Slightly more than a year ago, the curtain came down on the long and storied career of the mighty Thin Lizzy, when the band played their penultimate gig on Irish soil as they bade farewell to touring and prepared to launch a new identity through which to progress the Lizzy legacy. Tonight, exactly 368 days later, two-thirds of that last ever line-up – guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson, vocalist Ricky Warwick and bassist Marco Mendoza (with veteran drummer Jimmy DeGrasso replacing Brian Downey behind the kit) – return to the same stage to bring Black Star Riders‘ lengthy 2013 touring schedule to an end…
Bournemouth hard-rocking quartet Western Sand knew they would have to be on top of their game, opening proceedings in front of Warwick’s hometown crowd, and they rose to the challenge with confidence and panache, delivering a tight set of songs with enough grit under their fingernails to impress even the most unclean admirer of the art of the riff. Tyler Hains is a convincing frontman, while drummer Nathan Kay holds the attention with his charismatic display stage right – a performance matched by the whirling dervish that is Jimmy Bradshaw, who joins Hains to deliver some extremely nifty harmonic twin guitar melodies and solos. This young band definitely won (more than ) a few new fans tonight.
It’s rare that you get what you can honestly describe as an all-star line-up in such an intimate setting, nevermind as the middle order act, but The Dead Daisies do genuinely fit that description, as not one but two members of Guns N Roses – guitarist Richard Fortus (pictured left) and the ultra-cool Dizzy Reed amble across the stage, closely followed by onetime Cult drummer Charley Drayton and the towering figure of incumbent Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones. Perhaps the two least known musicians are the band’s founders – the stoical David Lowy and former INXS vocalist Jon Stevens – are the last to take the stage before this supergroup rip into a raucous set of classic old school r’n’b infused rawk ‘n’f’n’ roll, played with genuine enjoyment and passion.
Evincing the spirit of what I can only imagine Mott The Hoople sounded like at their loud ‘n’ proud fuck-you best, the sextet strut and swagger their way through a set that lies somewhere ‘twixt the arrogance of early Stones and the smooth locomotion of Motown. Fortus especially is having tremendous fun, throwing his guitar around with as much abandon as his smiles and perfectly counterpointing the cool vibe of Reed’s exemplary keyboard work, while the experienced rhythm section deliver the sort of powerhouse performance you would expect of musicians of such calibre. Stevens’ vocals are sometimes lost in the mix, and his attitude is slightly arrogant, but he fulfills his role with aplomb as the band deliver a hugely entertaining set which has most of the audience either dancing, clapping or swaying along.
As Ricky Warwick himself noted, what better city than Belfast for Black Star Riders to finish their inaugural tour? After all, second only to Dublin, this is a place steeped in the Lizzy legacy, not least through the direct connection with the late great Gary Moore (born just half a mile from this very venue)…
After a false start – the stage lights dim and the intro tape starts rolling while the guitar techs are still fine tuning – all hell does indeed break loose as the Riders stroll onto the stage, each member greeted with a huge roar, with the biggest reserved for the veteran Scott Gorham and hometown hero Warwick. The latter looks cool, calm and collected below his battered cowboy hat as the band rip their way through the title track of their debut album, before ‘Are You Ready?’ brings a hugely enthusiastic and positive response from the packed audience.
What follows is a blistering, sweat-soaked, sing-your-throat-hoarse evening of pure entertainment from a group of seasoned musicians playing with a combination of years of hard grafting and crafting of their sound mixed with the enthusiasm of a bunch of young upstarts out to impress… While placing emphasis very much on the (new) identity, the set pays due homage to the roots from which the band have grown, with a brilliantly selected mix of current and classic material (the split is almost 50/50 – slightly more than on the rest of the tour… but this is the island of Ireland after all!).
If anything, the BSR songs – and especially the likes of the Celtic jig that is ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ (which sees the audience quite rightly raising their voices high to the rafters) and the insanely catchy statement-of-intent of ‘Bound For Glory’ – is how steeped in the Lizzy heritage the band truly are, with Warwick proving once again that he is one of the few frontmen capable of bearing Phil Lynott’s mantle. This is emphasized even more not only in the rapturous response which Scott Gorham’s introduction of the Newtownards native evokes, but even more so on the well-selected Lizzy ‘covers’: a towering ‘Jailbreak’, a heartfelt and passionate ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, the gloriously rabble-rousing three guitar attack of ‘Emerald’, the tumultuous ‘Cowboy Song’ and the fiery fury of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’.
With DeGrasso underpinning the sound with a characteristically powerful performance, matching Marco Mendoza’s flamboyant style, Damon Johnson ducking and diving around Gorham’s masterfulness and Warwick whipping the crowd into a firestorm while filling out the guitar sounds with his own colourful interjections, this was a band genuinely enjoying themselves, kicking ass and answering critics in a style only they know how…
With a second album on the way next year, will Black Star Riders be able to step out of Lizzy’s shadow? Indeed, why the hell should they? Or, more importantly, will they be allowed to? At this stage, it is impossible to tell… but, for the moment, both the band and the fans seem very content with what they are doing, and BSR are keeping Lynott’s vision and legacy very much alive, and flying the Lizzy colours high and proud.
All Hell Breaks Loose / Are You Ready? / Bloodshot / Bad Reputation / Before The War / Jailbreak / Hoodoo Voodoo / Don’t Believe A Word / Kingdom Of The Lost / Hey Judas / Southbound / Kissin’ The Ground / Valley of The Stones / Emerald / Bound For Glory / Cowboy Song / The Boys Are Back In Town
Danny Boy (Damon Johnson guitar solo) / Whiskey In The Jar / Rosalie
‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ is available via Nuclear Blast.
Photographs by Marc Leach.