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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Whitesnake's 2016 Greatest Hits Tour



(This review of Whitesnake's Greatest Hits Tour originally ran in June 2016. Here it is again in case you missed it!)

In theory this is supposed to be just another fairly normal night in the life of an entertainment reporter. Show up at an event, gather info, grab photos and then make a quick get away. The same thing that I've done for better than twenty years. But on this particular evening the job itself is familiar, but the emotions attached to it, well they're larger than any high pitched screech that David Coverdale can hit. As Whitesnake's band members went through their own personal rituals to prepare for their recent show at The Fillmore Theater, a venue just outside of Washington, DC I found myself unexpectedly revisiting my own bit of history.

You see a few decades ago David Coverdale saved my life. Whitesnake and I go way back even if it has been a well kept secret. We go back thirty years to when my overly religious mother dragged me to church three times a week. I'd play hair band songs in my head just to survive the two hour sentence. Back to when I rushed to my after school job at a fish and chips place where I mopped up the baked potato bar and ran the register for hours. Having to strategically place the fast food joint's hat over my big hair was totally worth it just to escape the cult-like church's insistence that followers do as they're told rather than think for themselves.

Working a closing shift meant that I'd be coming home from work after mom fell asleep, something that did wonders for my love of music. MTV was banned from my house but what mom didn't know wouldn't hurt her and so once home after work I had my routine down. Every night I crawled out of my work uniform- the khaki pants and white polo shirt, threw them into the hamper and changed into my Esleep pajamas. I crept downstairs and took a deep breath as I turned on the small kitchen light. I'd quietly make myself a bowl of Ramen noodles and then I'd sit down on the floor right in front of the tv in the living room. My parents knew that I'd be up because I needed to eat something but mom had no clue that watching MTV was also part of my night.

I quietly turned the dial, making sure that the sound was completely off at first and once I was sure that there were no footsteps on the stairs a sense of relief would swallow me whole. This was my only hour at home that nothing and no one could invade. MTV always premiered new videos at the top of the hour and on one memorable night there was a song by Whitesnake called “Still Of The Night” coming up next on Headbanger's Ball. The song was brand new, off of the band's self-titled album, a record that would eventually go on to sell over eight million copies in the states alone. I can honestly say that I had zero advance thoughts about this band that I had never heard of before, but within two minutes about a million half sentences were flooding my brain.

The band's lead singer hit his opening pose and I swear the world spun a little faster for a second or two. A few minutes in and my jaw was on my lap. I realized that I had goosebumps all over and it was the singer's fault. This guy clearly still has IT, whatever that IT is. Maybe it was the way he ran his left hand through his hair or the way that he rocks back on his feet when he dances with a big grin on his face. Or it could be how graceful he actually is or the fact that my head rushes and I feel like jello every time that he mumbles “Oh baby” with a clear British accent.

David Coverdale and his fellow snakes went to church with me the following Sunday. The music in my head was far more real than anything going on in this building. I quite literally took David to church with me, a lot. His lyrics saved me from becoming an overachieving clone of my mother and also spared me her wrath. God forbid I actually fall asleep during one more message about how only 144,000 people would go to heaven while the rest of us would play with lions and tigers on a music-free paradise earth instead. I was pretty positive that Coverdale understood what it was like to feel completely alone while surrounded by hundreds of people. I would worship at his feet long before I would buy into the surreal church life that I was born in to.

Whitesnake really did help to save my sanity and in many ways also my life. Nothing around me made much sense at sixteen but those lyrics did. Somewhere along the way Coverdale went from being another hot rock star to an adult that actually “gets it” and I didn't have very many of those to look up to. Whitesnake brought me weekly salvation from a religion that cared more about controlling my every move than it did about the condition of my head or heart.

Eventually I found my way out and spending a few hours in the presence of modern-day Whitesnake meant that I would inevitably find myself reconnecting with that teenager that is usually a distant memory. As I stood near the stage waiting for the show to start I realized that the energy in The Fillmore was a lot different than usual. While it's generally a pretty popular venue, this near capacity crowd was really friendly. It felt more like a family reunion than a building holding a bunch of strangers and from the stories being shared around me I couldn't help but think that mine may not be the only life saved by this band.

Whitford/St. Holmes delivered a pretty fierce opening set with music from their recently released Reunion album. By the time they wrapped up with a medley of classics by Aerosmith and Ted Nugent it was obvious that they had made some new fans to go along with the large crew already singing along. During the quick changeover between sets people packed in a little tighter and settled in for whatever the snakes had up their collective sleeve.



