REVIEW: The Cadillac Three – Live At The O2 Academy, Birmingham

Well that was an experience! Birmingham can often be a low point for touring country bands. It’s sometimes ignored on the schedules for good reason. The support for country music in the second city doesn’t achieve the standards set elsewhere. Half empty venues and lacklustre audiences have meant that us die-hards have to board our own touring buses to see the stars.

The above, of course, doesn’t apply to The Cadillac Three. Their appeal stretches beyond the fans of country music. Whilst they originate from Nashville and cut their teeth in the traditional honky tonks they remain hugely difficult to pigeonhole. The best that most commentators can do is to suggest that they are a southern country rock band but in truth the emphasis is hugely rock and roll. The majority of the fans that packed the O2 Academy in Birmingham were more likely to be Kerrang listeners than viewers of the CMA Awards.

Lead singer Jaren Johnston has been responsible for some of the most iconic country songs over the last few years but those are for others to record and perform. It’s almost as though he has an alter ego. Anyone who turned up expecting his take on Jake Owen’s ‘Beachin’ or Frankie Ballard’s ‘It All Started With A Beer’ would have been disappointed. He might have written those songs but The Cadillac Three have a different agenda.

The crowd were whipped into a frenzy by the support band Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown who performed a set which was loud, gritty and energetic. This four piece band are building a huge reputation on the rock circuit and we suspect that they would have attracted a sizeable crowd in their own right. They are currently supporting AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses and also originate from Nashville. They have been associated with The Cadillac Three for a number of years and there is obvious mutual respect.

They are clearly masters of their craft. The sheer energy was infectious and even from someone whose first love is country music, it has to be said that they put on a hell of a show. Tyler’s command of the electric guitar encompasses both rock and roll and blues and it was a change of guitar and tempo that was a highlight. Bryant has clearly learned from the best.

They played a 45-minute set before the stage was prepared for the introduction of The Cadillac Three.

The band now tour the UK with confidence and a swagger that comes with experience. They started small but have now developed a hard-core fan base that guarantees numbers and adulation.

Drummer Neil Mason and slide guitarist Kelby Ray ambled on stage and took their places before Jaren Johnston appeared. They opened their set with ‘Bury Me In My Boots’, the title of their latest album and followed with ‘Slide’, track number two from that album. It wasn’t to be a Sturgill Simpson-type live replica of their latest album however as the familiar guitar riffs of ‘Soundtrack To A Six Pack’ followed. We were up and running, and the wall of sound created by these three guys defies belief.

Ray’s slide guitar playing provides the backdrop to The Cadillac Three’s sound. He takes on the role of bass and rhythm guitar yet still adds his own licks when required. There simply isn’t anyone else in the business that seems to do this with such ease. The band now have the luxury of two albums to call upon. The first album ‘Tennessee Mojo’ provided us with ‘Back It Up’, ‘I’m Southern’ and the title track. For the Birmingham crowd it was a celebration of the bands greatest hits.

Mason’s consumption of drum sticks must keep their suppliers very happy. We counted at least six that were broken and then thrown into the crowd by the road crew. Beer bottles were emptied and replaced. Mason made sure that ‘Whiskey Soaked Redemption’ was performed with him swigging from a bottle, and Jaren finished by placing a can of beer on the cymbals for the inevitable soaking. Total Rock and Roll. #DontForgetTheWhiskey.

Many bands can rely upon the total command of their instruments but no one has Jaren Johnston to lead their vocals. The quality of this guy’s voice and its uniqueness sets The Cadillac Three apart. However, there are times when the power of the instruments drown him out which detracts from the overall experience. ‘Graffiti’ was an ideal song to stand and admire the man’s vocal prowess. It was performed with ‘Runnin’ Red Lights’ and the guitars remained under leash.

He isn’t a huge audience addresser between songs but still emphasised his delight at the support that the UK had provided to the band. He was also keen to praise the contribution of the support band but made it clear that Tyler Bryant was still only the number two “bad ass”, to the delight of the audience.

Mrs Johnston and the band members’ ‘significant others’ were watching from the wings. Jaren told the audience that they had brought their partners over to sample “your fine culture”.

‘Days of Gold’ ended the set but not before Jaren surprised a member of the audience by handing a guy standing at the front his guitar. Unlike a recent Keith Urban concert that we attended, the guitar was not intended to be given away. It was to enable Johnston to co-drum with Neil Mason, but the lucky guy seemed genuinely baffled before he took the opportunity for an unexpected photo opportunity with Jaren Johnston’s guitar. It was handed back for the next song!

The crowd demanded an encore and the band reappeared with Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown for a very rocky rendition of Tom Petty’s ‘Honey Bee’. The two songs most of us had waited for were left until the end. ‘White Lightning’ and ‘The South’ both have iconic vocal introductions. All it took was the sound of Jaren singing “She stole my heart” before the crowd basically sang the song themselves. It was an awesome moment that comes along rarely.

The only way that this could be followed was Jaren walking up to microphone and singing in his wonderful raspy way “this is where I was born and this is where I’ll die”. Two totally memorable, iconic songs that epitomise the huge appeal of The Cadillac Three and were worth the admission price alone. We were privileged to hear them performed in a live setting.

They didn’t perform ‘This Accent’ or ‘Ship Faced’ from their latest album. The emphasis was on rock rather than country but they delivered exactly what the majority of their audience wanted. We guess that this is just the beginning for these guys. They will be back and they will be bigger.