“We’ve got a new song for you,” Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders proclaims to Leeds’s O2 Academy, one leg wrapped around his microphone stand, the other propping up his guitar. “It’s been on Radio 2 a lot – so I guess it’s a housewife’s favourite.”
It is a wry observation, delivered with acerbic humour and charm – but a ring of truth runs through it. BSR, formed as an outlet for the touring iteration of Thin Lizzy to record their own material, have always traded with nostalgia to a degree – but they’re undeniably strongest when operating as a pseudo-Phil Lynott outfit.
The band’s third LP, Heavy Fire, is their furthest melodic step away from the twin-guitar harmonies and rangy basslines of old – but live, they don’t always hit the marker.
Some, like the pop-rock balladry of Cold War Love and the bounding Dancing with the Wrong Girl, translate well to the stage, inspiring good old-fashioned lighters-in-the-air moments and lusty singalongs. But others, such as the title track with its barrage of air-raid siren effects, and the blunt Who Rides the Tiger, sound leaden in comparison to material that directly and often thrillingly echoes Lizzy, such as the Gaelic lilt of Soldierstown and the fist-pump anthemics of The Killer Instinct.
BSR themselves are an impressively tight bunch; Warwick channels Lynott through his own gritty Irish drawl, whilst the rhythm section of bassist Robbie Crane and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso power them through spirited renditions of Bloodshot and All Hell Breaks Loose. The dual-six string interplay is preserved too, with lone classic Lizzy member Scott Gorham, sprightly for 65, often leaving most of the lead work to younger compatriot Damon Johnson, who excels on early single Hey Judas. They all meld together with a well-honed ease – and it’s that familiarity that reaps the best rewards.
For every toe dipped into foreign waters, BSR remain wistfully shackled to Thin Lizzy; a situation compounded by their occasional reformation here and there. When they play the one Lynott-penned track of the night – a raucous The Boys Are Back in Town – it is almost like a cathartic experience, such is the weight of expectation upon them. When they dispatch the distinctly-Lizzy sounding pair of Bound for Glory and Finest Hour to close, the reaction is similar. Undoubtedly, BSR have the nous to deliver originality live – but they remain at their most compelling when recalling past glories before their time.