Gig Review: Journey, Whitesnake and Thunder at the Motorpoint Arena, CardiffPosted: May 27, 2013
I headed to Cardiff yesterday with hopes of plenty of hope for plenty of fist in the air, no-nonsense classic rock and for the most part it didn’t dissappoint.
I’d queued up with my sister, noticing that for a change I was in the younger section of the audience at a gig and surrounded by older fans clearly recapturing their youth. The men were thicker of waist and thinner of hair than they’d probably been back in the day, but there was a pretty cool, friendly atmosphere and plenty of cougarish Whitesnake fans who’d probably lusted after David Coverdale back in the day.
Some of the younger fans might have hidden behind a mask of irony, but I think everyone was genuinely looking forward to belting out a few power ballads, it being a safe place free of judgement.
First up was Thunder, who I’ll admit were the band I knew least about. They were already in full swing when I got into the arena, and got the ball rolling pretty quickly. I only recognized one of their songs, “Love Walked In” but the rest of the set was pretty fun and got the crowd moving.
With members who have been playing together since the 80s they were pretty tight and reminded me of a pub band, but in the very best way. There was a real sense of fun to the performance and they were clearly having a whale of a time on stage. Frontman Danny Bowes played the crowd beautifully and seemed to have tongue firmly in cheek, injecting humour into his strutting performance.
By the end of the set I was keen to check out more of the band’s work and greatly impressed.
I’d wondered before the gig which one of the double bill headliners was to go on first, and it turned out to be Whitesnake. I saw them at Download back in 2009, and had really enjoyed their show then, so I knew what to expect and they delivered it in spades.
David Coverdale is a phenomenal lead singer, and was on fine form. He may be getting older but he still has the rock star aura about him, and was definitely proving to be a big hit with the older female section of the audience. There was a kind of gleeful, playful naughtiness in his performance.
When speaking Coverdale is oddly posh, and this along with his appearance makes him seem like a rather charming, disheveled old rogue. I’ve got to say I have a bit of a man crush on the dude, and he’s one of the best frontmen I’ve seen live.
Much of their stuff was kinda cool, bluesy rock but there’s a healthy amount of power chords and rock posturing. They blitzed through some lesser known hits before a good old power ballad singsong with “Is This Love”, one of the best examples of the genre. There was a bit of showing off from their guitarists, who duelled with each other.
Even the drummer got involved. Now, most of the time I’m against drum solos, as the boredom threshold is considerably lower than with guitar showing off. With drum solos you’re impressed for about half a minute and then you want them to wrap it up, but this one was saved thanks to Tommy Aldridge throwing away his sticks and using his bare hands to continue, which was kinda cool.
The set built up to a double whammy, with the group’s most famous hit “Here I Go Again” getting a massive response before they finished off with “Still of the Night”, clearly a fan favourite.
It was a brilliantly worked set, with the band keeping their momentum going and the crowd pumped, following up their slower songs with belting, more powerful ones to fire the audience up again. It was an awesome set and I had a big dumb grin on my face by the end.
Unfortunately, such a strong performance from Whitesnake left Journey with a tough act to follow, and they never came close to matching it.
That’s not to say they weren’t good and fun at times, but there were too many missteps. Firstly, there was the decision by Neal Schon to perform “Star Spangled Banner” due to it being Memorial Day weekend. Fair enough, if you feel like honouring the troops go for it, but did you really have to play the whole thing, Neal? It’s a bloody long song. And that’s without all the noodling and flourishes. It started off impressive and enjoyable, but by the end that was just gone and it seemed like self indulgent, needless showing off.
For me, their set never fully recovered after that. It robbed them of momentum and energy, and doing two slower songs back to back (“Open Arms” and “Faithfully”) didn’t help them out later, even if the crowd got into the first half of the ballad double bill.
The other downside was we all knew where the set was heading. When it comes to Journey, all roads lead to “Don’t Stop Believin’”, which they finished off with, and which, predictably brought the house down.
They weren’t completely terrible and most of the crowd lapped it up, but after Whitesnake if felt like a comedown. Although, I have a lot of respect for new frontman Arnel Pineda, the former cover band singer who had bags of energy, flinging himself about the stage with wild abandon. He had this kind of infectious enthusiasm and likability, and his voice is freakishly close to the original vocals on their big hits. He belted them out with great feeling and seems a born entertainer.
When they played their hits they were pretty damn impressive, and it was these songs that carried them through and made them quite good fun, but it was just let down by poor set structure and the fact every band member wanted their moment in the spotlight, leading to some tedious showing off parts.
A great night, but the wrong band was headlining.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.