In recent years both Journey and Whitesnake have rolled into Glasgow as part of cracking three band bills, featuring the likes of Def Leppard, Black Stone Cherry, Foreigner or Styx, offering not only a barrage of hits, but cracking value for money. Therefore it seemed it was only a matter of time before these masters of the arena would team up for one of the must see gigs of 2013. Add to that a band who are undoubtedly one of the UK's favourites, Thunder and there was no way there was going to be any disappointed faces come home time. Was there....?
In the early 2000s Thunder were on and off more times than a light switch, playing festivals, the odd UK tour and releasing an album or two, before mothballing the whole idea in 2009. Seemingly that was finally it, but the allure of the stage and audiences that simply lap up their heavy blues style has proved irresistible for the band and their followers. Tonight was no different. As an outfit who only get together when the mood, or the offer, takes them, what makes this most endearing of bands even more appealing these days is their easy, relaxed manner, banging out hits like "Dirty Love" - not many bands would open even a forty five minute set with arguably their most famous song - "Backstreet Symphony" and "River Of Pain" with not a care in the world. Guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews careened across the stage as bassist Chris Childs held court, grinning for all he's worth. The glorious "Low Life In High Places" brought down the pace, allowing the peerless vocals (not something said lightly when David Coverdale is next on stage) of Danny Bowes, whose gentle mockery of both himself and the audience made him instantly likeable, stunning all in attendance. However when he is ably backed up by Morley, Childs and Matthews, the results are vocally and musically sublime. "Higher Ground" and "The Devil Made Me Do It" got the whole place groovin', before "Love Walked In" became the first true sing along of the night, while the closing thump and grind of "I Love You More Than Rock And Roll", found drummer Harry James firing on all cylinders. With their all too brief forty five minutes, Thunder came, saw and conquered.
Famous for being a band of ever revolving members, Whitesnake 2013 are a familiar bunch, even if the group-roster has spun once again. Back for more with old Cov' are his duelling guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach (by far the longest serving six string partnership the band's ever seen actually), while bassist Michael Devlin has also been a Snake for a few years now. However with the recent departure of Brian Tichy from behind the kit, the reintroduction of the man that is all hair and rib-cage, Tommy Aldridge, is an inspired move, his stick twirling, cymbal destroying style being perfect for the forceful anthems modern day Whitesnake revel in. "Session" keyboard parper Brian Ruedy completes the line-up. So with a toast to the crowd and the ever familiar yell of "'Ere's a song for ya!!!", we're off, "Give Me All Your Love Tonight" and the old classic "Ready An' Willing" wasting no time in getting the whole auditorium on their feet punching the air. Criticised for his poor vocals on previous tours, Coverdale's speaking voice has found an unfamiliar gravely tone in recent years, yet tonight his singing is the best I've heard it in quite some time. Yes the high notes are still a bit of a struggle, but he's reigned in the screaming and realised that sometimes less really can be more. Rightly this version of Whitesnake are keen to celebrate their excellent brace of recent releases, with "Can You Hear The Wind Blow" and "Love Will Set You Free" standing up loudly and proudly to fan favourites "Don't Break My Heart Again" and "Is This Love", while the title track from the band's newest studio release Forevermore proved a genuine set highlight. "Gambler" took us all a little further back in time, Coverdale offering the song up as a tribute to departed Snakes Jon Lord, Cozy Powell and Mel Galley - a move that some saw as fitting, others as a bit "too little too late".
For an act of this size, tonight's blast of Whitesnake, running at just eighty minutes is a little brief but Aldrich and Beach still got an overlong, if impressive solo-duel and "Steal Your Heart Away" featured an Aldridge drum solo (bare hand-stickless drumming and all). Both segments were decent entertainment, but there's no denying that they took some of the early momentum out of the show, although if the purpose is to give the lead singer's voice a rest, it's hard to complain about their inclusion. "Best Years" got things back on track, before "Bad Boys" segueing into "Children Of The Night" and "Fool For Your Loving" hit the bull's eye. Less self indulgently the band decided not to leave the stage to induce an encore, instead rushing headlong into the finale everyone had set their heart on "Here I Go Again" and "Still Of The Night", both songs proving with ease why they are sited as heavy rock classics.
