If you’re expecting a selection of tracks from the band’s albums, prepare to be disappointed. Yes, the Big Ones are here, upfront, loud and proud. ‘Once Bitten…’ leads off disc 1, closely followed by ‘Rock Me’ and ‘Save Your Love’. Just what it says on the gatefold. So far, so good. But then, Great White turns into a covers band.
Great covers, I have to say, well chosen, ideally suited to the band, slickly and powerfully delivered, but covers nevertheless. And suddenly, we’re dissecting and debating the meaning of the word “Essential”.
Let’s be generous, gracious even, and assume that the choice of covers confirms the band’s/Jack Russell’s decision to discard any Hair Band or Glamrock pretensions, or indeed any public misconceptions of the band, and focus on the blues and soul sides of rock’n’roll.
Emphatic covers of The Georgia Satellites ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’ and Otis Reddings’ ‘Too Hot To Handle’, both worked up with big guitars into rock monsters, follow in rapid succession. A trio of tracks, central to Disc One, take in Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC and Aerosmith.
As any fan knows, the key to these bands’ longevity is an enduring ability to write great songs. That and the talent to leave more out than they put in. Clearly, Russell and a shit hot team of musicians know that. First we get a genuinely exciting cover of ‘Saturday Night Special’, one that emphasises the song’s bass note thunder and barbed, biting axework. Second we get a pedal to the metal, yet somehow controlled rush to the finishing line with ‘Sin City’ and thirdly, we’re treated to an effortlessly propulsive groove on the band’s suitably respectful cover of ‘Same Old Song’.
And if covering these bands might seem passé to jaded ears, ‘Burning House of Love’ – originally written and performed by seminal punk poets, X – will grab your waning attention.
Bravely (or foolishly) the band fly in the face of the universally held opinion that you should never cover a Led Zeppelin song by tackling not one, not two but five, yes five, LZ songs, over the 2 discs.
And the five are the usual suspects: ‘Immigrant Song’, ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Ramble On’, ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘D’Yer Maker’. Anyone who bought or merely heard GW’s ‘Tribute To Led Zeppelin’ will know what to expect as these tracks are lifted from that album.
Recorded live at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, California in 1996, it’s the sound of a really good rock band playing the music of a really great rock band.
Elsewhere, there are several more outstandingly good covers. A blissful version of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Sarah’ from Russell, Billy Sherwood and Jay Schellen; a pounding, resounding cover of Harriett Schock’s ‘No Way To Treat A Lady’, sounding more like Cinderella than Great White, and a paint stripping version of The Cult’s ‘Love Removal Machine’, which was a pretty fair LZ approximation in the first place.
Over the piece – 2 discs and 30 tracks – you have to conclude that this works as a showpiece for these rock survivalists, and great entertainment too.
What more could you ask for.