According to one popular reality television show it’s all about the voice. And given the fact that Danny Bowes, David Coverdale and Arnel Pineda barely missed a note in Newcastle it’s a point of view that’s difficult to contest.
All three were in sparkling form as the soft rock classics just kept on coming – Thunder’s Bowes setting the tone with his soulful, bluesy delivery, Whitesnake’s Coverdale countering with one of his most consistent performances in decades and Journey’s Pineda reinforcing his reputation as the AOR scene’s rising star.
However, with a who’s who of guitar heroes treading the boards on Tyneside the voices were just part of a sparkling package. And as the 80s anthems flowed the focus ultimately switched to the lords of the strings and a four-hour masterclass in fret-burning brilliance.
Luke Morley, Ben Matthews, Doug Aldrich, Reb Beach and Neal Schon nailed every solo and ripped through every riff. But there was more. Something few could have ever imagined or anticipated and a moment that will live with everyone present. When Whitesnake went back to the future and brought on Bernie Marsden to join the party, a collective gasp filled the rapt arena. Even the lads from Journey packed the wings for a better view of a genuine icon.
Marsden bravely shunned the shiny MTV-flavoured versions of Fool For You Lovin’ and Here I Go Again and took both songs back to where they started – his solo on the latter recalling the days before Coverdale became all-consumed with the trappings of fame, fortune and Tawny Kitean. It worked a treat before the shrill tones of Still Of The Night brought a triumphant close to the best Whitesnake show in decades.
Prior to their set, Aldrich told RUSHONROCK that Thunder had ‘kicked the asses’ of both Whitesnake and Thunder in Sheffield. The softly-spoken American was in reflective mood as he sat in the back of an empty truck revealing his band’s determination to up their game and justify their co-headline status.
Aldrich’s steely resolution had clearly rubbed off on local hero Coverdale – the Teessider overcoming a shaky start to lay to rest any lingering doubts about one of classic rock’s most revered voices. Forevermore, more than any other song on a setlist spanning 35 years, proved there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
But Thunder didn’t make it easy for Coverdale and co. to slip back into the comfort zone. The semi-retired bastions of bluesy British rock rifled through a 45-minute slot with Bowes’ idle banter juxtaposed alongside some seriously compelling music. A blistering version of Higher Ground brought the very best out of Morley and with Love Walked In any sceptics checked out. These days less is more where Thunder are concerned but their ‘national treasure’ status is assured.
Journey had it all to do as the final course of a sumptuous rock feast and they did it – in a thoroughly professional manner that occasionally bordered on the dispassionate. Pineda’s presence ensured a vibrant centerpiece to an uber-slick show but his band-mates consistently failed to follow the Filipino frontman’s exuberant lead. Nobody expected Schon and co. to match the band’s youthful singer stride for stride but an all-too static delivery from the band’s elder statesmen screamed indifference.
Jonathan Cain was the prime offender. Perhaps the multi-instrumentalist was buzzing behind that cool exterior but he looked like a musician going through the motions and dreaming of that cosy double bed at the lavish Malmaison.
More confident than ever, the former karaoke singer engaged his audience, reached the high notes and utterly overshadowed his plodding colleagues. Pineda is still hungry: too many of Journey’s flag-bearers look like they’ve already had their fill.
Of course there’s still no finer sight or sound than the polished US titans belting out Ask The Lonely, Only The Young, Faithfully and the ubiquitous Don’t Stop Believin’. Nobody does AOR better. But no amount of panache can compensate for a lack of passion.
Exclusive pictures courtesy of John Burrows @ishootgigs