@Newcastle Metro Radio Arena, December 9 2015
#HowayTheLads read the crowd-pleasing hashtag on Rick Allen’s sparkling drum kit: a canny gesture from Def Leppard’s astute drummer and a subtle call to arms in front of a North East crowd that still needs convincing of its prominent place in rock and roll folklore.
Increasingly ignored by the genre’s biggest names (Heart, Black Stone Cherry and Manic Street Preachers are just three of the bands missing out Newcastle next year), it’s little wonder the locals take some warming up when an arena show does eventually roll into town.
And those who have religiously followed the fluctuating fortunes of the co-headliners during the last decade were right to approach this date with a degree of trepidation and, whisper it quietly, a lack of expectation.
The truth is neither Def Leppard nor Whitesnake can lay claim to be the most consistent of live performers but this was the night both bands came good and shook the masses out of their sceptical slumber.
Like a walking, talking Wurlitzer, three (Thin Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders kicked things off) of the best loved bands on the planet fired out jukebox classic after jukebox classic on a mission to reconnect with their North East brethren.
It was hard rock’s equivalent of the hard sell. Indeed, had Newcastle failed to respond in the face of a barrage of audio-visual brilliance, all hope that the city could retain its fabled status would surely be gone.
Reassuringly, musicians and punters rallied as one to deliver one of the standout shows of 2015. And each band’s genuine affinity with the region was reflected in three emotive, almost immaculate sets.
Black Star Riders conceived their debut album near the banks of the Tyne and frontman Ricky Warwick clearly revelled in that breakout record’s remarkable journey from Ouseburn studio to vacuous arena. All Hell Breaks Loose and Bound For Glory stand toe to toe with the Lizzy standards this band will always be known for and add genuine depth and a refreshing authenticity to the band’s increasingly varied back catalogue.
David Coverdale’s connection with the Newcastle rock crowd stretches back five decades. And it showed. The Whitesnake Choir came together at the City Hall in the late 70s and founding members sang their hearts out before the new recruits swiftly piled in. Coverdale responded with his finest vocal performance for decades – whether belting out the rabble rousing Bad Boys or slowing things down on the deliciously evocative Deep Purple cover Soldier Of Fortune, this was the perma-tanned Teessider at his captivating best. On form there is no better classic rock frontman and for 90 minutes Whitesnake’s wily old ringmaster was in the form of his life.
As a result Def Leppard had it all to do. Allen’s hand-written hashtag and Joe Elliot’s brief yet endearing blast of Fog On The Tyne might have been the extent of their own connection with the crowd but it was the thought that counted. That and the fact that Leppard pen singalong hits for fun – the majority of which were delivered with customary aplomb and smiles aplenty.
Sheffield’s finest love their work. There’s no gloomy posturing, shabby shoe gazing or contrived showmanship. With Leppard every note matters. There’s not a minute wasted. Not an opportunity missed. Let’s Go might be from the band’s new self-titled album but as it ushered in a set to remember you wouldn’t know it. Boasting all the hallmarks of a bona fide Leppard classic its infectious groove and pounding chorus set the standard.
Elliott cruised through the ballads – Love Bites, Two Steps Behind and When Love And Hate Collide exploding the myth that the singer’s best years are behind him. Flanked by best mate Rick Savage and ‘new boys’ Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, Leppard’s bullish leader led this lads’ night out with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a tenacious teen. Elliott may lack Coverdale-esque charisma but who else could sound so convincing launching into the hair metal cheese of Let’s Get Rocked?
Newcastle got rocked. Well and truly. Just like the old days. In fact this was the night the North East’s rock and roll heritage was reaffirmed, celebrated and further cemented.
Exclusive image courtesy of John Burrows