Whitesnake have been quite active visitors in Finland, this marked the fourth time the band has played on these shores since their latest reunion in 2003. The last time was at the Sauna Open Air festival in June 2008, right around the release of their new record “Good To Be Bad.” Due to conflicting schedules I had missed all three previous visits and was now determined to catch the show. Support act was a local band called The Milestones which didn’t interest us enough to venture inside the arena on time, we finally arrived few minutes before WS was due to begin.
The old icehall was almost full, only few seats here and there seemed to be empty when Whitesnake walked on stage during a lengthy intro piece. An anthem like opening track from the new album “Best Years” kicked off the show with Coverdale throwing shapes and doing his famous gestures with the mike stand. David screamed “Ere’s a song for ya!” and band launched straight into “Fool For Your Lovin’” – one of Snake’s most well known numbers it got the crowd on its feet for the first time. Newie “Can You Hear The Wind Blow” came third and this one had a cool guitar riff delivered by Doug Aldrich. Coverdale urged everyone to clap their hands along. Another classic “Love Ain’t No Stranger” again got people up on their feet. DC left some of the higher notes for the audience and generally sounded a bit weary but otherwise it was a quite enjoyable version.
In my opinion the best song on “Good To Be Bad”; “Lay Down Your Love” was up next, for some strange reason it didn’t work quite as well live unlike “Best Years” and “Can You Hear The Wind Blow” which both sounded a lot better than their album counterparts.
It was followed by an acoustic rendition of “The Deeper The Love” – a soft tune originally released on “Slip Of The Tongue” nearly 20 years ago. Aldrich sat on a stool in the centre of the stage and Coverdale stood beside him, the first slow song of the evening and like on every quiet passage during the show, David’s voice seemed to lift off in a completely different way than on the higher parts.
“Helsinki, I got a question for you, Is This Love?” The million selling ballad brought along good feelings and people were singing along nicely, the crowd reception on these classics was very good, in fact I thought Finnish crowd were surprisingly loud on some songs. The new stuff got a lukewarm response, polite but not too thrilling and thrills were nowhere to be found when after “Is This Love” began the boring part of the set, seemingly endless solos and jams. First up was a 10-minute “guitar battle” between Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach. Some guitarists do have interesting solo sections with classical interludes or special effects integrated, but this battle was not among them. For what it’s worth – Aldrich played some tasteful melodies while most of Beach’s twiddling was straight out of American hyper fast hundred notes per second” guitar school. But neither of these guys actually set the audience on fire, for most this was a total boredom from start to finish.
Several people could be seen heading for the bar and toilets through the guitar soloing, but what’s worse next up was arguably the dullest song from the new album “A Fool In Love” and a 10-minute drum solo straight after it. I understand this was probably in order to give Coverdale’s voice some badly needed rest but enough’s enough. If the band would have belted out “Crying In The Rain” in between the solos as they did through the 2003-2004 reunion tours and as late as last summer, the atmosphere I’m sure would have been 100 times better. But “A Fool In Love” as much as it tries cannot be compared to Whitesnake’s early blues classics and was just a plodding along aimlessly. Also Chris Francis as good as he is, isn’t Tommy Aldridge when it comes to making pointless drum solos even slightly entertaining.
Band introductions began with Coverdale calling out Uriah Duffy and for a second there I was afraid we might get a bass solo next...all members got a round of applause and Coverdale sang a snippet of “White Christmas” changing the lyrics: “I’m dreaming of a Whitesnake Christmas..” The stool returned and Coverdale marked rather sarcastically “A stool made out of finest Finnish wood and perfectly made for Doug Aldrich’s arse.” “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” was performed acoustically and while this is a good enough song, again it sort of went by with the preceding 20+ minutes of wasted soloing.
Luckily the rest of the set more than made up for this and was basically a fan favourite after another. Starting with awesome “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” WS gave a heavier, more melodramatic rendition with DC screaming his lungs out in the end. It was very different compared to those moody soulful versions from late 1970’s but I liked it a lot regardless. Of course the track is also a perfect fit for a crowd sing along and Icehall was loud enough to receive smiles from everyone in the band. Aldrich played a powerful solo towards the end and group launched straight into “Give Me All Your Love.” The song is a firm crowd favourite and from the back of the hall we could see the front rows jumping up and down enthusiastically. Once again the sing-along part in the middle was a success.
