Dingwalls is a dark and enclosed venue deep in the heart of Camden Lock, lending itself perfectly to the array of rock, indie and metal bands that often frequent it. It was fitting, therefore, that the more-rock-n-roll-than-country trio The Cadillac Three would play the final night of their sold out headlining tour there, a run that saw them travel across the United Kingdom and even add more dates to keep up with intense demand. There’s no denying that they are more popular over here than in the States; while in the US they are marketed as a country band until the label Big Machine Records (alongside the likes of Florida Georgia Line and Taylor Swift), over here they release under Spinefarm Records, a hard rock and heavy metal label that is probably far more suited to them musically. This partnership has enabled them to play the likes of Sonisphere Festival, and while they are not explicitly marketed as a rock act, it would be hard to imagine them as anything else. Indeed, it’s indicative of the nature of mainstream country music in the US that they have even been pushed as a country act.
Having not seen them perform live since their March 2014 support slot with Eric Church, I perhaps was not prepared for the sheer force of nature that their set would bring. As they have developed over the past twelve months and come to adapt their performances to the more rock-friendly UK audiences, this side of the Atlantic has not only become a higher priority for the band but also a target for heavier material. This is made clear on new EP ‘Peace, Love & Dixie’ that recently hit the UK market but has not yet received a release date for the US, while last year the compilation of old and new material, ‘Tennessee Mojo’, also provided a focal point for their live sets. Both were on show on that dull and drizzly Tuesday night, with the likes of US single ‘Party Like You’, ‘Hot Damn’, ‘Get Your Buzz On’, ‘I’m Southern’, ‘Tennessee Mojo’, ‘Peace, Love & Dixie’, and ‘I’m Rockin’’ all typifying a sound that is rooted in their Southern heritage but quintessentially loud and unapologetic.
Occasionally they take a step back and allow the music to shine through the sheer wall of sound we become accustomed to, such as on the more bluesy ‘Turn It On’, and the gorgeous ballad ‘White Lightning’, which has always been a favorite of mine. Jaren pauses before launching into the well-known track to dedicate it to his wife, Evan, and The Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, who took them out on tour in the States and who also happens to be in the audience that night. “You don’t know what this shit means to us, man,” Jaren muses, turning his attention back to the cheering crowd. “This is our first official UK headlining tour, and we sold that son o’ a bitch out!” It’s clear that this band appreciates the love more than most, because they still seem overwhelmed when the crowd join in for almost every lyric of every song, really hamming up the refrain from ‘The South’ at the beginning and end of the set. “This is where I was born and this is where I will die,” the entire venue chants in unison time after time.
But despite being as humble and as wide-eyed as they once were (“buy our EP, or rip it from one of your friends – we don’t give a shit”), this set does show their development as a live band. Here they are in their element, playing with the crowd and getting them to respond to riling up gestures, while on ‘Whiskey Soaked Redemption’, the crowd actually sing the entire “down to the muddy water” parts as Jaren’s smokey, gravelly tones growl underneath and Neil comes out from behind the drums to sway around the stage with a bottle of Jack in his hand. It’s important to build a connection with your audience over time, particularly how that differs in varying locations, and that’s something a lot of US acts could stand to learn from these guys. “We’ve been over here five times, and I can finally understand you motherfuckers!” Jaren laughs to enthusiastic whoops from the crowd, as he explains about his new proficiency counting change to buy packs of ten cigarettes (or “smokes” as he calls them).
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any bigger, the trio amp things up even further with a hugely extended instrumental halfway through their rendition of ‘Days of Gold’ (a Jaren co-write recorded by Jake Owen for his last album). Including a period where Jaren joined Neil on a crazy drum co-solo, endless dragging out of the song to make the crowd even crazier and a full blowout on their party piece ‘The South’ after a final big chorus from ‘Days of Gold’ and Jaren fist-bumping most of the front row, it made their closing twenty minutes pretty hard to beat by all standards. In fact, by the time they finally left the stage the audience was left slightly delirious from the noise and the energy, the party still ongoing for some as miscellaneous rock music blasted out of the speakers almost immediately after the band stopped playing and were taking their bow.
And if that isn’t how you put on a show, I don’t know what is. The one thing I do know is that being marketed as country probably isn’t working for them. In fact, it’s likely just dragging them down.