It's easy to sneer at Coverdale in this day and age, what with his crotch thrusting and less than subtle lyrics harking back to a time when the US lapped this sort of stuff up, but there's no denying the man is charisma on legs, capable of making every single person in a thousands strong crowd feel as though he's working hard for them alone. Vocally he's in much better shape than previous tours suggested, add in a guitar pair who clearly realise what a special gig they've got and Whitesnake 2013 are an impressive reptile indeed. Even if watching a less than glamorously bearded Devlin playing harmonica next to the pearly white grinning Cov, is a little ironic considering how the original incarnation of the band was broken up two and half decades ago...
If charisma and showmanship were Whitesnake's killer weapon (OK, great songs and stunning musicianship don't hurt), then truth be told it is an area where the current version of Journey are lacking. You simply can't argue with the fact that guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Ross Valory, guitarist/keyboard player Jonathan Cain and drummer Deen Castronovo are peerless musicians, all well versed in the art of stage craft meets virtuosity. However with very, very few exceptions (AC/DC spring to mind), every rock band needs a frontman who dominates all of his bandmates on stage, catching the eye, dripping with charm, a snot nosed attitude, or sex appeal. Sadly Arnel Pineda has none. Now that's harsh, the guy works tirelessly onstage, turning his light blue t-shirt almost black with sweat after only the opening trio of "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", "Ask The Lonely" and "Only The Young". However once the initial euphoria dies down, there's no denying that so does the crowd's enthusiasm. Schon dazzles and excites as he fries his fretboard on the intro to "Stone In Love" and Valory's penchant for odd face gurning is strangely entertaining, but even with Pineda repeatedly spinning, launching himself off the drum riser, high fiving those in the front row and urging everyone to clap along with him, there's a distinct lack of connection during "Edge Of The Blade" and "Open Arms". In fact when the percussion master Castronovo takes over vocals for "Keep On Runnin'", there's no more or less of a focal point to what Journey produce.
Proving that whilst this tour is a "co-headliner", Journey are indeed, at least on billing, top dogs, the simple video screen stills and band shots employed by Whitesnake (including a nice montage of Mel Galley, Cozy Powell and Jon Lord at their set's conclusion), were replaced by massive shiny screens, more dazzling lights and ticker-tape bursts, but even the extra pizzazz doesn't quite persuade those who had pranced and danced madly to the previous two bands, to even stay on their feet as Journey strut their stuff. To be fair a thin sound in the notoriously poor SECC didn't help Journey's cause, but the twin guitar attack of both Thunder and Whitesnake fared better in these stakes too. "Lights" (never a song that really "hits" live), "Dead Or Alive" and "Escape" come and go, before "Wheel In The Sky" finally wakes most in attendance from their slumbers. From there it's a romp for the line, band and audience seemingly reinvigorated, "Be Good To Yourself" and "Faithfully" being greeted like the old friends they are. I could have got up on stage and sang "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Any Way You Want It" and still brought the house down, but Pineda, as he had all night, hit every note with ease and skill - if the solitary prerequisite for being a rock and roll singer was the ability to sing, he'd be immense - finally winning over some of his doubters - almost...
In truth one simple factor would have helped Journey fare better tonight and that would have been to let Whitesnake close the show (Coverdale and Co actually played ten minutes longer than Schon and his mates), instead they suffered the same fate as they did when Foreigner wiped the floor with them in the same venue two years ago. That said all three bands put on a great show, Whitesnake winning by a head from Thunder on the entertainment stakes, with Journey coming in an energetic, but reasonably distant third.