Thursday 17 July 2008

one lump or two?

Thunder / Whitesnake / Def Leppard @ Nottingham Trent FM Arena, 17th July 2008

Three ridiculous bands that have all played some part in my musical development on the same bill? I haven't listened to any of them properly in at least 15 years, but nevermind that, how could I possibly say no to a lineup like that? Of the three bands, it's actually "very special guests" Thunder that are probably the least ridiculous and the one that I've seen the most times: only once headlining in their own right (at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre supported by the Electric Boys), but many, many times on the the bill supporting bands like Iron Maiden, ZZ Top, Metallica and the like. Def Leppard I saw once, in the round no less, at Earls Court on the "Adrenalize" tour when I was already on the point of getting over them and remember the interminable walk back to South Kensington more than I remember the actual gig itself. Whitesnake I've never seen at all, but then again they have always been the most ridiculous band of them all, haven't they? David Coverdale was old back in 1987, never mind some twenty years later. Besides, how much air time can you possibly give someone who named his band after the name he gave his penis? Giving your penis a name in the first place is probably something of a danger sign.

Still, here we are, some years after any of these bands were at their commercial peaks, and against the odds two of them are trying to promote new material. On the face of it, it doesn't sound like it has the makings of being a great night, but all three of these bands have somehow written songs that have stood the test of time.

In order to accommodate the egos of the bands above them, Thunder appear on stage at the ridiculously early time of 18:45. Luckily for them, this is one of those gigs where the people who don't go to gigs have turned up in force and in plenty of time for the doors to open. As a result, by the time we arrive, the band are already onstage and the arena is pretty full. The hair may be shorter now, and in the case of singer Danny Bowes, an awful lot greyer, but the ingredients that made them such a decent live band back in the day are still well in place: they have good, melodic songs played in a blues-rock style, and in Bowes they have a singer with both the voice and the personality to get an arena crowd going early doors. Songs like "Love Walked In" and "Low Life in High Places" and "Gimme Some Lovin'" really get the crowd moving and nicely warmed up for the bigger bands to come.

Ah, Whitesnake. In 1973, a bespectacled shop worker from Yorkshire called David Coverdale found himself as a member of Deep Purple. He formed his own band, imaginatively naming it after his own penis, releasing albums named with childlike innuendos like "Slide it In", "Lovehunter", "Come an' Get It", and "Slip of the Tongue". They only really found massive success with "1987" that featured the monster hit "Here I Go Again" and several videos starring the porn star, Tawney Kitaen, who somewhat inevitably married the blond lovegod himself. Twenty-One years down the track, that marriage has incredibly not lasted the course, but Whitesnake are somehow still with us and now celebrating their 30th anniversary. Well, I say "they're" celebrating their anniversary, but basically Whitesnake is, and always has been, Coverdale and some other blokes (at one point including Def Leppard's Vivian Campbell). He's now 56 years old, and now cuts something of a bizarre figure with that blonde mop still in place, but now framing a face that looks rather alarmingly like that of Joan Rivers. He takes to the stage in a whirl of pelvic thrusts against his microphone stand and we're off.

Whitesnake are appalling. It's not just the relentless innuendo and sexual boasting (after all, William Shakespeare himself wasn't above that, in sonnet 154 talking about quenching "love's hot desire" in a "cool well". If it's good enough for Billy Shakespeare, why not David Coverdale?), it's the fact that this awful, turgid rock music with added widdly 80s poodle-rock guitar bits is just plain boring. Compared to Thunder, the sound is muddy too, and Coverdale seems to be well down the mix, with the backing vocals well up in the foreground. Some choruses Coverdale doesn't bother to sing at all, and he often resorts to a horrible rock screech instead of the deep noted timbre he was once noted for. Pretending to fellate the microphone stand and getting oddly close to your two guitarists is no substitute for decent songs being performed by a competent band. Whitesnake have apparently insisted on joint-billing with Def Leppard on this tour, and they are onstage for 90 minutes in all, at least as long as the proper headliners. They're a new album to promote, God help us, and they're determined to foist their leaden, dated rubbish onto us whether we like it or not. We even get an extended guitar duel as Coverdale wanders off the stage to change his shirt and to take off his shoes.

"Here I Go Again" wakes up the crowd and reminds us that the band did manage to fluke at least one song that appears to have stood the test of time, but I've long since lost the will to live by this point.

Awful. Utter rubbish.

Def Leppard are actually celebrating their 31st anniversary, and although they're promoting a new album, "Songs from the Sparkle Lounge", in large part they're very much frozen in time around-about 1987. That's the year they released "Hysteria" of course, which sold 18m copies and all this time later, the bedrock of the set is still made up of songs like "Rocket", "Animal", "Armageddon It", "Hysteria" and the sublime "Pour Some Sugar on Me". Joe Elliot is perhaps a bit thicker around the edges than of old, but otherwise the band are remarkably well preserved, with Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen still in good enough shape, at 45 and 50 respectively, to play most of the set without their shirts on with no disgrace at all.

It's the last night of the band's European tour, and like the old pro that he is, Joe Elliot simply will not let the crowd forget it. He is desperate, it seems, for this crowd to be louder than the ones they performed to in London, Belfast, Sheffield, etc. etc. It's perhaps the oldest gambit in the book, but the crowd lap it up and roar their approval. The Leppard's particular brand of heavily layered, heavily produced, user-friendly rock music has held up pretty well, and crucially, they were never really a band that asked to be taken all that seriously anyway. Just as well really, as it would be hard to enjoy a song like "Let's Get Rocked" if you thought the band were playing it in as po-faced a way as someone like David Coverdale might. As it is, Elliot's shout of "Let's get the rock out of here!" is positively joyous.

They're a very silly band, certainly, but they're a whole lot of fun and I'm sure they'll be back for more.

Verdict: 6.5 / 10

(Thunder - 7 / 10, Whitesnake - 2 / 10, Def Leppard 7.5 / 10).


  1. Heard about your stellar gig last night from Sarah. I listened to Def L's 'Photograph' a couple times on the way home last night and thought of you and that aging rock and roll clown (which is of course Joe, not Sarah).

  2. I saw def leppard a year ago, and you're on target with them. I thought they were still entertaining, sounded good, just a bit dated.

  3. I must say, brilliantly written review, even if I have no interest in those bands at all.

  4. "Tonights the night you might meet the love of your life... just don't tell your wife."

    Go and see Guy Pratt if they does a show in Nottingham, the former bassist of Pink Floyd, Whitesnake, Page/Coverdale, and who's responsible for the bass to "Like A Virgin" and "Earth Song" has a wonderful section about Life In Whitesnake. These are dark times for a Cocksman!

  5. Just ripped some Thunder onto iTunes the other day.

    Fantastic stuff. Transported me right back to 1990.

    V. jealous of you seeing Def Leppard again