The double bill has become the norm these days, two established bands hitting the road to maximise the entertainment and, of course, bums on seats. However with Def Leppard and Whitesnake inviting Black Star Riders, who morphed out of the latter day version of Thin Lizzy, to join them as they hit stages around the UK and Ireland, this line-up can genuinely be see as a triple whammy. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid headed to a sold out Glasgow's Hydro (or as Whitesnake's David Coverdale christened it, "the Colosseum", Lep's Joe Elliott settling for "f*#cking huge!") to be rocked not once, not twice but thrice. Do you wanna get rocked? Oh, go on then…!
Even with a 6.40pm stage time, Black Star Riders proved a strong draw, the gargantuan Hydro already half full by the time Lizzy veteran Scott Gorham and his band of all-stars entered the fray. Alongside Gorham, the backbone of BSR is one time The Almighty front man/guitarist Ricky Warwick and ex-Alice Cooper sideman Damon Johnson, the legendary six string slinger happy to share lead guitar duties with his younger band mates. With a strong mix of BSR originals, and Lizzy classics, the crowd however were easily won over, "Bound For Glory" and "Finest Hour" illustrating the superb new music this band have crafted in recent years, while "Are You Ready", "Jailbreak" and "Whiskey In The Jar" showed the faithful and fruitful manner in which they handle the Lizzy catalogue. Having seen BSR recently on a co-headline jaunt round the UK with Europe, it was impressive to see how easily they transferred their heads down and rock ethos into the larger arenas, and as someone who has followed Warwick's career through its many guises, it's great to see his perseverance rewarded in this kind of setting. He certainly belongs there. Forty minutes flew by as though it was a few mere seconds, a hugely entertaining, energetic set resulting in the rousing cheers and applause Black Star Riders received being thoroughly deserved.
Billing their period on stage as the 'Purple Tour', it was clear that David Coverdale and his latest incarnation of Whitesnake were going to regale us with a selection of MK III/IV (Coverdale's time in the band) era Purple classics. Few though could have (without visiting setlist-fm beforehand, of course) envisioned that Purple's "Burn" would open the set, however it has to be said it was an inspired choice, Coverdale doing a marvellous job with a song that has in recent years been more readily connected to his ex-Purple mate Glenn Hughes. With Reb Beach (also of Winger) and his new guitar partner Joel Hoekstra (ex-Night Ranger) trading solos and keyboard maestro Michele Luppi (one-time lead singer with Vision Divine) also taking the limelight for a section, the opener almost felt like an encore and ensured a tremendous beginning to a set that easily maintained that level throughout. "Bad Boys" and "Love Ain't No Stranger" were the first 'Snake offerings proper, Hoekstra thoroughly failing to hide his excitement at being part of this band, while bassist Michael Devin did his level best to keep pace, going grin for grin with his stage-mate and throwing shapes like a good 'un. "The Gypsy" was the next Purple of choice, the complete 'Snake-ism' it underwent on album underlined on stage to the extent that you'd never have suspected it wasn't a Whitesnake original. With (current Glenn Hughes guitarist) Doug Aldrich no longer in the band, it feels like Beach is far more integral to the overall sound and more closely attuned to what Hoekstra brings to the party; the stunning version of "Mistreated" (more Purple) and "Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City" (a Bobby Bland song, but it's really a Whitesnake song after three or four decades of covering it) suggesting that the band have actually been improved by the recent changes. Not something I expected to say before this show. A solo from returning (again) drummer Tommy Aldridge, staying true to his long standing faster and faster, then faster and faster playing with bare hands (no sticks) did, bizarrely, slow things a little, but in fairness to the maddest hair in rock, he received much adulation from the crowd. Having rested his voice through some extended instrumental sections and Aldridge's shenanigans, Coverdale started stretching his vocals out and while, partly thanks to some sound board effects and a band who, to a man can sing tremendously well, he did a decent job, some of the sounds he emitted were a little askew. However when you can romp home with stone cold classics such as "Is This Love", "Fool For Your Loving", "Here I Go Again" and "Still Of Night", there isn't much room for complaint. In my review a few months back of Whitesnake's The Purple Album, I questioned the reasoning behind releasing it all, but added the caveat that if they toured it I'd "see you down the front". I may not have gotten the front row tickets I hankered, but in the flesh the Purple numbers (especially the acoustic "Soldier Of Fortune") prove much more vital, but in the end it was the Whitesnake numbers which truly won the day. This was the third time I've seen Whitesnake in the last decade or so, and easily the best.
The last time I saw Def Leppard was seven years ago when they wiped the floor with the band before them on the bill… Whitesnake. However due to a sterling showing from Cov & Co. tonight was a far closer run thing. From the off (as with that previous double bill), it was instantly apparent that the Lep's had a larger stage, larger show and larger budget. Bravely three new(ish) tracks from the recent, excellent, self titled album and the mainly live Mirrorball, were aired early. "Let's Go" transferred well to the live arena, although "Undefeated" didn't really live up to its name, falling flat and sucking a little momentum from the classic Hysteria album cut, "Animal" - the only oldie in the opening four. "Dangerous" and its repetitive chorus however worked a treat, the classic Lep feel perfect in the live environment, as it paved the way for glorious renditions of "Love Bites" and "Armageddon It". Throughout, the light show and screen effects were eye catching and well thought through, this band's large arena experience wonderfully bridging the gap between the stage and the members of the audience stuck way up high at the back of the hall, with a likeable ease that never felt forced. Name checking some of the bands that he and bassist Rick Savage bonded over 38 years ago, Elliott gave a shout out to David Bowie, Mott The Hoople and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (whose bassist, Chris Glen, who was sitting three seats along from me, greeted with a hearty chuckle and approving smile, as his friends got rather more excited, jumping up and down and pointing at their companion). The song it heralded was "Rock On", one of David Essex's harder hitting numbers from yesteryear, Elliott appearing behind Rick Allen's drums, high on a podium sporting a preposterous top hat and feathers. Great though this version of that excellent song was, with so many classic Leppard numbers not in evidence, it could be argued that it was at least a little self indulgent. Elliott, still sporting his questionable head gear, then stepped out front on his own for an acoustic take on "Two Steps Behind", before the rest of the band reappeared for the serious stomp of "Rocket".
"When Love And Hate Collide" took things back down, proving the cavernous Hydro can be amazingly intimate, before the superb guitar pair of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen strode down the runway which stretched out into the crowd, for the vintage instrumental "Switch 625". Which still hits as hard now, as it did way back in 1981. From there it was classics all the way, "Hysteria", "Let's Get Rocked" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me" receiving a rabid reception from the crowd, as did a short solo from Rick Allen, the camera work allowing everyone to witness his amazing dexterity, as it focused on his multi-peddle set up as much as his stick work. Considering the adulation paid Tommy Aldridge in his solo slot with Whitesnake, it would appear Glasgow likes a drum solo!
It really is testimony to Def Leppard that having brought the house down with possibly their best known song, worldwide, that they could still come out for an explosive encore in the shape of "Rock Of Ages" and "Photograph" which somehow raised the energy levels on stage and off, even higher. Only the three brand new songs in tonight's set were under 19 years old, but it's impossible to deny that Def Leppard still somehow manage to sound like a young, hungry and vital act. Long may it continue and long may performances as assured, captivating and impressive as this.