A week ago today on 25th May, I hopped into my little Mango Mobile and pootled up to Nottingham to see Whitesnake and Journey plus special guests Thunder. I’ve seen all three bands before; I saw Thunder supporting Whitesnake and Def Leppard in Cardiff a few years ago, I’ve since seen Whitesnake again at the Hammersmith Apollo, and I saw all three of them at Download back in 2009. What a line up that was! I was so excited, I saw Mötley Crüe on the Friday, Thunder on the Saturday, and then the amazing Classic Rock Sunday line up of Black Stone Cherry, Journey, (Dream Theater), ZZ Top, Whitesnake and Def Leppard. Such a cracking line up, I’ve never seen a festival line up that’s appealed so much to me since. Anyway, even though I’ve seen all three bands before, I obviously leapt at the chance to see them all together in one fun-packed evening of great music, although part of me was a little bit surprised at the pairing of Whitesnake and Journey as joint headliners, it just seemed a bit of an unexpected pairing compared to the great partnership of Whitesnake and Def Leppard a few years ago.
I only really got into Thunder during their farewell tour, which was a bit unfortunate really. Fun story: They played Exeter University when I was in first year, but I was too cheap to go (especially as I only knew one song at the time), so I stood in the car park, heard Dirty Love (the one song I knew) almost instantly, and then headed back to my halls. It was as I was walking back that I met one of my friends for the first time, it turns out she’d seen Motörhead in the Great Hall the night before and had quite possibly also been listening to Thunder from the car park, and now she comes to gigs with me all the time. It’s still one of my biggest regrets that I didn’t go to that gig properly, but if I had, I’d never have run into my friend on the illuminated path, and then we might never have met and I’d be minus a gig buddy, so it’s all turned out for the best really. When I next saw Thunder at Download, they’d already announced that they were planning to retire (having already retired once in the early 2000s), so I thought that was it really. Luke Morley went off with some pretty young chap to form The Union (who I’ve definitely seen supporting someone, it might have been Europe or Whitesnake but I can’t really remember), and the band that was Thunder supposedly settled into enjoying retirement, probably playing golf and whatever else it is that retired rockstars do these days. (Ha, ‘rockstars’. That’s probably not the most appropriate term for such a well-mannered band, bless them).
Happily, since retiring, Luke and Danny and the boys have never missed an opportunity to put on a show. They played a ‘one-off’ set at High Voltage in 2011, followed by Christmas reunion gigs for three years, an acoustic tour by Danny and Ben, and now a stint supporting Whitesnake and Journey. They’re like the manager who’s announced his retirement, but still comes back for all the office parties and get togethers so he can put his feet up for a bit without feeling like he’s missing out on all the fun. Doubtless this means there’ll be opportunities for seeing them again in the future, which is lucky considering that we missed half of Thunder’s set at Nottingham for no other reason than the fact that I am a mahoosive idiot and assumed the time on the tickets was the time the door opened, when it was actually the time the show started. (Milly and Hannah, I am so very sorry!) We only missed three and a half/four songs, which doesn’t sound like much until you take into account the fact that they only had an eight song set. Needless to say, I’m still feeling very guilty.
The thing about Thunder is that they’re kind of samey, not in a bad way but in the sense that if you like one song, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll like them all, and that’s great. They’re real easy listening, all the songs are feel good and even if you didn’t know a single one, you’d still have a great time at a Thunder gig. There’s a real party atmosphere, they’re great at getting the crowd going and you’re guaranteed to have fun. In a way their performance is a bit understated, but the songs are big and every one’s a crowd pleaser. The one thing that really struck me most about the triple bill was the difference between front men. David Coverdale’s a real showman in the sense that he struts and he thrusts and he’s lewd and has such a huge presence; Arnel Pineda has so much energy that he’s forever running about and jumping, climbing on the equipment and bounding all over the stage like a small child in the playground; and then Danny Bowes, for want of a better description, is a bit like someone’s dad. He comes across as very well-mannered and polite, with his shirt neatly tucked into his belted jeans, and the occasional spot of slightly awkward dad dancing, but you can tell that he absolutely loves what he does, and he’s also bloody good at it. It’s kind of funny that all three of them are so different as frontmen, and yet they all manage to provoke the same kinds of reactions from the crowd. They have different ways of going about it, but they all get everyone dancing and joining in and generally having a whale of a time.
