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Friday, May 17, 2013

Is this Journey end?

THERE are a ladies of a certain age, who remember the chart hits of the 80s, and who in the words of Bowling for Soup always wanted to be “dancing on the hood of Whitesnake’s car”.

Said ladies were much in evidence in the seated area of the Odyssey Arena last night, whether beguiled by Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing played on the children’s programme Glee, or simply trying to remember what it was like before they settled into the boredom of domestic hell.

This made it all the more the pity that more of them were not present when Thunder opened proceedings... Despite not having the full sound system, and at times a dodgy mix, Thunder reminded those who made the early start time just what blues-based hard rock should really sound like.

Those who made it in revelled in older tracks like Back Street Symphony and Low Life in High Places, and Danny Bowes, Luke Morley and co have been round the block long enough to carry (relatively) newer tracks off with aplomb.

And, it was a nice touch to catch out the crowd at the end of Low Life in High Places, by delaying the final word for just long enough to tease all.

With the cavernous Odyssey Arena, filling up nicely for Whitesnake promoters MCD deserve a commendable mention for daring to bring this line-up to Belfast just days after – despite the obvious appeal for those ladies of a certain age only there for Journey.

And it was those ladies who were mightily impressed by the trim shape of Doug Aldrich, while envious axe slingers could only nod appreciatively at his playing.

One of the great secrets of Dave Coverdale has been his ability to surround himself with musicians who complement and enhance the canon of Whitesnake songs with musical ability and stage moves.

Pushing 62 Mr Coversdale still cuts a healthy presence on the stage, his banter and trademark introductions (“Here’s A Song for Ya!) not so much clich├ęs but a reminder that this is band not yet in its halcyon, fading days.

Those not familiar with Whitesnake of old might have suspected the guitar solos and Tommy Aldridge’s (impressive) drum solo were a chance for Mr Coverdale to catch his breath, but it has always been Coverdale’s aim to give just exposure to what the more cynical might say is his backing band, but in reality are his onstage compatriots.

Drawing on songs from 80s classics through to an impressive rendition of their latest release’s title track Forevermore Whitesnake presented a cohesive force onstage, and making the empty spaces of the ice rink’s towering roof seem a little less foreboding.

Doug Aldrich’s solo was nicely rounded off when joined by Reb Beach to trade licks and shapes – and Mr Beach coming out with a harmonica was ‘interesting’ but a sure nod to the blues’ roots of the band.

When the ladies overcame their admiration for Mr Aldrich’s body shape and swooning ever so slightly at the thought of a 61-year-old singer still in great shape they were waiting for the ‘hits’; which Whitesnake duly delivered in the form of Fool for Your Loving and Here I Go Again.

But it was a nod to those who remember 1982 that the set concluded with Still of the Night. As always the band left the strains of ‘We Wish You Well’ as images of departed band colleagues were played on the backdrop – Mel Galley, Cozy Powell and Jon Lord.

And when it comes to backdrops, where Whitesnake combined simplicity, branding and capturing on stage images on a larger scale, Journey’s backdrop veered between existentialism through to just plain weird.

A low screen along where any rock act should just have a row of Marshall speakers was at times made almost invisible by track spots through to a backdrop of squares that at times were nauseating just to watch. No doubt this was planned by someone as a statement, but it would have perhaps been better utilised by the likes of Tool or for a field filled with people on acid trips.

It smacked of ‘trying too hard’.

There is little doubt that Arnel Pineda is a fine front man, his vocals capturing many nuances of Steve Perry in the ‘so-called’ classic line-up, (despite occasional mic problems) but herein lies the problem. It is all too close.

Whereas each iteration of the Whitesnake line-up as enhanced and altered the dynamic, Pineda  was seemingly brought in to help Neal Schon, Ross Valory, and keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Jonathan Cain re-capture from their breakthrough area.

There is a whiff of sanitised rock about Journey, lost in the stadia they can perform in, but perhaps better captured in smaller settings.

And, for many of the crowd they voted with their feet as the crowd noticeably thinned out during their set.

Of course, ‘classic’ FM radio tracks were aired- saving Don’t Stop Believing until the end -but at times it felt like a run through of the Greatest Hits album, which frankly sounds better on the car studio. Only real stand-out track was Wheel in the Sky, which was ruined by an overly complicated ending.

While enjoyable enough Journey have not managed to capture the sheer joy of helping the audience throw away cares in the exuberance of the night.

Unless they are able to produce some new, sellable material that crowds can warm to, they will fall far short of the balance Thunder and Whitesnake achieve and many similar acts manage without straining the patience of fans new and old alike.

Glee may have done a disservice to Journey, but it may be a fatal blow for the band as their star wanes when others of a similar vintage keep on playing.

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