A fifteen song set played to perfection was what Whitesnake delivered up to this electric Silver Spring audience. “Bad Boys” kicked things off and really set the tone for the rest of the show. Coverdale, Reb Beach (guitars), Joel Hoeskstra (guitars) Michael Devin (bass), Tommy Aldridge (drums) and Michele Luppi (keys) were ready to rock and the crowd responded immediately. The mixed demographic for this show was pretty interesting. The college kids behind me sang along just as loudly as the forty-something's beside me. Up ahead was a seventy-year-old in a vintage Whitesnake concert tee that played convincing air guitar right along with Joel.

Speaking of Joel, his solo featured him working magic on both his electric and acoustic guitar's with equal finesse and ease. He is certainly a legend in the making and his ear to ear grin is as genuine as it is infectious.


This show is dubbed as a “Greatest Hits Tour” and it really is exactly as advertised. The band ripped into classic songs like “Fool For Your Loving” and “Love Ain't No Stranger” early in the evening with Coverdale completely owning his place on the stage. Front men like him are truly few and far between and every movement feels intentional. While pacing the stage Coverdale makes eye contact and has real interactions with those in the audience. The exchanges are random, real and prove that the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee not only values his fans, but understands just how far a second of acknowledgment can go.


As the evening rolls on there are a few surprises, one being the inclusion of “Sailing Ships” to the setlist. The gorgeous acoustic intro gives way to proof that Coverdale's voice is as stunning as ever and I was personally thrilled when this song was followed by a particularly forceful “Judgement Day”. Within about eight minutes the snakes went from one musical end of the spectrum to the other without missing a proverbial beat.

“Crying In The Rain” has always been another favorite and quite frankly it alone is worth the ticket price because it includes an absolutely insane drum solo by Tommy Aldridge. If dancers leave everything on the dance floor then he left it all on his drum kit, quite literally. Halfway through he ditches his sticks and starts using his hands, fists and even forehead to stay on beat. The Fillmore crowd was loud all the way through the show but the eruption after his solo should have taken the roof off.



Whitesnake band leader RebBeach seemed to have a bit of a fan club of his own in attendance and why not? The man makes his guitar wail in ways that other musicians can only dream of doing and his solo was a testament to that. Michael Devin and his bass also had a moment in the spotlight during a really cool solo.


It wouldn't be a greatest hits show without a few of the classics that everyone knows, right? “Here I Go Again”, “Is This Love” and “Give Me All Your Love Tonight” were particularly inspired performances. Watching these guys together it's kind of hard to believe that they haven't been playing together for decades. Coverdale has said that adding new people and feeding off of their energy is part of what has kept him out there for so long and I believe it. They really do seem to not just feed off of each other, but bring out the best in each other musically.

There was one encore and only one was necessary. “Still Of The Night” brought down the house as only it could. Aside from it being a guitarists wet dream it is also Coverdale at his best. His scream is still legendary and he projects a kind of heat that is only possible by living completely in the moment. He has probably sang this song thousands of times and still completely connects himself to it. This song is a must-see-live for every hard rock fan out there and it was truly the only way to end such a fantastic evening.


I know that this is rumored to be Whitesnake's final tour and if that ends up being true then David Coverdale will most definitely be going out on his own terms because nothing is forcing him into retirement. The band is rock solid and appears to be having a great time performing together and people are still more than happy to plunk down money for tickets. Whitesnake is built to last and probably has a few more good years in them if they choose to continue touring the world.


It has been decades since I clung to the lyrics of “Judgement Day”, “Saints An' Sinners” and “Here I Go Again” as if my next breath depended upon it but seeing the latest incarnation of Whitesnake left me feeling equally winded.

What do you say to an artist that has no idea the impact that they've made on your life? Over the years I've had so many people tell me that music saved their life and I have admittedly thought that those words, that notion was just a little bit dramatic. But as I stood staring at Coverdale, in his black long-sleeve shirt, ripped jeans and still-perfectly tousled hair I realize, I am one of those people. I understand too that no matter how eloquent my words, they'll never capture the gut-level love and gratitude that I felt while watching him leave the stage.


Setlist

“Bad Boys”
“Slide It In”
“Love Ain’t No Stranger”
“The Deeper the Love”
“Fool for Your Loving”
“Sailing Ships”
“Judgement Day”
Guitar Solos
“Slow an’ Easy”
Bass Solo
“Crying in the Rain” (with Drum Solo)
“Is This Love?”
“Give Me All Your Love”
“Here I Go Again”

Encore

“Still of the Night”


A few clips from the June 29th show.


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