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Concert Reviews:
Blackberry Smoke rocks Southern-style at The Fillmore

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Friday, December 30, 2016

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DETROIT -- Blackberry Smoke's latest album, "Like An Arrow," may have debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Country chart, but there was no mistake the Georgia group's Thursday night, Dec. 29, stop at the Fillmore Detroit was a rock show.

Southern rock, specifically.

There's certainly enough of a drawl and an implied twang in the quintet's sound to make Blackberry Smoke credible for harder-edged country fans. But as its nods to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones indicated during the nearly two-hour, 21-song concert, Blackberry Smoke is rooted in rock as well as red dirt, and the synthesis of styles put the group decidedly in the expansive and eclectic realm of forebears such as the Allman Brothers Band and the Black Crowes.

"Everybody get comfortable," frontman Charlie Starr told the modest but spirited Fillmore crowd. "We're going to be here for awhile." The night also had the extra exuberance of guitarist Paul Jackson's birthday; A few fans helped up signs with wishes, while Starr saluted his bandmate prior "Let It Burn" and a crew member brought a cake onstage before, appropriately enough, "Up In Smoke."

The business at hand, however, was plowing through a set that covered plenty of ground, from the opening grooves of "Fire In The Hole" to the riffy "Six Ways To Sunday," the leaden stomp of "Waiting For The Thunder" and "Payback's A Bitch," the slinky grit of "Rock and Roll Again" and "Who Invented The Wheel" and the gospel flavor of the main set-closing "Holding All The Roses." "Ain't Got The Blues" was a hootenanny singalong, and Blackberry Smoke showed its mellow, sentimental side on "Pretty Little Lie, "Prayer For The Little Man" and "One Horse Town."

"Sleeping Dogs," meanwhile, was the night's jam-rock opus, with Starr, Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still steering the song into trippy terrain that included bits of Led Zeppelin's "Your Time Is Gonna Come" and "Whole Lotta Love." Blackberry Smoke kicked off the encore with the Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash," while Starr, sporting a handsome custom Fender Telecaster guitar, slid a bit of Bob Marley's "3 Little Birds" into "Ain't Much Left Of Me."

Blackberry Smoke may be a "tweener" kind of group that's hard to market in a stratified and codified music industry. But on Thursday the group showed Southern, or country rock, is as viable a blend now as it was 50 or so years ago, and a potent one in the hands of a band this good.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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