“Wait, do these guys still exist?!” – That’s a question many may have been asking upon seeing the poster for the UK tour featuring the co-headline bill of Def Leppard and Whitesnake with special guests Black Star Riders as the opening act (which basically is the latest touring line-up of Thin Lizzy). All three acts released new albums recently and all three defeated the test of time with rockin’ glory. And that was reflected in their performances on 18 December 2015 at London’s Wembley Arena.
Black Star Riders entered the stage while a Tarantino-like intro was blasting out on the PA. When Ricky Warwick, Scott Gorham, Damon Johnson, Robert Crane and Jimmy DeGrasso entered the stage, the venue was not filled up yet (understandably – it was still 6:40pm) but the reaction they received from the audience upon just entering the stage was louder than what I expected. Ricky confessed in our interview that changing the name from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders may have been “career suicide” but it might have been the best decision they made. Although the set included Thin Lizzy tracks (“Jailbreak”, “Whiskey in the Jar”), the Black Star Riders original material, from their two albums, was very powerful and perhaps more appropriate for this occasion because it felt like it had its own life. Their set was raw, not too polished, and powerful with the celtic-rock spirit audible (and felt!) throughout the set. Of course, sometimes it “feels like Thin Lizzy” but you can’t unmake that, these are (the latest) Thin Lizzy members, and their new material is so strong it doesn’t matter anyway. Expect more from these awesome guys.
After a short break and while The Who’s “My Generation” started playing on the PA, we all knew what was coming up as we were all waiting (and going crazy) for David Coverdale and co.’s entrance. Whitesnake started out with the Coverdale-era Deep Purple track “Burn” and what followed was classic after classic…after classic. When the Whitesnake hits were being played it felt as if we were teleported back to 1987 and with the Purple tracks we were teleported to the mid-70s. The Purple tracks (“Mistreated”, “You Fool No One”, “The Gypsy”) – off the latest Whitesnake masterpiece, The Purple Album – sounded powerful with that extra an’ spicy Whitesnake production. Performing the Mark 3 & 4 songs coincided with Deep Purple being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which Coverdale cheered to with his beer while introducing the track “The Gypsy”. “Soldier of Fortune” – which Coverdale introduced as the “one before you were born” – especially was magnificent that night in London with only Coverdale on vocals and new guitarist Joel Hoekstra on the acoustic. It is true that Mr Coverdale was losing his voice at times and the rest of the band along with the crowd had to back him up, nonetheless, during the aforementioned track, “Bad Boys” and the magnificently moving “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” the vocals were amazing. Whitesnake is not all about Coverdale, however, and he made sure to point this out during the performance by introducing everyone. The young energy backing up Coverdale – Joel Hoekstra (guitar), Reb Beach (guitar), Michael Devin (bass) and Michele Luppi (keyboards) – was extremely tight and proved themselves on every track, whether it was through amazing guitar solos or throwing acrobatic shapes (Hoekstra especially). There is no need introducing Tommy Aldridge but his drumming throughout the gig was Whitesnake’s heartbeat. Whitesnake is a timeless band and even if it is 2015, “Here I Go Again”, “Is This Love” or “Love Ain’t No Stranger” will always be relevant. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to seeing the bad boys again in 2016. Here’s a song for ya!
Def Leppard were also in fantastic form. They started off with “Let’s Go” from their latest self-titled album and similarly to Whitesnake provided a “best of” with tracks such as “Animal”, “Love Bites”, “Hysteria”, “Photograph”, “Rock of Ages” and obviously “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. If one were to compare, Joe Elliot was in better form vocally than Coverdale and all songs sounded like they should as if we were experiencing Def Leppard’s glory days of the 80s when they were THE mainstream band. The whole band was in top form; drummer Rick Allen pounding the drums with one drumstick while sporting a Union Jack outfit (even the headphones had the flag colorus!) and also producing an astounding solo half-way through; Phil Collen, who was introduced to the Wembley crowd as “a 17 year old” by Elliot, was shredding the guitar looking like a bodybuilder (and also with a Union Jack scarf hanging from his guitar); Rick Savage, who together with Elliot is still in the band after 38 years, was pouncing around the stage with his bass; and Vivian Campbell, who was looking classy and less rock ‘n’ roll, produced some awesome solos and classic riffs. Similarly to Whitesnake and Black Star Riders, the Def Leppard boys were all with smiles on their faces and looked like they were having a great time on stage. It is amazing that after 38 years of recording and touring the world, these guys can still rock out with such huge smiles. It is not surprising then that they produced an amazing album this year as well. Do yourself a favour and get rocked with some Def Leppard!
All three bands brought out their best. It was a throwback to the 80s with songs like “Animal” or “Here I Go Again” but also the 70s with songs like “Jailbreak” and “Mistreated”.