Gig review: JOE ELLIOTT’s DOWN ‘N’ OUTZ/VEGA – The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

JOE ELLIOTT'S DOWN 'N' OUTZ- The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

Fan worship is the bedrock of music industry economics, but it is rare to see it coming from the other side of the monitors. However Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott has for many years openly sung the praises of the influence Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter has had on his musical life, and can regularly be seen guesting on stage.

A few years ago he took this hero worship even further by assembling a like minded band of musicians – chiefly from the Quireboys, and let’s face it Mott were one of their key influences, second only to the Faces and Stones – to promote some of the less well-known gems in the Mott catalogue, and the Down ‘n’ Outz were no one-off vanity project as they have returned with a new album and tour.

Even the modestly sized Garage was not full however, leaving me to wonder what the demographic is for this project and whether it falls between two stools.

Joe’s more recent patronage has been bestowed on support artists Vega and indeed his song 10x Bigger than Love was included in their live set, sounding very much like his parent band. Indeed Vega share the Leps’ ability to marry hard rock to infectious pop hooks, and opener ‘Kiss of Life’ was a statement of intent with a big ‘who-oah’ at the end of the chorus and super confident Nick Workman attacking some falsetto notes.

VEGA - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

A cramped stage did not assist the way the six piece presented themselves, but It was encouraging to see a few fans in Vega T-shirts and the irony was that their 45 minute support slot proved nearly twice as long as a recent headline show in the Garage’s upstairs bar where a curfew led to the plug being  plugged.

There was a good spread of catchy songs from all three albums including ‘Gonna Need Some Love Tonight’ and ‘Wherever We Are’ from the new album.  More than before, I was also struck by the way the guitar solos from Marcus Thurston – both playing and looking like a junior Neal Schon-  gave a more metallic edge to their sugar coated hooks.

VEGA - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014Photo: Darren Griffiths

The set ended in fine style with ‘White Knuckle Ride’ with Bon Jovi-esque catchiness, ‘All Or Nothing’ whose ‘Give It, Live It’ bridge lent itself to the live environment, and during ‘Hand In the Air’ Nick got the crowd to do likewise and even went on a sortie into the crowd which seems to be increasingly commonplace for bands these days. It was an impressive set that hopefully will have won new admirers as they continue their steady rise.

As on the previous tour the Down ‘n’ Outz started in rather off the wall fashion, Joe Elliott seated stage right at a piano as they opened not with a Mott song but with Elton John’s ‘Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’, and beginning with a lengthy instrumental passage to boot, before some enjoyable keyboard interplay between Joe and Keith Weir.

At this time of year even rock bands are not immune from flu bugs and Joe in particular was struggling manfully, coughing and swigging from water bottles attached to his mike stand.  However this in no way detracted from the overall enjoyment.

Joe Elliott's Down 'N' Outz - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

Switching to guitar, the gig kicked into life with ‘One More Chance To Run’ from the post-Mott project British Lions, but whereas their first album majored on Mott and Ian Hunter works post Hoople’s dissolution, the new ‘Further Adventures Of’ album dips into their prime time catalogue.

In the live environment this made for a more satisfyingly diverse set. ‘Rock And Roll Queen’ and ‘Drivin Sister’ were classic pieces of 12 bar rock safe in the hands of Quireboys members, and it was great to hear tracks like ‘Whizz Kids’ and ‘Overnight Angels’, while the lengthy ‘Storm’ gave Keith full rein to tinkle the ivories.

Joe Elliott's Down 'N' Outz - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

A special mention should go to Vixen’s Share Ross, who as well as some very stylish bass playing played a big role with Guy Griffin in fleshing out the sound with backing vocals.

One of the other features that came over is the extent to which Joe acts as a curator of Mott and Ian Hunter works, almost with a running commentary on the songs, as when reminding us that the riff on ‘One Of The Boys’ was then reprised by Mick Ralphs for Bad Company’s Can’t Get Enough.  However ‘Shouting And Pointing’ was perhaps the one song that did not quite come off as the band struggled to reach the high notes of the chorus.

As Joe returned to piano mid-set one of the highlights was a lengthy epic I confess to have been unfamiliar with, ‘The Journey’, featuring a marvellously soulful long winding solo from Paul Guerin, latterly competing with Joe’s piano. It was interesting to note that whereas lead guitar duties are shared in the Quireboys between him and Guy Griffin, for this show Paul took nearly all the solos.

Joe Elliott's Down 'N' Outz - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

After another Hunter gem in ‘Who Do You Love’, they closed with what Joe described as a ‘clockwork orange’ double of two of Mott’s more dystopian  songs, ‘Crash Street Kids’ and ‘Violence’, the latter’s sinister feel enhanced by some violin playing from Sinead Madden.

Joe Elliott's Down 'N' Outz - The Garage, Highbury, London, 8 December 2014

So far there had been no concessions to the casual fan with Mott the Hoople hits and I wondered whether this might change for the encores. As Keith plinked away at a piano intro I wondered whether we might be about to hear ‘Memphis’ but there was no compromise, instead a perfectly chosen pair of fun live songs in ‘England Rocks’ and ‘Good Times’ to get the crowd moving about.

Mott the Hoople got a lot of stick on their last tour for playing too many obscurities and taking too long to reach the hits, but on this occasion in the hands of their number one fanboy and such a skilled band of musicians, this was an interesting evening which breathed new life into a fascinating back catalogue.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan, except where stated

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