@ Newcastle O2 Academy, July 27 2011

Two questions dominated the build-up to Black Country Communion’s eagerly anticipate headline show in Newcastle, just four days after the self-styled super group amped up High Voltage.

Are this band worthy of the hype? And are tickets for BCC worth £40 a pop? 

On this evidence the answer to both is a resounding yes. As sounds for your pounds go it’s unlikely there’s a better mixed classic rock show on the live circuit right now – the engineers got this spot on at a venue renowned for its notoriously iffy acoustics. Not since Tesla took Tyneside by storm two years back has the Academy enjoyed a gig enhanced by such clarity and class.

But a heady night in Newcastle wasn’t all about BCC. First up an in-form Michael Schenker delivered what must be one of his best performances in years – when he’s good he’s great and the fret-melting German never missed a note as he mixed UFO classics with Scorpions standards and a couple of incredibly catchy tracks from his new solo record.

Rock You Like A Hurricane roused the masses and the extended version of Doctor Doctor allowed Schenker to roll out the full repertoire of dextrous guitar skills which, in later years, have too often been dulled by ill-advised off-stage antics. Guitar heroes don’t come any more mesmerising but the decision to offer Pete Way a spot in the limelight looked ill-advised from the start.

The former UFO rhythm king is battling back to full fitness and his guest appearance from the wings drew warm applause. What followed, however, was less than convincing as Way fought his way through Rock Bottom before dipping dramatically on Doctor Doctor. Schenker – the master of inconsistency –  has been there and done that but, on this occasion, the former Scorpions’ man’s inspired performance only served to highlight Way’s shortcomings.

There was never any doubt about who would take the bass-playing plaudits and from the off Glenn Hughes offered up a thrilling masterclass. Working in tandem with Jason Bonham, the former Trapeze and Deep Purple man ensures the engine room of BCC is the band’s unshakable foundation – so solid are the renowned rhythm kings that Joe Bonamassa and Derek Sherinian have the platform to mix rehearsed segments with moments of off-the-cuff brilliance.

Far greater than the sum of their individual parts, BCC is a band poised for the big time. This was a show with arena ambitions squeezed into a theatre-sized venue and the production standards mirrored the men on stage in terms of sheer professionalism.

Opener Black Country set the scene with its heavy blues rock refrain and Hughes’ heartfelt lyric – more and more it’s becoming obvious that BCC are no flash-in-the-pan cash cow set to disappear into the super group ether and this emotive tune captures that school of thought.

Of the new tracks the Bonamassa-penned Hadrian’s Wall pulls together everything that’s great about this band and the gripping narrative clearly found favour with a crowd singing along just a stone’s throw from the famous Roman structure. The Bonham-inspired Save Me is rapidly emerging as the best BCC track to date and Cold could well be one of the greatest songs Hughes has been associated with during a long and decorated career.

Two albums in a year could have diluted both the quality and impact of BCC’s work but the decision to roll out back-to-back records in quick succession has done just the opposite. With more songs and more variety the band’s live show has rapidly become one of the must-see rock events of the year and only Hughes’ advancing years will prevent this effervescent quartet from becoming one of the biggest acts of the decade.

Right now BCC’s charismatic leader appears fitter than ever and a splendid rendition of Burn, to wrap up a truly wonderful show, suggested there’s more than enough life in the old stager yet. Let’s hope so. BCC’s rapid ascent shows no sign of slowing.

(Picture courtesy of Gordon Armstrong)

Simon Rushworth