Gig review: JOURNEY, WHITESNAKE, Wembley Arena, 28 May 2013

The package tours of two or three bands with similar appeal, popular in America for so many years, are now a regular feature in the UK.  Journey were last here on an AOR triple bill with Foreigner and Styx two summers ago, while Whitesnake’s double header with Def Leppard was a memorable one back in 2008. This time the pair were a slightly less compatible match up on an arena tour in which Journey closed each night but both were given identical set lengths of about an hour and 25 minutes.

Thunder - Manchester MEN, 23 May 2013 - Photo by Steve Goudie

The gig got off to a flying start with a corking 45 minute set from Thunder. Their recording days are over and they may only occasionally convene these days, but they have the same party starting effect as their fellow South-East Londoners Status Quo did at Live Aid. They even led off with their best known song and traditional audience participation number ‘Dirty Love’, getting the whole of the floor to their feet from the off to set the tone for the rest of the set.

Among old favourites like ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Backstreet Symphony’,  the highlights were ‘Low Life in High Places’ and ‘Love Walked In’, showing Luke Morley’s way with building from an acoustic intro to crunching riffs. Danny Bowes may look even less like a rock star these days but his voice is as perfectly pitched and expressive as ever.

However a pleasant surprise was that material from the last decade snuck in, ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ where Morley’s riffing made up for some rather dodgy subject matter, and set closer and another sing-along, the Honky Tonk Women inspired ‘I Love You More Than Rock n Roll’. Their 45 minutes set had me musing that if only everything in life was as reliable as Thunder, to coin a phrase, and looking forward to them doing it again at Download.

Whitesnake - Manchester MEN, 23 May 2013 - Photo by Steve Goudie

Whitesnake I was more ambivalent about when the tour was announced. Long one of my all time favourite bands, after a dismal show a couple of years back at Hammersmith I found myself not bothered whether I saw them again.

The biggest issue has been David Coverdale , the decline in his once magnificent voice giving him the air of an ageing big cat in the zoo roaring with toothache.  However he is still the archetypal rockstar and, sporting gleaming teeth and hair and an array of white shirts customised with Whitesnake logos, he is an endearing and magnetic if rather hammy performer.

Opening with ‘Give Me All Your Love Tonight’, another up tempo song to get the fans off their feet, was a masterstroke and, boosted by an arena friendly sound and presentation, his largely American band not only put on a big show, but their massed backing vocals covered his vocal shortcomings.

There were moments to please us old school ‘Snake fans with ‘Ready an Willing’ back in the set, David valiantly croaking through ‘Don’t Break My Heart Again’ with the help of the Whitesnake choir, and, to a poignant backdrop of half of the ‘Slide It In’ line up now no longer with us (Messrs Lord ,Powell and Galley), even a snatch of ‘Gambler’.

However a pleasant surprise for what could easily have descended into a nostalgia trip was the faith showed in the last two Whitesnake albums, with five tracks in all – most notably ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, with Doug Aldrich whipping up a storm on slide guitar, and ‘Forevermore’ which is nothing less than a modern classic, building from a gentle acoustic intro to an epic feel with a superlative solo.

It was not all good news as the guitar and drum solos to allow old Cov a rest were tedious, while I felt that on the times Reb Beach took the guitar solos, his rapid style lacked the soul and feeling necessary for Whitesnake.

But by the time of a classic set of closers – ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Fool For Your Lovin’ and ‘Here I Go Again’, complete with audience participation, plus the giant sound of the overplayed but magnificent ‘Still Of The Night’  for an encore, any objective criticisms were set aside as I and others simply enjoyed a great show.

Journey - Manchester MEN, 23 May 2013 - Photo by Steve Goudie

It also set a high bar for Journey to follow and going on at 940pm on a school night they were going to struggle to hold everyone’s attention. It is always a thrill for me to see the kings of AOR in action, but they made the worst possible start with a casual low key entrance and an atrocious, muffled sound for two of their strongest songs, ‘Separate Ways’ and ‘Anyway You Want It’.

While brilliant musicians, they were too static to rouse much of the crowd, some of whom began to sit down or drift away during the set. Singer Arnel Pineda is still a live wire on stage, although his new short haircut merely accentuates the incongruity of this veteran band being fronted by a diminutive baby-faced figure.

However the Filipino lacks the confidence to speak between songs other than a couple of rehearsed introductions and this never helps the communion between performer and audience, which suffered in comparison to the homegrown bands.

On the positive side, virtually all of their classics were present, and on the likes of ‘Only The Young’ and ‘Stone in Love’, Neal Schon let fly at every opportunity, even if his solos tend to sound rather similar after a while. Unlike Whitesnake, the Pineda-era albums and indeed anything post 1986 were totally ignored in a Escape-Frontiers dominated set.

Indeed there was a generous selection of the heavier cuts from those albums – ‘Chain Reaction’, my own favourite ‘Edge of the Blade’ and a double of ‘Escape’ and ‘Dead Or Alive’, while drummer Deen Castronovo did a marvellous Steve Perry impression during ‘Keep On Runnin’.

I got the impression the rockers were lost on large sections of the crowd, who were expecting the ballads and it has to be said that while, at times his vocal phrasing can be a bit indistinct, it was on ‘Open Arms’ and ‘Faithfully’ that Arnel really came into his own, delivering them in a soaring, melodramatic manner.

With sound thankfully belatedly improved, ‘Wheel In The Sky’ got the crowd going though Neal’s lengthy solo took the song off at a tangent, and ‘Be Good to Yourself’, with its keyboard intro that defines the AOR genre, and of course THAT song ended a hit packed set on a higher note than it had begun. However much I love Journey, they do seem to have become a tad stale and playing on auto pilot.

I can’t help thinking that a band that combined Whitesnake’s sense of performance and Journey’s musical class would have provided a perfect evening, and that of the three Thunder’s performance had perhaps been the most satisfying. Nevertheless, it was a thoroughly entertaining and value for money evening that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Steve Goudie

Gig review (Manchester 23 May 2013, with Photo Gallery)
Gig review (Glasgow, 18 May 2013)

In his show broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 10 May David Randall played a further selection of artists and albums included in the new Features series, “2020 Vision”.

Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
Click the appropriate icons at the top of the page.

Featured Albums w/c 25 May (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 FM Synchronized (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 THE ROCKET DOLLS The Art Of Disconnect (indie)
14:00-16:00 BEN KUNDER Searching For The Stranger (indie)

Power Plays w/c 11 May (Mon-Fri)

THE MERCY KILLS Alone (Golden Robot Records)
DEAD REYNOLDS By Your Side (indie)
THE JAILBIRDS Watery Grave (Golden Robot Records)
ALI MASS & MICKY MOODY These Times (Last Man Music)
MASSIVE WAGONS Bangin In Your Stereo (Earache)
UDO We Are One (AFM Records)

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