Timothy Drury fluffed the keyboard intro to “Here I Go Again” but otherwise this ended the main set with style. They came almost straight back and vocalist marked with a sly grin “Oh you know what’s coming next!” “Still Of The Night” of course – the audience loved ever second of it and David pushed himself during the high bridges, it wasn’t quite 1987 but close enough.
On some of the shows on this tour, they have ended the concert for good after this but now the band felt like it was a good night for continuing a little while longer. “We’ve got a real Christmas treat for you, you can hang it up on your tree if you like”. “Soldier Of Fortune” – one of my personal favourites, a beautiful closing track from Deep Purple’s “Stormbringer”. An excellent performance, acoustic guitar again supported by keyboards and Coverdale doing a brilliant job. Chills went down my spine during the verses.
Only one song left and it was time to “Burn” – again a song from in my opinion the greatest Purple album ever released and from that band’s best line-up. Since Purple themselves naturally have ignored this for the past 15 years or so, it’s good Whitesnake have re-introduced it. Their take is slicker compared to the original and there were far too many notes played in the famous lead break, but I guess it’s better this way than attempt a full copy, given how impossible task that would be. A snippet of “Stormbringer” appeared in the middle before final verses and a powerful ending. Thus began the usual outro of “We Wish You Well” as the band took their bows and left the stage.
So what was the experience like overall?
Of course there are plenty of opinions about the current incarnation of Whitesnake. After drummer Tommy Aldridge’s departure few years back, behind DC there is no one left from any of the pre-2003 WS. Nowadays they sound something like a cross between a 1987-era band and a bit rootsier 1990’s version. It’s very professional and all players know their instruments from top to bottom, but honestly only keyboardist Drury individually in his playing captured some essence of what purists might call “a true Whitesnake.” However, things such as these have hardly ever mattered to David Coverdale and I suppose as long as he’s behind the driver’s seat Whitesnake will continue to strive on. And why shouldn’t they? While different, this was by no means a crap tribute act.
Uriah Duffy and Chris Francis both built a solid foundation for soloists to work on, Duffy’s bass was mixed way up and those couple of parts where guitars and keyboards were taking a break, bass sound was really loud and clear. Timothy Drury like I mentioned just before, was great on keys and supported the acoustic numbers perfectly.
Doug Aldrich has now clearly been promoted to the top lead guitarist position and did almost all solos, the only one I remember Reb Beach playing was on “Give Me All Your Love.” He might have done one or two more but that’s the only one I can recall. Aldrich is a fine player and has the ability to morph himself into any band, he was great with Dio and has proven he can also deliver the goods as writing partner with Coverdale (not particularly on “Good To Be Bad” but very well on those studio cuts on “Live In The Shadow Of The Blues”). Beach is ok, but I’m not convinced he’s 100 % right player for WS. His work on Dokken’s “Erase The Slate” and later with The Mob was very impressive, so it sometimes feels like he’s underused in this band.
Coverdale’s voice like I previously mentioned was more than rough during the higher parts in the beginning of the show, but improved considerably as the night wore on and he got warmed up. He still absolutely rules on the slower stuff. During “Still Of The Night” in the encores, he belted out those famous yells but held back on bridge of “Burn” which obviously was originally sung by Glenn Hughes. This was a minor thing really. He commanded the stage with the usual mike stand gestures, and flirted with the ladies on the side of the stage quite often. One of those legends with a unique voice and plenty of mileage.
As for the set list, I could have done without the new songs as “Good To Be Bad” is merely average in my book and judging by the crowd’s reactions, most of them agreed with me. Wisely with the exception of “A Fool In Love,” the best songs from the album were pulled out and scattered in between WS classics so those new tunes actually sounded OK. Still there are about 50 Whitesnake gems I’d rather have heard tonight, but for now I shall mention just two: “Crying In The Rain” and “Don’t Break My Heart Again.” Actually “Crying In The Rain” was played during the first part of the 2008 tour in place of “A Fool In Love” and acoustic “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” was replaced by “Bad Boys” earlier in the set. Also “Guilty Of Love” and couple of other tunes from the new record have been heard on few shows. On the other hand we did get rare full rendition of “Soldier Of Fortune” so I guess there’s no point in complaining too much.
All in all it was great to finally witness this legendary band live on stage, even if it’s only Coverdale himself remaining from the classic line-ups. We had a good time and except the drawn out solos enjoyed most of the set, another one of those bands from the glorious heavy rock past you definitely want to catch before they are gone for good.