Monday, 14 December 2015

Def Leppard/Whitesnake - Birmingham Review

Def Leppard and Whitesnake are two of the biggest British musical exports of the 1980s, both of whom conquered America when bands from that country were ruling their airwaves and helped but Britain back on the map. Back in 2008, the pair joined forces for an arena tour throughout the UK that went down so well they have decided to do it again! Dubbed Let's Get Rocked in the Still of the Night - Part 2, this tour is pretty extensive, and covers the majority of the UK including Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Both bands are out promoting new albums too, which makes this tour even more vital. Def Leppard's new self-titled album was released back in October to good reviews (keep an eye on this blog, as there will be one written in the near future), and Whitesnake released The Purple Album back in May (I did not review this, as being a collection of re-recorded Deep Purple songs I felt there would not be much to say - but it is worth getting and I enjoy listening to it). Brought along for the ride were Black Star Riders, a band I also love, who are currently out promoting their second album The Killer Instinct. These three-band co-headliner-type billings seem to be quite common these days. The logic seems to be that it gets people through the door and gives people value for money, while keeping bands in big venues. I had seen both Def Leppard and Whitesnake previously, and both times they had been a part of a three band bill. I saw Def Leppard with Mötley Crüe back in 2011, and Whitesnake with Journey in 2013. Both nights were in full arenas, which shows that this current touring model seems to work. Birmingham's Genting Arena (as it is now called) is a great place to see live music. I have been there a few times previously, both standing and seated, and the view and sound is always good. I took my place by the sound desk which was a good vantage point, from which I did not move at all throughout the evening.

Black Star Riders hit the stage just after 6:30pm (it was an early start) and played a great set which lasted for around 40 minutes. I have seen the band twice previously, so knew what to expect, but their hard hitting performance still impressed, with songs from both their albums and some Thin Lizzy classics thrown in for good measure, showcasing Scott Gorham's (guitar/vocals) heritage. This was a high-energy set with no room for ballads, or much crowd interaction, as Ricky Warwick (vocals/guitar) and co. tried to cram in as much music as they could in the limited time they were on stage. All Hell Breaks Loose and the old Lizzy classic Are You Ready formed a great one-two punch to open the evening with a bang, before The Killer Instinct carried on the hard rocking vibe, and the Celtic rock of Kingdom of the Lost - which saw Gorham and Damon Johnson (guitar/vocals) trade plenty of mean licks - gave us something to sing along to later in the set. The set came to an end with Thin Lizzy's version of the traditional song Whiskey in the Jar which saw the first big crowd sing-a-long of the evening and plenty of excellent folky guitarwork from Johnson. They left the stage to large cheers, and I am sure there are many present that wished they could play for longer! The setlist was:

All Hell Breaks Loose
Are You Ready [Thin Lizzy cover]
The Killer Instinct
Jailbreak [Thin Lizzy cover]
Bound for Glory
Kingdom of the Lost
Finest Hour
Whiskey in the Jar [Traditional Irish folk song]

