Review and photos by Rich Ward
It must have seemed like Christmas had come early for classic rock fans with this triple bill line up rolled into town for a sold out Saturday date at the Genting Arena. Those arriving early enough would also have had the opportunity to catch local bands Piston and Daylight Robbery warming up the crowd in the foyer.
The Black Star Riders benefit from the Birmingham show falling on a Saturday night, as the early start of 6.45 doesn’t prevent them playing to a packed arena. They make their 45 minute set count keeping it punchy and focusing mainly on BSR material while throwing in a couple of Thin Lizzy tunes for good measure. ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ opens proceedings before segueing into ‘Are You Ready’. The celtic rock feel of ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ thunders along with Gorham and Johnson’s twin guitar and concludes with Ricky Warwick belting out a Braveheart scream of ‘Freedom!’
‘Finest Hour’ sounds glorious and it’s good to see the Black Star Riders on a stage of this size. More than worthy openers and while closing on ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ may be somewhat predictable, it’s no less enjoyable. A superb performance that left us wanting more.
With David Coverdale revisiting his early years on the latest Whitesnake release, The Purple Album, it pretty much guaranteed a set that would lean heavily in favour of the Deep Purple tracks. While the album may have received a mixed reception, the familiarity of the tracks in a live setting certainly elicited a favourable response. Kicking off with ‘Burn’, it’s a tour de force and any misgivings I had about Coverdale’s voice are silenced (for now) – he sounds pretty good. He also appears in good health and humour as he struts around the stage and gyrates with his mic stand as only David Coverdale can. It’s not just his Purple past that is being celebrated; ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ is played out with the screen backdrops displaying large photos of the much missed Mel Galley & Cozy Powell amongst other photos of that era of the band.
‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ sounds impressive and Reb Beach is certainly no slouch when it comes to the solos, especially on ‘Mistreated’, although considerably heavier and more embellished than the original. The same can be said of ‘You Fool No One’ where Tommy Aldridge’s drums seem more about power than recreating that wonderful drum pattern of Ian Paice.
An undoubted highlight of the set was ‘Soldier Of Fortune’ which was just David and Joel Hoekstra on acoustic guitar and some minimal keyboards. This is when you realise just how good Coverdale’s bluesier vocals can sound. This continues on into ‘Is This Love’, it’s only when he tries screaming that his voice shows its age and limitations, and none more so than on ‘Fool For Your Loving’. And therein lies a problem; his biggest songs such as ‘Here I Go Again’ and ‘Still Of The Night’ which conclude the set are the ones people want to hear, but as he still chooses to play them in the late 80s style, the cracks will show. Personally I’d love to see an acoustic tour at some point in the near future, as I feel this would play to Coverdale’s strengths. However, you can’t deny that he remains the consummate frontman, and his band are excellent which ensures that they put on a memorable show which went down a storm. Splendid stuff.
With Def Leppard’s self titled 11th album hitting the stores last month, it’s surprising that there’s only 2 new songs in the set. Effectively it’s a greatest hits set that carries on the nostalgia theme, but I guess they are only giving what the majority of the punters want to hear. They open with ‘Let’s Go’ with neon signs creating a bar themed back drop and then it’s straight into one of their finest songs; ‘Animal’. The lighting is superb and two screens either side of the stage ensure everyone in the arena can see what’s going on with the show.
Guitarist Vivian Campbell is introduced as the ‘man who puts the fast in Belfast’ before he launches into the riff of ‘Armageddon It’; bombastic stadium rock at it’s best accompanied by an array of somewhat depressing statistics flashing across the screens.
‘Two Steps Behind’ gives the band a break while Joe Elliot performs it on acoustic guitar, inviting everyone to sing along and “join Def Leppard for 4 minutes” suddenly making the massive arena seem quite intimate. It reminds me that the last time I saw him in Birmingham was performing in the slightly smaller confines of the Roadhouse for a benefit show for former Leps keyboard player Dick Decent. How time flies.
Things ramp up again with ‘Rocket’ and Elliot is then given a short moment of respite during the instrumental ‘Switch 625’. ‘Hysteria’ is suitably nostalgic and the screens are used to show plenty of footage from that period. ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ sounds immense and the singing and dancing continues as they finish their set on a high with ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’.
There’s still several obvious options for the encore but they plump for ‘Rock Of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’ which serve to be the icing on the cake rounding off the Leps’ set nicely and bringing an excellent evening of classic rock to a close. The house lights go on and ‘Kings Of The World’ plays out as the fans make their way out of the venue and back to 2015.