A little piece of Dixie came to the Great White North this past Tuesday, as southern rockers Blackberry Smoke made a rare Canadian appearance at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club in downtown Toronto, Ontario.
Currently on a tour that is part of the Live Nation: One to Watch series, 2013 is poised to be a breakout year for this veteran road band. Having opened select shows over the past year for superstars The Zac Brown Band (including a recent sold out show at the "Big Room", Madison Square Garden) and legendary southern rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynyrd, the exposure is starting to pay dividends. Evidence of this fact is the large turnout on a cold Tuesday night, at a club that is beautiful but can be tough to get to in Toronto, and the fact that virtually all ages were represented. The night was indeed a great Canadian love-in for the hardest working band the state of Georgia has to offer.
Performing a generous 2-plus hour set, the band opened up with "Leave a Scar", a track from the recently released and wonderful The Whippoorwill, and rolled seamlessly in to "Six Ways to Sunday." Lead vocalist/guitarist introduced the bands first single from The Whippoorwhill by correctly stating "country radio in the US is a little f'd up right now" before the band tore in to "Pretty Little Lie", a tune that should be a big hit for the guys as long as there are enough radio stations with programmers who have the guts to play it. The video has already garnered widespread play through fan voting at CMT in the USA.
A quick guitar change with a showing of the words "Smoke One" on the underside of the said guitar signalled to the crowd that we were about to go "Up In Smoke", a performance from their 2009 release, the equally as good "Little Piece of Dixie." One of the biggest reponses of the night came with the next tune and captured the entire mood of the evening with the raucous "Good One Coming On." "Good One" is a tune that ought to be on every DJ's playlist at 5:00 Friday afternoon. It's the perfect intro to the weekend and the perfect singalong, as evidenced by the crowd belting out every note.
Blackberry Smoke clearly is the modern day southern rock band, but do not attend one of their shows expecting to hear a southern rock tribute band. The only moment where the cover of any southern rock songs occurred was during "Sleeping Dogs", as the Starr and guitartist Paul Jackson took a moment to work in a short instrumental of "Blue Sky", followed up by a snippet of "Midnight Rider", two cuts from The Allman Brothers Band. This band is proud of their originality and proud to have a distinct sound that is different from their forefathers. And this band can more than back it up with their level of talent.
Other highlights of the evening was a performance of "Left of Me", a tune that was recently featured in an episode of the FX program Sons of Anarchy, and one of the closing numbers "Shake Your Magnolia", which featured that good old fashioned rock n' roll staple, two ladies dancing on the side of the stage.
Opening the show for Blackberry Smoke was a young man from Alabama, Drake White. Drake performed his opening set with just himself and an acoustic guitar, and performed admirably. This young man is set to carry on the great southern rock and country tradition and is an excellent choice to be the opening act on this tour. A song inspired by his grandfather, "Fifty Years to Late", shows that Drake is a deep and thoughtful singer songwriter who is ready to take his artistic career to the next level.
The tour continues this weekend, beginning tonight (Feb. 8) in Silver Spring, Maryland at the Filmore Silver Spring, tomorrow (Feb. 9) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Theatre of the Living Arts, and Monday (Feb. 11) at Headliner's Music Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. Blackberry Smoke will also open up for the Zac Brown Band for a few dates in February. Drake White opens for all dates on the Live Nation Ones to Watch Tour.