We arrived towards the end of Low Life in High Places, just in time for Backstreet Symphony when the party was well and truly in full swing. I was a bit sad to have missed out on Dirty Love which they opened with, but we were there in time for Love Walked In which is probably my favourite Thunder song, so I was a very happy chappy belting it out, and then they closed with foot-stompingly anthemic I Love You More than Rock ‘N’ Roll (high praise indeed!). By the time they left the stage we were well and truly warmed up, and eager for the arrival of Whitesnake.
(I should point out that I’m not responsible for any of these videos, I’ve just pilfered them from the internets because I was too busy having fun to stay still for long enough to film).
Now, obviously I’m a fan of all three bands, but (don’t tell the others) I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was mainly there to see Whitesnake. They’re probably my second favourite band of all time (no one could ever top the Jovi for me), but that’s still pretty high praise, believe me. Plus I was even more excited to see them this time round because I’ve had a few twitter conversations with The Cov of Love himself since seeing them at the Hammy A a couple of years ago, including this conversation which means we’re totes BFFS now, obvs. (I considered taking a print-out and my ukulele with me, and trying to blag my way backstage for a jamming session, but I thought that’d probs be considered a bit stalkery and I’d be so upset if my poor ukey was battered by the crowd).
This year’s a pretty big year for Whitesnake as it’s the 35th anniversary, hence ‘The Year of the Snake’ tour. There have been many Snakes gracing the band over those thirty five years with David Coverdale serving as the only consistent member, and the line-up changed once again for the tour when Brian Tichy left to pursue his solo project and was replaced by Tommy Aldridge, the only member to have ever been allowed back into the Snake fold, for the third time. He joined guitarists Doug Aldrich (my fave) and Reb Beach, who have both been Snakes since 2002, Michael Devin on bass (since 2010), and Brian Ruedy on keys (since 2011). The setlist was chosen to reflect the full 35 years of Whitesnake, kicking off with the pounding classic Give Me All Your Love. David Coverdale was in fine, mischievous form, and if anything seems to have got even cheekier and lewder since I last saw him on the Forevermore tour. I expected there to be a lot of crotch-mic thrusting, that’s kind of a given to be honest, but he’d definitely upped the scale. If anything, he was the strutting personification of Barbara Windsor’s “Ooh saucy!” It was all very much tongue-in-cheek though, and pretty hilarious to boot, so I was thoroughly entertained by it all.
There were a couple of rather funny moments when (an apparently very pretty, according to David) woman presented him with a box of cakes, which he took very gratefully but which I really hoped he didn’t eat (no offence to the woman in question, but god knows what could have been in them. No hash apparently, much to David’s disappointment). More importantly, he was also thrown a box of Yorkshire Tea at one point to tide him over on tour, and being a Yorkshire lad who’s been known to rave about the stuff on twitter, I expect it was very much appreciated. I wish people would randomly give me boxes of tea, I get through so much of the stuff, it’d really save me a fortune.
As I said, there’s been near on forty band members over the years, and not all of them have lived to see the 35th anniversary, so David Coverdale took a moment to dedicate Gambler to fallen Snakes Mel Galley, Cozy Powell and Jon Lord, to great applause. To span a 35 year set list, some songs were performed almost as medleys. They’d start with one song and merge it into another (as they did with Bad Boys and Children of the Night), or just play the first half of a song (as I think they did with Best Years). To be fair it’s quite a large time scale to get through, and obviously the set lists are more time-restricted when there are three bands on the bill. There was the customary drum solo thrown into the middle of Steal Your Heart Away, complete with Tommy Aldridge discarding his sticks all together and playing them like bongos (which must surely have been more painful than playing actual bongos), and of course it wouldn’t be a Whitesnake gig without a fret-melting showdown in the form of a guitar battle between Reb Beach and Doug Aldrich. Poor Reb Beach. He’s a great guitarist and seems like a really lovely guy, but then they plonk him next to hugely popular Doug Aldrich, who is ridiculously pretty and charismatic, frequently has his pecs out, and is known for being completely adorable on social media for being a doting daddy and posting lots of sweet photos of himself playing with his little boy. Poor Reb doesn’t stand a chance in the knicker-throwing stakes. I’m going to come across as being tremendously shallow here, but I do find myself looking at them side by side and thinking “Goodness, look at Doug, isn’t he hugely talented and beautiful!” and at the same time “Goodness, look at Reb, isn’t he hugely talented but I do wish someone would give him a wash and a shave!” He does genuinely come across as a very lovely person though and I do think he’s hugely talented, so I’m terribly sorry Reb, no offence meant, but maybe it’s time to reconsider the length of your locks?
