It was a Monday night at Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie, but the rock n roll charisma on display from THE ANSWER and headliner WHITESNAKE turned this into a Saturday fucking night! Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland THE ANSWER falls into my category of “favorite bands that no one has ever heard of” and it is criminal that they aren’t HUGE! I saw these guys open for AC/DC on the Black Ice Tour and they also played a couple of surprise shows at a local eatery in Ardmore, OK in the winter of 2008-2009 (documented in their rockumentary 412 Days of Rock n Roll). These guys blew me away then and I have longed for them to come back to the U.S. since. In support of their new Napalm Records release, Raise a Little Hell, they opened their set with the bombastic, “I Am What I Am” from the aforementioned disc. In fact, four of the six songs in their set come directly from Raise a Little Hell.
Next, from 2013’s New Horizon, the band burst into “Spectacular”. Lead singer Cormac Neeson looked completely comfortable on this large stage even after admitting that the band got held up in customs by US immigration agents in Dublin, Ireland due to a freeze being issued on visas. Turns out, some of the customs agents were rock n roll fans and made an exception to allow this band that they “thought” was WHITESNAKE to enter the United States!
Next up was a song about a girl with red lips like strawberry wine, “Red”. The rhythm section of Micky Waters (bass) and James Heatley (drums) were solid as a rock all night and sounded as if they had been playing together all of their lives. The highlight of their set was a bit of self-proclaimed Northern Ireland Swamp Music – “Under the Sky”, from their debut record, Rise.
This has been my favorite song by THE ANSWER since I first heard them play it live at Two Frogs Grill in Ardmore, OK over 5 years ago. I suppose it is obligatory to have a shit-hot guitar player (or two) if you want to have a successful rock band. Paul Mahon is an absolute BEAST on the 6-string. For me, he conjures up images of THE CULT’S Billy Duffy with his rockstar pose and monster tone and sound, but this guy is *just a kid*!. Criminally under-rated guitar player…criminally underrated band.
The group closed their all-too-short set with the title track from Raise a Little Hell. Cormac Neeson jumped off stage and mingled with the crowd while singing the song and then promised that as soon as the set was over, he was going to walk straight out to the merch booth, drink a beer and try to convince anyone that he talked to to buy some of their shit! And he did it. He walked straight up the stairs from the stage to the venue’s foyer. I personally stood in line for about 15 minutes to get my picture with him. And he didn’t try to convince me to buy any of their shit because they sold out of their allotment for this show in 10 minutes!
I was concerned that I might miss the beginning of WHITESNAKE while waiting for my picture to be taken with THE ANSWER, but I made it back in time.
Midway through THE WHO’S “My Generation” the lights went down and I easily recalled the first and only time that I saw WHITESNAKE live. It was in 1988 as they opened for MÖTLEY CRÜEon the Girls, Girls, Girls tour. At the time they were supporting their most commercially successful release, 1987’s self-titled album. To see this band *opening* for the CRÜE seemed wrong, but it was a GREAT bill. On this night in June 2015 in Texas, WHITESNAKE was touring behind just-released The Purple Album, a celebration of the era when David Coverdale fronted the incomparable DEEP PURPLE some 40 years ago!
The boys opened their set with a DP classic “Burn”. Six guys on stage going absolutely berserk as they tore through this frantic number and then went right into “Slide it In” and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” from that classic 1984 release.
The dual guitar work of Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra laid down a wall of sound very reminiscent of the Guitar Gods that had played these songs before them. Did you know that June 22 was No Panties Day? Well, Coverdale knew this and expressed his gratitude in being in – of all places – Dallas, Texas on this wonderful occasion. The next song up, “The Gypsy,” includes one of the most monstrous riffs you will hear in the DP catalogue masterfully executed by Beach and Hoekstra. They then went immediately into “Give Me All Your Love”. This was a great sing-along song for the audience that Coverdale had eating out of the palm of his hand. The next DP classic was dedicated to the deceased Jon Lord and Tommy Bolin, keyboard and guitar player respectively. Reb Beach played a beautiful, acoustic intro to this song and the keyboards interlaced by the Italian Michele Luppi were flawless.
Bass player Michael Devin contributed some lead vocals to this cut just as Glen Hughes did back in the day. The pace of the music slowed during this part of the set, Coverdale acknowledging the frigid conditions in the Verizon Theater: “I could sign checks with my fucking nipples tonight! It’s COLD!” And then another acoustic intro, this one by Hoekstra, for the love song, “Forevermore”, the title track from the band’s 2011 release.
Obligatory guitar solos ensued with Reb Beach going first. His was reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen with a lot of finger-tapping on the neck of the guitar. It was loud, It was fast. It was Reb Beach getting it done! Next was Joel Hoekstra. I have to tell you that just looking at this guy he *looks* like Sebastian Bach! But he shreds like John Sykes.
His solo felt a little more classically inspired and he played the sparkliest purple Gibson Les Paul that I have ever laid my eyes upon. From here, the band tore into “Mistreated”, a heavy blues number from 1974’s Burn LP. Michael Devin came to center stage with his harmonica and started off “You Fool No One”. The ageless wonder Tommy Aldridge threw down the beat and the band jammed for a minute or two before he began his drum solo in earnest. I’ve seen him live about a half dozen times with different bands (OZZY, WHITESNAKE, TED NUGENT). During this solo, Aldridge dropped a drumstick, but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t see it – he never missed a beat. About 4/5ths through the solo he launched BOTH of his drumsticks into the crowd and finished his solo WITH HIS BARE HANDS! What an animal!!! Bassist Michael Devin again assumed lead vocal duties as the entire band finished “You Fool No One”.
Coverdale then introduced the “Snakes”: Beach and Hoekstra on guitars, Devin on bass guitar, Aldridge on drums and Luppi on keyboards. Done with the DEEP PURPLE material at this point, WHITESNAKE finished with a fury on four straight songs from the self-titled record: “Is This Love,” “Bad Boys,” “Here I Go Again” and the finale, “Still of the Night.” The highlights for me at this show were the opener, closer, and everything in between! It was a unique opportunity for me to be able to experience the music of TWO different but influential bands from the 70’s and 80’s. David Coverdale’s parting words to the audience: “Be safe, be happy and don’t let anybody make you afraid!” Followed by his classic screech – YEEEE-OWWWW!!! I pondered these words as I made my way up the stairs to exit the venue. My thoughts trailed as I neared the exit doors and saw Cormac Neeson still there. Still meeting and greeting fans and taking photos. What a guy…
LIVE WORDS: BRICE CHANIN
LIVE PHOTOS: CRYSTAL FAYE PHOTOGRAPHY