Twelve months ago Thin Lizzy took to the City Hall stage as a band in transition with new faces still finding their feet and a familiar air of scepticism threatening to cloud what turned out to be a truly memorable night.
Some 100 live shows later and the critics continue to be blunted as a core line-up galvanised by heavy gigging fuses confidence bordering on cockiness to give fans an exciting glimpse of Lizzy past and present.
Save for Damon Johnson – recruited from the Alice Cooper band to become the band’s third lead guitarist in six months – this is a settled group benefiting from golden time spent together.
And far from familiarity breeding contempt, those hours traversing the globe and honing a compelling stagecraft guarantee a show that screams quality from start to finish.
There has been no greater beneficiary of an energy-sapping schedule than frontman Ricky Warwick. The former Almighty man admitted nerves often blighted his early shows with the band at the start of 2011, with expectation weighing heavily on the tattooed shoulders of the endearing Ulsterman.
This time last year the Newtonards singer was, unsurprisingly, obsessed with getting every last detail right as he sought to fill the sizeable shoes of a long lost rock legend. And as a result his trademark ease in the gaze of a demanding crowd was missing. Technically flawless it was, nevertheless, a performance lacking in emotion.
Fast forward to January 2012 and Warwick is the epitome of new-look Lizzy – comfortable and cool with the focus placed firmly on entertainment.
Surrounded by some serious talent, the man leading Lizzy’s line has never sounded better. And, let’s face it, the competition for artistic plaudits is intense.
On one side stands long-time John Sykes collaborator and ageless rhythm king Marco Mendoza – never missing a beat standing shoulder to shoulder with new boy Johnson: the latest guitar hero to play the role of Brian Robertson may lack Vivian Campbell’s authenticity but there’s no denying he has the dexterity to deliver the licks that matter.
To Warwick’s left is the self-styled captain of the post-Lynott Lizzy and Scott Gorham can still cut it in the company of young buck Johnson. Brian Downey may not be, in Warwick’s words, ‘the greatest drummer in the world’ but his masterclass on Bad Reputation was awe-inspiring.
And then there’s the enigma that is Darren Wharton. For 95% of a Lizzy live show it’s impossible to know what the former Dare man is doing behind the banks of keyboards carefully positioned alongside Downey’s shiny kit. Save for a key stint on Still In Love With You, Wharton is lost deep in a mix barely able to accommodate three guitars and a rhythm section, let alone a fluffy tinkler.
It’s a role that surely requires revision as Lizzy move forward. Wharton, always smiling and often beguiling, must wonder if it’s really worth all the effort and his band mates might well question the need for a sixth pseudo-redundant member.
But as a whole there’s no doubt Lizzy remain one of the finest live bands on the planet. The encore of Emerald, Rosalie and Black Rose is unrivalled in classic rock and continues to evoke stirring memories of a talent much missed.
This band might lean heavily on the past but with Warwick to the fore there’s compelling evidence that Lizzy’s future will demand attention.
* Read rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth’s exclusive interview with Lizzy frontman Ricky Warwick here: