Who: Black Stone Cherry, Blacktop Mojo, The Ultra, Will Thomas Reed
Where: Wally’s, Hampton, New Hampshire
When: April 27, 2018
Every time I have gone to a show in New Hampshire, it’s always been great, so the expectation for Black Stone Cherry at Wally’s was high from the beginning. Wally’s is located in Hampton Beach, which is a nice, touristy area with lots of restaurants and live music; during the summer, the place must be packed. This was my first time at Wally’s and I was really happy with the venue. Wally’s staff, from security to bar and wait staff, were very professional. The venue is a good size while still feeling intimate; you have a great view of the band from pretty much anywhere in the venue and the acoustics were much better than expected. The only thing that I did not really like about the venue was that it got really hot in there really fast, despite it being pretty chilly outside, so it probably would not be the most fun venue to go to in the summer.
First on the stage was Will Thomas Reed, with a band of accompanying musicians that included a backup vocalist, a keyboard player, a guitarist, a drummer, and a bassist. Reed’s music was country, similar to what you would hear on your favorite local modern country radio station. He had a really nice low voice and was able to play with his range up and down. The best part of his set was actually the hysterical remarks that the drummer would make in between songs to Reed; it is unfortunate that the drummer did not have a microphone, because you only could have heard him if you were in the photo pit and maybe if you were right up on the barricade. Reed did a good job of waking the audience up, encouraging them to drink, and getting them ready for the next band.
Boston band The Ultra was next. The Ultra is a young band on the scene, but their EP – which was released back in February – has four original songs that would make you think they have more experience. Their set started with “The Level,” an upbeat song from the EP that got the audience starting to move. The Ultra’s sound leans toward country rock, so it was a really good second band after country singer Reed. Bass player Pat Lyons was energetic from the start, as was guitarist Sam August. Drummer Shaqed Druyan was seriously impressive; one of the strongest drummers that I have ever gotten to see in person, he beat the drums like they owed him money while still managing to connect with the audience. Vocalist Alec MacGillivray has a really interesting and well-rounded voice and he had great breath control as well. For the first three songs, The Ultra felt a little bit tight and stiff, like they were trying to find their footing, even as the audience was getting more into it with every passing minute. The turning point came when vocalist MacGillivray dropped down off the stage and stepped onto the barricade to sing. You could see the audience become even more interested and it was obvious that they liked The Ultra, so from there, the band really started to get loose and find their footing. The Ultra reached the audience that was standing in the back of the venue, as well; people were dancing along with the music and looking very happy. Sound-wise, I wish that MacGillivray would have gotten a guitar out for at least one song – I personally feel that one guitar on stage can feel flat in comparison to two – but sacrificing the sound a bit for the audience connection is something that I have no problem accepting. This is a band with mounds of potential. They need some work, but everyone has to start somewhere and The Ultra has a leg up on a lot of bands because of their excellent original music. This is a band that is just at the start on their journey.
The audience was pumped and ready for Blacktop Mojo to take the stage. Blacktop Mojo is most well known for their cover of “Dream On,” which has 3.8 million views at the time of writing, but their sophomore release Burn The Ships has been out for over a year. Their set consisted of songs off of Burn The Ships, including the title track which opened the show, “Where The Wind Blows,” and “Sweat.” “Trouble On The Rise” from their first album was also in the setlist. “It Won’t Last” is a new song off of their upcoming third album and was a highlight of the set, along with “Dream On.” There is no question that drummer Nathan Gillis is the backbone of the band. Bassist Catt Murtis is always fun to watch, but this show also proved how professional he and the band are. His bass strap broke twice and instead of making a big deal about it, he kept playing like nothing had happened, as did the rest of the band. Guitarist Ryan Kiefer was able to play fast and hard but also keep a nice subtlety to the music, so he did not overdo it. New guitarist Chuck Wepfer was also impressive, both in technical skill and in stage presence. He fit right in with the rest of the band, headbanging throughout the songs and moving from side to side of the stage. The band synced when it came to headbanging and moving around; not one person stood in the same spot on stage for the entire set, so the audience was able to connect with every single musician. Vocalist Matt James is one of the best in the game. He never hit a sour note and he made the audience connection look easy. Blacktop Mojo’s set was impressive. The venue which before had felt cozy felt too small for this band, who’s set would have suited an arena. In fact, had it not been for the Black Stone Cherry banner hanging in the back, you would have thought that they were headlining. Having previously seen Blacktop Mojo in August of 2017, I was absolutely blown away by how much better they were this time around. They had some fans in the audience even before they hit the stage, but they left the stage with a whole room full of new fans.
Black Stone Cherry’s debut on the stage was highly anticipated as the headliners of the night. Coming across as seasoned veterans from the moment they took the stage, they launched right into “Bad Habit” off of their newly released album Family Tree. The rock group was fun and knew exactly what their audience wanted. Their set included other songs off of Family Tree, like “Burnin’,” “I Need A Woman,” and title track “Family Tree,” which rounded out the night. Other songs included “Me and Mary Jane” off of 2014’s Magic Mountain and “Blame It On The Boom Boom” off of 2011’s Between The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea. Black Stone Cherry has a really effortless way of performing and the audience loved them. It was a top notch performance by top notch musicians and ended the night perfectly.
Black Stone Cherry’s headlining stop at Wally’s brought together some of the best in up and coming rock with one of the best hard rock bands around to a great venue.
Post and photos by Karen Shalev
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