’s been with me for 32 countries now’ that she uses for a song ‘inspired by a striking desire to learn about Ireland and its culture’. ‘Magick Again’ has a haunting, wailing hook line with a huge Celtic vibe running all the way through the song proving that she learned plenty about the Irish culture. Birmingham is well known for its Irish contingent, and it would appear that many of them are here tonight and are appreciative for what they have just witnessed.
For her final track ‘Two-Tone’ reappears for ‘Genies Out of the Bottle’ and 45 minutes have gone by in the blink of an eye. Whoever thought that Arielle would make a fine Support for WRM should take a bow because on this showing, it was an inspired choice. The Asylum is suitably warmed up and ready for its headline.
When Rivers Meet
Now, there’s not a lot I can say about WRM that hasn’t already been said, but it is worth pointing out that these two are still relatively new as a band (if you take away the Covid years) and have ‘only’ released three albums, but such is the talent and passion that drives their music and their live performances that it’s no wonder they’ve achieved so much in such a short period of time.
They arrive on stage to a huge cheer and take their time acknowledging the accolades. Good things should never be rushed. With introductory dues paid, we all breathe and await the opening bars of ‘Play My Game’ which swiftly morphs in to ‘Never Coming Back’ which morphs in to ‘Did I Break the Law’. Grace parades around the stage with, well, grace and appears to conduct everyone before her as she powers through the vocals with ease.
‘Take Me to the River’ is a slow and haunting tune and sees Lady Bond display her violin credentials, just as ‘Innocence of Youth’ allows Aaron to do so with his soapbox guitar, all whilst Grace orchestrates Birmingham to raise their hands in the air and clap as required. Such is the relationship between band and audience that everyone obliges, and you can’t help but join in as it’s all so infectious.
Grace takes a moment to explain that “they still find it hard to believe that they get to write songs that they can then come and play for you”. She goes on to explain that “it’s inevitable that many of the songs are about the two of them and this is definitely one of them”. Anyone who didn’t know that there was ‘something’ between Grace and Aaron, did now and definitely did after ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’.
Such is the blatant chemistry between the front two that you could easily forget that there is a back line who have as much interplay between them as they do. Adam Bowers on bass and ‘beer swigging’ (according to Grace) Jamie ‘foxy, fox’ Fox on drums play their part exceptionally well and keep the pace solid throughout. This is no better demonstrated than at the start of ‘Battleground’ with its pulsating drumbeat causing the crowd to cheer excitedly as they win this game of ‘beat the intro’.
Grace takes a moment to rehydrate, whilst Aaron gives us a further insight into the chemistry between them by pointing out that ‘Like What You See’ is all about “that moment when you meet someone for the first time, and you fancy the pants off them”. No prizes for guessing who he was on about, perhaps?
Bowers manages to juggle both bass and trumpet for ‘Shoot the Breeze’ and Fox drives through a chunky drum riff in the middle, Grace once again powers through with the vocal and Aaron underpins it all with guitar excellence, which continues with one of the raunchiest blues riffs anyone can muster for the start of ‘Free Man’.
‘Walking on the Wire’ is a late addition to the set and sees Grace perform a nifty bit of slide guitar on a mandolin which I wouldn’t have thought possible – but what some drummers know about guitars can be limited on occasions. …and she still manages to find time for more orchestrations as lofted hand claps are required once more before a cheeky drum solo finishes it all off nicely.
We hear that they spent three months recording their third album and the Bond’s send out big love to all those people who support independent music and especially those who crowd fund it. ‘Perfect Stranger’ is one of the songs that you got for your money and has a last note that just hangs in the air until you get the final punch to finish. This just gets better and better.
‘Lost and Found’ sees Arielle return to the stage with a solo that screams for attention, before they all head off stage for no more than a minute, it would seem. There is more to be had as encore’s are obligatory and we’re treated to ‘Testify’ where the blues takes a back seat as this just rocks from the heavens and ‘I Want Your Love’, which is definitely no Chic cover as Aaron delivers a dirty blues riff and deep, deep vocals in contrast to Grace’s highs. Cue the orchestrations from the lady one last time, extended with an additional instruction to sing as well and we have the perfect end to the perfect evening.
And so, as the lights go up, we are left to saver a wonderful evening, but there is one last thing to do – an encore for the encore, if you will – as a member of the UK Blues Federation appears on stage, and to rapturous applause from the good and kind people of Birmingham, presents the Bond’s with their award for being only the third artist to enter the Hall of Fame, by means of winning UK Band of the Year for the past three years running …and on tonight’s showing you can see why and it’ll be a brave man that bets against them doing it again next year.