Anyway, I digress. I was quite glad to have a seat at this point, as it’s normally during the guitar battles/drum solos that I start to feel a bit faint, mainly because everyone completely stops moving/dancing to watch and it’s then that you realise quite how hot it is and how very still the air is, and don’t these places have air conditioning or something, oh look, someone’s gone down like a sack of spuds and I’m always terrified that it’s going to be me next. It’s around this point that I normally whip out a cheeky fruit pastille for a sugar burst and start rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet for safety.
So, solos over with, back comes David, and the first pumping, foot stomping begins all over again, and builds up to a crescendo of classic Whitesnake tracks, finishing on a run of Fool for Your Loving, Here I Go Again and, for the grand finale, head-banging metal classic and absolute crowd favourite Still of the Night. It’s a great choice to finish on, everyone’s wired, the crowd are absolutely loving it, and oh look, Doug’s lost his shirt. Fun times all round indeed.
Then it was Journey’s turn to rock the joint, and rock it they did. Here’s a fun rock fact for you: Neal Schon actually found current singer Arnel Pineda in 2007 after seeing videos of him singing Journey songs on Youtube, and now he’s fronting the band! It’s like a rock fairytale, and Arnel’s still so adorably sweet and grateful for the opportunity, he really does come across as the most polite and well-mannered frontman I have ever seen. My particular favourite moment was when they came on stage to my absolute favourite Journey song, Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) which was every bit as good live as I hoped it would be, and then Arnel Pineda greeted the crowd by saying “Thank you for your kind sentiments!” Such a well-spoken and well-mannered man! I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite such an excitable front man either, he was leaping all over the place like a child who’s eaten too many flying saucers, and it made his comparative youth so much more apparent when everyone else was playing their instruments in a mainly static way (save for the many guitargasm faces Neal Schon managed to pull). They continued in this high-energy vein by following Separate Ways with Any Way You Want It and Ask the Lonely, a great run of very popular songs to begin their set with.
Just like Whitesnake’s guitar battles and drum solos, Journey provided everyone with a chance to shine so that Jonathan Cain had a few prolonged-ish keyboard solos, and drummer Deen Castronovo took the lead vocals on Keep on Runnin’. Arnel very politely requested everyone to please get out their phones during Lights, so we had the obligatory cheesy phone waving moment that has to happen at least once in every gig apparently, although obviously no one could agree on a phone waving rhythm or direction so there were lots of spots of light bobbing randomly throughout the stadium, which was perhaps not the desired effect but quite funny nevertheless.
It was high energy performance after high energy performance, Arnel never seemed to tire running from one end of the stage to the other, climping onto the amps and jumping off the drum riser, so that I felt quite exhausted just watching. He was really pushing for crowd involvement too (which was great), but by the end of the gig the heat in the stadium coupled with copious applause meant that my hands had swollen up so much that my fingers were chafing and my rings were digging in rather comically. I swear my fingers must have doubled in size, it was ridiculous. It’s the crowd choir that’s my absolute favourite part of going to gigs though. Hearing thousands and thousands of voices singing together, and knowing you’re a part of it, it makes my spine tingle every time. I get such a buzz out of trawling through youtube videos of gigs afterwards, hearing huuuge audience participation and thinking “I was part of that”, it’s just fab. Thunder had it with Love Walked In, Whitesnake had it with Give Me All Your Love and Still of the Night, and then it was Journey’s turn with their finale run of beautiful ballad Faithfully followed by the ridiculously massive hit Don’t Stop Believin’. What a note to end the night on! I came away feeling on such a high, and sounding ridiculously hoarse and scratchy having whooped and cheered and belted out all the hits at the top of my lungs. I still sounded pretty rough the next day, and that’s when you know that it was a great gig.