Whitesnake and Def Leppard Live at the SSE Hydro
It was a typically quiet afternoon in my local boozer when the email confirming decibelROGUE’s accreditation to photograph Black Star Riders, Whitesnake and Def Leppard arrived with a ‘ping’ in my inbox. I took one look at the words which said “you’re in”, punched the air with both hands while jumping off my barstool and shouting ‘YESSSSS!!!’ With the silence completely shattered, I apologised for my outburst, sat back down and let the good news sink in.
There was only one slight catch, if you could even call it that. I would ‘only’ be in the arena during the first two or three songs of each band’s set, since there wasn’t a review pass available for me. I didn’t care though, because I was gonna be photographing some absolute rock legends. And in any case, you can probably guess by looking at the size of this feature, I eventually DID see much more of the show than just a handful of songs!
I have to admit that after my first visit to Glasgow’s vast SSE Hydro a while back, I was rather nonplussed by the place. That’s probably because on that particular night it was set up as an all-seater arena. And I had to photograph the band from the sound desk – sixty damned yards away from the stage. Not my favourite night of music photography to say the least. And the all-seated layout seemed to create a rather soulless, restrained environment for a concert. However, the set up for this show couldn’t have been more different. All the seats on ground level had been removed, and a long runway extended from the massive stage right out into the middle of the arena. That’s more like it!
As most of you will know, Black Star Riders is Thin Lizzy’s vehicle for releasing new material. Since forming in 2012, they’ve released two cracking albums and have grown a tremendous reputation for their live shows. Oh, and the best bit is they can dip into a huge back catalogue of Thin Lizzy classics to add that extra touch of class to their concerts. Unfortunately for me however, I would only be in the room for their opening three songs, so I had my fingers crossed that they’d play at least one Thin Lizzy classic before I had to leave. Thankfully, I only had to wait until the second song, because after opening with ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’, they launched into a brilliant rendition of ‘Are You Ready’.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye however, Ricky Warwick and the boys had rocked their way through third song ‘The Killer Instinct’ and a nice security lady was making sure I found my way out of the photopit, out of the arena and into the foyer. As gutted as I was to be leaving, the fact that I was being escorted out while the band were tearing through ‘Jailbreak’ made me smile. The thought of making a run for it and losing the security lady in the audience crossed my mind at that point. Although I reminded myself that there were two more bands still to come. And I REALLY wanted to photograph them. So out I went…
After heading back into the photopit for Whitesnake, I had a look around the vast arena and noticed it was pretty much full. Pretty much full, but not completely. There was still a little bit of space in the standing area. Perhaps there were a couple of tickets still available? I decided there and then that there was no way I was gonna be kicking my heels outside while Whitesnake were onstage, and there was NO WAY I was gonna head home before Def Leppard had finished their encore. So when I was escorted out the arena after Whitesnake’s first two songs, I made a dash for the Box Office where I was able to get a ticket for the show. Result!
That decision turned out to be rather good one, because Whitesnake were absolutely, positively, immense. David Coverdale may be old enough to qualify for a bus pass, but from the moment he swaggered onstage he had the whole arena in the palm of his hand and led the audience on a 13 song blitz through Deep Purple and Whitesnake classics.
The first thing that struck me about the Whitesnake of 2015 is just how good they sound. This was the first time I had seen them live so can’t compare this performance to one from their ’80’s heyday. However, there was a far more aggressive edge to their sound than I expected. More heavy metal than hair metal I guess you could say. Guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach were absolutely formidable operators. Down in the engine room of the band though, Tommy Aldridge was quite extraordinary on drums. He, like UFO’s Andy Parker, is in his mid 60’s, yet can put drummers a third of his age to shame with his power and accuracy. And then you have Mr Coverdale himself. The consummate rockstar frontman. Still got it. End of.
The band’s latest record ‘The Purple Album’ was released earlier this year as a celebration of Coverdale’s time with Deep Purple, and many of it’s tracks featured here. However, I was most looking forward to the tail end of the set when Whitesnake would play their signature hits. And if the atmosphere was electric at the beginning of the show, it went to a whole different place as Coverdale and the band ripped through ‘Is This Love’, ‘Fool for Your Loving’, Here I Go Again’ before rounding out an incredible performance with ‘Still of the Night’.
Had the night ended there and then, I don’t think anyone would have gone home feeling short-changed. But it wasn’t over quite yet. Not by a long way…
It’s not often I get nervous before I photograph a band, but as I was standing in the photopit waiting for Def Leppard to take to the stage, I was still trying to get my head around the fact I was actually going to photograph the band that made me fall in love with rock music in the first place, half a lifetime ago. My goosebumps had goosebumps!
There are some bands you just can’t imagine playing in small venues, and Def Leppard are certainly one of them. Arenas are their natural habitat. While most bands out there would kill to have even just one song which can rock an arena, Joe and the guys have made a career out of writing them. And given this awesome back catalogue is now joined by their excellent new self-titled album, how does the band decide what goes on their setlist? Problems, problems…
The good news for everyone in the audience was that this was very much a greatest hits kind of gig, with a couple of new songs thrown in for good measure. When I reviewed new album ‘Def Leppard’ a few weeks ago I felt that there were two tracks in particular which would sound brilliant live – and I was right. Opening song ‘Let’s Go’ kicked their set off in typically thunderous style, while ‘Dangerous’ had the place bouncing and is surely destined to become a classic Def Leppard arena-rocker. The big hitters, ‘Animal’, ‘Love Bites’, ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ from the band’s iconic Hysteria album sounded as good today as they did all those years ago. In fact, I’d argue that since (as is widely conceded) Hysteria was produced to within an inch of it’s life by Mutt Lange, hearing the band playing these songs live beats the studio versions hands down. And even after all those years Joe Elliot is still hitting notes other singers can only dream of.
There were a few nice reminders of Steve Clarke during the show, in particular during ‘Hysteria’ when a montage of photographs from the bands heyday played on the big screen at the back of the stage. And there were a number of photographs containing an extremely youthful looking Viv Campbell, which made me think “Bloody hell, Viv’s been with the band a long time now!” 23 years or so in fact. How time flies, eh?
A nice rarity which made it into Thursday’s show was ‘Switch 625’ from 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry. Since it is an instrumental song, Joe Elliott had an opportunity to nip backstage for a well earned cuppa while the rest of the band, and Rick Allen in particular, took centre stage. He performed an astonishing drum solo which was so powerful, it was probably detected on a seismometer in Australia somewhere, and deservedly got the biggest cheer of the night from the adoring audience.
As with all good things though, the evening had to end. And the band did it in style with two of the stand-out songs from Pyromania: ‘Rock Of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’. When the music finally, sadly, stopped and the band said it’s goodbyes, Joe promised that Def Leppard will return to Glasgow for another show at some point – as long as we don’t forget them. I don’t think there’s the slightest chance that any one of the ten thousand or so fans in the audience will forget! None whatsoever!
If there was a prize for being the happiest band in the world right now, Def Leppard would win it easily. They were in their absolute element here, and clearly revelled performing in the fantastic atmosphere of such a huge venue. In fact, all three bands seemed to enjoy the occasion as much as the audience loved watching them. This was an extraordinarily special night of rock music, featuring three legendary bands, hosted in what has just become my new favourite concert venue.
Just don’t put the seats back please…
Def Leppard Setlist
1 Let’s Go
5 Love Bites
6 Armageddon It
7 Rock On
8 Two Steps Behind
10 When Love and Hate Collide
11 Switch 625
13 Let’s Get Rocked
14 Pour Some Sugar on Me
14 Rock of Ages
Def Leppard Gallery
Black Star Riders Gallery