From lead guitarist in the pioneering all-girl The Runaways to eighties metal queen, to glamorous MTV darling, Lita Ford has truly been one of the trailblazers for the still underrepresented sisterhood of women in heavy rock. However it has been nearly 30 years since she visited the country of her birth, supporting Bon Jovi in the days when their badge on denim and leather jackets still conveyed rock credibility.
For much of that time she retired from the rock scene to bring up a family on a remote island but for nearly a decade she has been a regular on the package festival and cruise circuits in the USA, so the question is, what took her so long? It made for a packed house at the Academy and a real sense of occasion as we were witnessing something rare, in contrast to the bands both old and new that tour year in and year out.
There was a perfectly matched support act in Rock Goddess, who many of those present would have had alongside Lita in the ‘Ladykillers’ posters torn from ‘Kerrang!’ on their teenage bedroom walls. Opening with a couple of oldies I remembered in ‘Satisfied then Crucified’ and ‘God Be With You’ they were a refreshingly no-nonsense power trio, creditably letting the music speak for itself rather than play on their gender.
Jody Turner’s aggressive vocals were allied to a down to earth but feisty on stage persona which came in handy with a neanderthal lone wolf whistler in the crowd, and sister Julie and Tracey Lamb who pulled some elegant shapes on bass were a solid rhythm section. .
The set was dominated by songs from their all to brief early eighties heyday, though they did debut what I think was their first new song since reforming in ‘Back Off’ with Jody leading an expletive-fuelled audience participation.
To be frank, their songcraft was rather on the basic side and the likes of ‘To Be Betrayed’, ‘Love Lingers Still’ and ‘Back To You’ one dimensional, but I found myself enjoying oldies like ‘My Angel’ and the clichéd ‘Heavy Metal Rock n Roll’ which closed the set, till they came back a good couple of minutes later for an unplanned encore of ‘Make My Night’.
Despite it being a school night and with early closing Sunday tubes, the gig timings were annoyingly late and it was gone 9.35pm by the time a tape of ‘Balls To The Wall’ and a contrived intro saw Lita Ford move in from stage right, looking great for her 58 years in a red catsuit – matched by some rather dingy lighting all set long.
‘Gotta Let Go’ was a great opener for me, having been the first Lita song I ever heard back on the Friday Rock Show sometime in 1984, though I was surprised that her co-guitarist Patrick Kennison, looking the part with his big hair and Flying V, took the solo, followed by another fist-punching anthem in ‘Larger Than Life’. Though Lita initially seemed to be struggling for breath occasionally, as the night wore on her vocals were pretty impressive.
A fun if perhaps unnecessary cover of Elton John’s ‘The Bitch Is Back’ was followed by a dip into my favourite album of hers, the AOR-friendly ‘Dangerous Curves’, sadly not ‘Shot Of Poison’ but the big hooks of ‘Playing With Fire’, though there was another surprise with Patrick taking over lead vocals in the second half of the song.
My decision to reacquaint myself with her last all-new album ‘Living Like A Runaway’ earlier that day was rewarded with a pair of songs in ‘Relentless’, preceded by a snatch of ‘Voodoo Child’, and the autobiographical title track whose chorus of ‘Run Baby Run’ was earworm catchy. Less impressive were the cock rock excesses of ‘Hungry’, Lita briefly casting off her guitar, and ‘Can’t Catch Me’ with an oh-so-dated drum solo from veteran Bobby Rock.
I gather her scripted intros were identical to her other UK show at Hard Rock Hell and in the case of ‘Back To The Cave’, cringingly contrived. For a while, despite some fine guitar work from her, the song lacked power but it picked up pace with an extended jam between her and Patrick, and the great chorus of ‘Falling In And Out of Love’ gave the gig further momentum before a Runaways oldie in a joyously brattish ‘Cherry Bomb’ got a fair few fists punching, though ‘Black Leather’ and ‘Out For Blood’ from her debut solo album were run of the mill metal.
The 11 o’clock curfew was fast approaching with her two most recognisable songs by far yet to be played, so it was a relief when Lita donned a 12 string which inevitably meant the ballad ‘Close My Eyes Forever’. Once again Patrick proved the star of the night by taking on the Ozzy Osbourne half of the duet – what it lost in authenticity it gained in quality with his strong, aggressive voice that sounded nothing like the Sabbath frontman, and he concluded his star turn by twin leading with Lita. There could be but one closer, in the timeless catchiness of ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ which had those of us left dancing and punching the air.
An 85 minute set it had been a mixed bag but the highlights were high indeed, and Lita and her band had brought a night of Hollywood style stage showmanship to North London to justify the sense of anticipation. I only hope its not another 29 years before arguably the original ‘rock chick’ makes it back to these shores.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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