Like many others I was a little sceptical when legendary Whitesnake frontman and sole original member David Coverdale released an album of re-recorded songs from his Deep Purple days earlier this year, but on hearing the album I realised his reason for doing so. Those songs have now been brought into the 21st Century, and have been given a Whitesnake makeover by the current line-up of the band. On this tour, Coverdale and his band of excellent musicians have included a selection of those Purple songs in the setlist, alongside some of the very best Whitesnake classics. The Purple anthem Burn got things going, which nearly took the roof off the place. Reb Beach (guitar/vocals) and new boy Joel Hoekstra (guitar/vocals) locked in well to nail the song, which sounded more powerful with two guitars instead of one. They both got to solo too, as did Michele Luppi (keyboards/vocals) who had a huge smile on his face all night as he helped Coverdale with those high notes. The sleazy Bad Boys was an early highlight, as was The Gypsy which is one of my favourite Purple tracks, and I think the new version actually beats the original! It was great that Coverdale chose to throw some lesser-known Purple ones, rather than just all the ones you would expect. They went right back to the formation of the band with their cover of Ain't no Love in the Heart of the City which had everyone singing along, before the heavy blues of Mistreated showed that Coverdale's aged voice actually give songs like this new grit and power. Beach nailed the bluesy solo too, and showed that he is not all about the shred! The funky You Fool No One lead into a monster solo from Tommy Aldridge (drums). He has always been my favourite hard rock drummer, and seeing him in action again only reinforced this opinion. There was one more Purple song to come, the stripped down Solider of Fortune which saw Coverdale taking centre stage with Hoekstra on acoustic guitar. It was a fantastic version, and anyone who says Coverdale can no longer sing needs to hear him perform this live, he still has bags of soul! The last part of the set was packed with Whitesnake classics, including the breakthrough smash single Fool for Your Loving which contained plenty of classic Coverdale swagger, the anthemic Here I Go Again, and the epic Still of the Night which was the band's closing number. Whitesnake were one of the bands that got me into hard rock back in the day, so to see them for a second time was amazing. While Coverdale's voice is not what it was, and many of the musicians that helped write these timeless tracks are no-longer part of the band, I will always see Whitesnake when I get the chance. The fact that this set was quite different from the last time I saw them was a good thing too! The setlist was:

Burn [Deep Purple cover]
Bad Boys
Love Ain't no Stranger
The Gypsy [Deep Purple cover]
Give Me All Your Love
Ain't no Love in the Heart of the City [Bobby 'Blue' Bland cover]
Mistreated [Deep Purple cover]
You Fool No One [Deep Purple cover]
Drum solo
Solider of Fortune [Deep Purple cover]
Is This Love
Fool for Your Loving
Here I Go Again
Still of the Night
We Wish You Well

Def Leppard stole the show with a limp Mötley Crüe back in 2011, but this time they had to follow a really strong performance from Whitesnake that they did not come across quite as well. Of course this is all relative, and I loved every minute Def Leppard were on stage, but Whitesnake will always win for me between any battle between them and Def Leppard. That being said, they put on such a good show that it was a close run thing! Let's Go from the band's new album worked well as an opening number. Phil Collen (guitar/vocals) and Vivian Campbell (guitar/vocals) played the dual guitar lead riff with ease, and frontman Joe Elliot shows that his voice is still pretty strong and powerful, despite occasionally struggling with the high notes. The set was mostly a greatest hits package, with plenty of songs from the smash hit album Hysteria, but there were a few different tunes thrown in. Dangerous was the only other new number played, and that went down very well. I do wish they had played at least one more from Def Leppard, but I suspect that opinion is a minority one as most people just was to hear the hits. The power ballad Love Bites came quite early, and the hard rocker Armageddon It went down really well as some haunting stats flashed up on the big screens behind the band. The cover of David Essex's Rock On showcased Rick Savage's (bass guitar/vocals) melodic playing, before Two Steps Behind was played acoustically by Elliot and the crowd helped him out with the chorus vocals. The second half was packed full of classics, including the huge ballad When Love and Hate Collide, the perfect pop of Hysteria, and the closing number Pour Some Sugar on Me brought the set to a rousing close. The roar of the crowd was huge as Def Leppard left the stage, and they were of course called back for more, which included a pair of songs from the Pyromania album including Rock of Ages and the timeless single Photograph. They went off stage triumphant, and had the whole crowd cheering for them. The setlist was:

Let's Go
Love Bites
Armageddon It
Rock On [David Essex cover]
Two Steps Behind
When Love and Hate Collide
Switch 625
Let's Get Rocked
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages

As the lights went up, I reflected on the excellent evening of rock music I had just witnessed. While Whitesnake stole the show for me, all three bands were great and played their hearts out. I hope I get plenty more opportunities to see all of them live again, as I will jump at the chance to do so!

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