Black Star Riders at the Academy, Dublin, 4 March 2017
Because of the group’s inextricable links to Thin Lizzy, it was inevitable that Black Star Riders would face identity issues when trying to find their own path. Having released three albums under their new name, their status as a semi-independent musical entity is finally growing.
But when a man walks on stage at 9pm to introduce the band and makes a few casual remarks about Thin Lizzy, expectations start going in one direction. There’s a hint that Black Star Riders are still caught between celebrating the Lizzy legacy, while also giving a platform to new original music.
Sirens sound. It’s another nod to the legacy, but it isn’t Jailbreak that opens the show but Heavy Fire, the title track from the group’s new album. The band emerges armed with three Les Pauls and a confidence only rock stardom can give you. The track delivers what trio of guitars promises, a five-minute masterclass of riffs and attitude. The momentum continues with Bloodshot, which sees singer Ricky Warwick give it all right from the start. He is a worthy frontman with a presence that truly brings these songs to life onstage.
After giving a brief Rocky Balboa-esque speech, the first of many twin guitar moments introduces The Killer Instinct. After ‘Scotty’ and Damon Johnson demonstrate their rapport with some harmonious guitar work, the band makes a playfully abrupt stop for applause before kicking back into the final chorus. There is a marked increase in their confidence as a group, which is further illustrated by the lack of any fan-friendly Lizzy material up to this point.
From here the originals continue and not one of them puts a step wrong. Dancing with the Wrong Girl is a fairly harmless tune that’s easy on the ears, while Soldierstown offers a perfect opportunity to involve the crowd, with Warwick ferociously chanting “Hey! Hey! Hey!” throughout the rebel-inspired guitar part. Hey Judas offers up the most Lizzy-style riff so far.
The new material makes the grade and the Black Star Riders makes sure these songs land hard. Nowhere is this fresh energy more evident than in When the Night Comes In and Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed, both of which are so solid that one finds themselves forgetting the desire for a dart of nostalgia. This desire is only satisfied once with The Boys are Back in Town, which follows a thundering rendition of All Hell Breaks Loose, by now perhaps one of the quintessential Black Star Riders tracks.
With three albums under their belt, the band now has enough original material to put together a solid setlist without the crutch of their legendary origins. Even the strength of their earlier material is growing and shaping its own identity. There is plenty of Lizzy material that would have blown the roof off the Academy for a finish, but again, defying all expectations they conclude with a powerful trio of originals which blows the roof off nonetheless. A green tint lights the stage for the celtic Kingdom of the Lost, which sees some serious movement in the centre of the crowd. Without taking a breath they power straight into Bound for Glory, before finishing with Finest Hour.
To the bands credit, they allowed themselves 90 minutes to change the audiences entire perception of what the band stands for, and they succeeded. Gorham played a less prominent role on lead guitar and passed the torch to his very capable Damon Johnson, and the absence of Lizzy material compared to previous shows suggests that the band wants to move forward as Black Star Riders. Phil, says Warwick, will always be in our hearts. The audience certainly agrees, but maybe it’s time to honour the past but respect the present, and let the Black Star Riders do what they clearly demonstrated they could do tonight. Be the Black Star Riders.