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s quite clear that I and my friends had a great time, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and if we’d had the chance to go again the next night and the next night and on and on and on, we would have grabbed it with both hands and probably had as great a time every single night. But there were some elements of the crowd that were not loving it or weren’t in the right mood or something and, frankly, were pretty damn flat. I wasn’t lying when I said there was a real party atmosphere in the stadium, because there really was and the block next to us were absolutely having a ball. But it’s time to name and shame Nottingham, because the block we happened to be in, Block 5, were, frankly, absolutely crap, and I just found it all really weird. We tried to have a boogie during Whitesnake but a lady behind us yelled at us to sit down, which is fine because I wouldn’t want to block anyone’s view (and I’d be pissed if someone did that to me), but because of the tiered seating I wouldn’t have thought it’d be a problem. Anyway, we didn’t want to upset anyone so we contented ourselves with some pretty enthusiastic chair dancing, and we still had a great time. Looking round our block though, it was like everyone was sat in their front rooms watching tv. No one was moving, no one was joining in or clapping, people sort of looked like they’d ended up there by accident and didn’t know how to respond. There was a girl sat in front of me who was actually on facebook on her phone, probably telling the world what a great time she was having when she wasn’t actually looking at the stage and was missing everything that was going on. You’ll obviously get people who are more keen on one band than another when it’s a triple bill; like I said, I love all the bands but I was mainly there to see Whitesnake. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to enjoy the rest, or that I wouldn’t bother seeing them because I’ve paid to see three bands and I damn well want to see them all (despite our unfortunate Thunder-timings-blunder). But there were quite a few people in our block who left after seeing Whitesnake, and quite a few more who didn’t even arrive until Journey. Everyone was sat there being so unresponsive, I wouldn’t have been surprised to be told that they were all in a coma. It just seemed downright weird, and I was actually really embarrassed. I hated the thought that the bands might look our way and think “they’re hating this” or, even worse, like we couldn’t even be bothered to form an opinion. I just think it’s so ungrateful to not show your appreciation when bands have travelled to put on a show for you, so if anything my friends and I were overdoing our cheering and clapping to make up for everyone we were sat with being so crap, because we were genuinely having a great time and I wanted the bands to know it. I’m sorry, but if you’re not even going to clap when a band that’s just played its arse off for you leaves the stage, then that’s just downright rude. Why even turn up if you don’t want to join in? It annoys me because those tickets could have gone to people who’d really appreciate it and have an amazing time and contribute to the great atmosphere, it’s just a wasted opportunity. We were sat next to a couple who’d been to the same show in Manchester earlier in the week, and they said everyone was on their feet and having a great time, and it was a completely different atmosphere, which made me a bit sad because I don’t want to be associated as part of a crap audience. We wanted to be on our feet but we couldn’t, but I think we left those around us in no doubt that we were enjoying ourselves and were over the moon that we had the chance of seeing Thunder, Whitesnake and Journey together.
But like I said, that was by no means a reflection of the atmosphere or the audience as a whole, it was just where we happened to be sat. It was obvious looking at the rest of the crowd, and from seeing people’s videos on youtube, that the majority of the audience were really having a great time. We unfortunately happened to be sat with a bunch of fun sponges. If we’d been able to hop across to the block next door, we’d have been partying away on our feet with the rest of them; as it was, we were partying away in our chairs, but I hope if any bands happened to look our way we made it obvious that the three of us were having a ball, and I’m not going to let a bunch of miseryguts detract from what was a really great evening.
Thunder: Dirty Love, River of Pain, Higher Ground, Low Life in High Places, Backstreet Symphony, The Devil Made Me Do It, Love Walked In, I Love You More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Whitesnake: Give Me All Your Love, Ready an’ Willing, Can You Hear the Wind Blow, Don’t Break My Heart Again, Gambler, Love Will Set You Free, Is This Love, Guitar Duel, Steal Your Heart Away (+ Drum Solo), Forevermore, Best Years, Bad Boys/Children of the Night, Fool For Your Loving, Here I Go Again, Still of the Night.
Journey: Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), Any Way You Want It, Ask the Lonely, Only the Young, Stone in Love, Keep on Runnin’ (Deen Castronovo), Edge of the Blade, Lights, Open Arms, One More, Escape, Dead or Alive, Wheel in the Sky, Be Good to Yourself, Faithfully, Don’t Stop Believin’.
See previous Gig Review, featuring Europe’s Bag of Bones Tour.