|Journey / Whitesnake / Thunder - Belfast, Odyssey Arena - 16th May 2013|
|Written by Mark Ashby|
|Thursday, 30 May 2013 03:00|
There’s a saying in this part of the world about things being "arse about face". If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll not insult your intelligence by explaining what it means, as I’m sure you can figure it out. Anyway, this was the impression that many, many people got when this bill was announced – that the promoters had got it just a bit posterior before visage - and so it proved.
Thunder may have officially retired (apart from their annual Christmas shows), with the various members off doing different things, but the temptation of such a high profile arena tour was obviously too much to resist, and having given in to said temptation in the best Oscar Wilde style, the lads obviously were determined to have as much fun as possible doing so.
"Everybody scream!" encouraged Danny Bowes as the band more or less ambled on stage with a relatively lengthy instrumental blues workout before launching into a hard hitting and vibrant ‘Dirty Love’, which sounds as fresh as it did almost a quarter of a century ago. Some, lesser informed, critics have tried to make light of what they perceived to be the poor attendance during the opening set, but the fact that, at the ridiculously early hour of 6.45, the 10.000 capacity arena is more than a third full of fans who are embracing Danny’s invitation to dance their socks off is a testament to Thunder’s continuing ability to appeal to a rabidly loyal fan base. It’s an appeal rewarded with a powerful set laced with old favourites, such as a huge ‘Backstreet Symphony’, a soulful ‘Higher Ground’ and a breathtaking ‘Love Walked In’, plus a few very pleasant surprises, such as the pound and ground blues of ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’, the combined result of which once again proves why Thunder remain one of the most respected British rock acts around.
"Here’s a song for ya!" The traditional David Coverdale rallying call echoes through the arena as the act regarded by many true rocks present as the real headliners stroll confidently on stage - that act of course is Whitesnake - and the audience doesn’t take long to react to frontman’s invitation to ‘Give Me All Your Love Tonight’, a song which is followed by a raucously revamped ‘Ready An’ Willing’, while ‘Don’t Break My Heart Again’ is absolutely stonking and ‘Is This Love?’ has a darkly passionate twist to it.
Prior to the show, Doug Aldrich had promised a few surprises and some rarely played tracks from the ‘Snake’s not inconsiderable archive, and with that promise they promptly deliver with a rampant resurrection of the much under-appreciated ‘Gambler’. Coverdale brings a sombre note to the proceedings by pausing to remember fallen comrades, in the form of Cozy Powell, Mel Galley and Jon Lord (who all were members of the ‘Snake when the band first visited Belfast nearly 30 years ago, on the ‘Slide It In’ tour) at the start of a beautiful ‘Love Will Set You Free’, which concludes with a brief but extremely impressive guitar duel between Aldrich and Reb Beach, before Michael Devin’s haunting mouth organ heralds the intro to ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, which features another traditional Whitesnake moment – a tumultuous drum solo by the returning Tommy Aldridge, who dispenses with his sticks to deliver his show-stopping moment bare-handed.
Coverdale’s vocals may not be all they were in days gone by, but he still has bucket loads of charisma and retains the hip-swinging, microphone-spinning, innuendo-laden ability to charm the knickers off the most devout of nuns, and with the aid of his hugely talented band, who have, pleasingly, rediscovered the ‘Snake’s harder, bluesier roots, especially on the likes of ‘Fool For Your Loving’ and ‘Here I Go Again’, there is still plenty of life in the old Yorkshire terrier yet.
With photos of Powell, etc. poignantly projected onto the big screens, the strains of ‘We Wish You Well’ filling the arena saw many people taking its refrain of "it’s time to go" as their cue to do just that: but, despite the lyrical sentiment, it was not the end of the evening, as the karaoke was still to come… well, frontman Arnel Pineda did learn the lyrics to Journey songs by “performing” them in Filipino bars, and, on the evidence of this, my first encounter with this particular incarnation of the AOR legends, the X Factor wannabe escapee should have stuck to doing just that.
To say that what followed was one of the most excruciating experiences in almost 30 years of covering gigs would be a severe understatement. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a big Journey fan, not by any stretch of the imagination, but if I was I would have been hugely embarrassed at the performance I witnessed – with perhaps the most surprising aspect being the fact that I managed to last almost half their set before myself taking my cue to exit the arena and head for the pub (where, ironically, a karaoke night was not in full swing, thank the gods of rock). Pineda lacks any of the star quality of Steve Perry’s pinkie finger while Neal Schon, replete in dark sunglasses and black biker jacket, came across like some valium-overdosed Leonard Cohen. The set was pedestrian and predictable, with opener ‘Separate Ways’ setting the tone in its laborious mundanity (and provoking my companion to ask "can we go now?" after just half a dozen bars) with the whole set perhaps summed up by the guy we pass on our way out snoring away in the third row of the bleachers!