Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Whitesnake Live At Donington 1990 - Album Review - They Got Too Good

It was the only time I ever saw David Coverdale take pause during a show. He literally froze in his tracks, and stared at the man beside me in the front row. He looked, smiled, and slyly asked, "what the f**k are you doing here?"

The man beside me was my boss at the time, guitar legend Michael Schenker, someone Coverdale obviously hadn't planned on seeing in New Orleans in March of 1990. They exchanged smiles, and David returned to the business of being the best frontman in hard rock, leading a band equipped with terrifying horsepower. Neither Coverdale, nor Schenker realized that their time was about up - they both had records high on the charts, but were about to be put to pasture by an out of tune, bitter band from the Northwest - Nirvana. They had made the fatal mistake, the mistake that put hard rock and metal on the shelf for the next decade - They got too good.

Whitesnake 1990. After four years of being at the top of the heap of the hard rock world, Coverdale put together his most talented touring outfit, featuring guitarists Steve Vai and Adrian Vanderberg, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and legendary drummer Tommy Aldridge. They packed out arenas across America, and Europe to great notices, and co-headlined for the second time, The Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington, perhaps the highest profile festival of its day.

Live At Donington 1990 is finally being released on CD, and DVD (Frontiers Records), and it is as good an example of just how good hard rock got. Coverdale is in amazing voice, the guitarists are afire, and the brutal rhythm section lets no one rest. Coming at the end of a decade that saw skills and adventurism ever escalate, this is indeed as good as it got. This is a great live record, by a great live band.

There are those who will say that the best Whitesnake featured John Sykes and Cozy Powell, others will say no, Moody and Marsden, but while all these lineups were worthy of the Whitesnake moniker, this set reveals an amazingly powerful band. This may have truly been the culmination of 14 years of band-building for the British vocalist, who is surely at the top of his game on this fantastic document.

Going back to that night in New Orleans, Steve Vai proved to me that he was perhaps the best pinch hitter of any guitarist in rock history. First, he took the reins of Yngwie Malmsteen in Alcatrazz, then he had the cajones to follow Eddie Van Halen as David Lee Roth's six stringer, and now was replacing a coterie of great axemen who had preceded him in Whitesnake. Slip of the Tongue, the record this tour was promoting, was not the best way to experience Vai. He had been called in as a last minute replacement for the injured Dutchman Adrian Vandenberg, and the result, while it made the top ten in both the UK, and America, was not the band's best. The songs had been written and arranged by Vandenberg, and it was left to Vai to do his best to fit in.

That night in New Orleans, I spent most of the evening at the side of the stage, sitting on Vai's dummy cabinet, which provided me with a rare glimpse of the naked Vai, with no effects added. I cannot remember ever being more impressed with a guitarist's performance, and mind you, this was at a time in which I heard Michael Schenker at the height of his abilities every night. He was that good.

Vai is not just a superbly original soloist, he is a stunningly good visual performer, and surprisingly a great rhythm player who leaves ample room for his co-pilot Adrian Vandenberg. Hearing this show some 22 years later, it is clear that musically, this was in many ways Vai's band onstage, and he drove it like a Maserati.

Adrian Vandenberg, mind you, is no slouch. While he is not as unique a voice as the wizard Vai, The Flying Dutchman is an astounding guitarist, and combines his melodic, and emotional soloing to create a two guitar team that provides thrill after thrill throughout this record. His solo showcase, Adagio for Strato, is a wonderfully soulful exhibition of bends, and melodious statements, which he immediately follows with the ricochet rock of The Flying Dutchman Boogie, aided by the always excellent Tommy Aldridge, whose pounding, and propulsive drumming keep Vandenberg on course. Then Adrian proceeds to wrap it up with a bit of neo-classical picking which shows he is second to no one. Bloody brilliant.

A few classic Whitesnke tunes later, and it's another solo slot, and Vai shows why he has had such a long, and successful career as the shredder's shredder. For The Love of God, Vai's first solo selection is taken off of Vai's top 20 album, Passion and Warfare, a record nearly as successful as Slip of the Tongue. A beautiful composition that is as beautiful as it is technically proficient. It's immediately followed by The Audience Is Listening, a chops fest that leaves one a bit worn, but appreciative.

Rudy Sarzo, and Tommy Aldridge provide the perfect launch pad for the guitarists histrionics, and Coverdale's incredible vocal performance. You can hear the experience they developed while working in Ozzy Osbourne's band with guitar prodigy Randy Rhoads, and together they create a constantly interesting and exciting rhythm section. Aldridge is one of the great performers behind the kit, sitting right between the quasi-jazz of Ginger Baker, and Mitch Mitchell, while embracing the showmanship and skills of Carmine Appice. Sarzo is the consummate pro, always being right in the pocket, but also playing some tremendous fills, and finding spots to shine in between the dazzling display of artistry from Vai, and Vandenberg.

Coverdale always takes the reins right back, and he delivers the goods with Here I Go Again, one of the best pop/rock songs of the decade. No matter how much the guitarists try, they never wrest the show from the man who fronted Deep Purple at California Jam. Coverdale is a man who, by virtue of his phenomenal abilities and success, was held to blame (quite unfairly) for all the excesses of the MTV '80s. All he ever did was to take the art to its apex. He rocks as hard as Ozzy, or Halford, but also has a soulful side that delivers ballads as well as rockers, and that is shown here magnificently. I quite imagine whoever sequenced this set knew both sides very well - there is never a moment in which it lags, and yet it never wears you out, either. It's more like a good lover - ever building, raising and releasing.

The hits, well they are all here. Going back to 1979's Fool For Your Loving, through the classic Slide It In, and Whitesnake (the band's self titled album from 1987 that sold 8,000,000 copies). They are played with a sense of daring, and adventure by a band that made these songs their own, while maintaining the frameworks, and essence that every fan wishes to experience.

This set will place Whitesnake where they belong historically, beside the absolute finest bands of the '80s. It will also stand beside live records by Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin as documents of just how good hard rock could get.

They got too good - so good that the genre itself had to be taken down for a generation unwilling to work as hard as those who came before. Rock and roll may never again see a time in which skills, and mastery of the art form were so essential.

If you even think you like hard rock, this is a must have record. A fabulous achievement by a tremendously talented and exciting band, and as good a singer/frontman who has walked the walk, David Coverdale.

Release Dates: June 3, 2011 - Europe
                         June 7, 2011 - North America

Tracklisting

CD1 : Slip Of The Tongue; Slide It In; Judgement Day; Slow An Easy; Kitten’s Got Claws; Adagio For Strato; Flying Dutchman Boogie; Is This Love; Cheap An’ Nasty; Crying In The Rain (featuring Tommy Aldridge Drum Solo).

CD2: Fool For Your Loving; For The Love Of God; The Audience Is Listening; Here I Go Again
Bad Boys; Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City; Still Of The Night.

DVD: Slip Of The Tongue; Slide It In; Judgement Day; Slow An Easy; Kitten’s Got Claws; Adagio For Strato; Flying Dutchman Boogie; Is This Love; Cheap An’ Nasty; Crying In The Rain (Featuring Tommy Aldridge Drum Solo); Fool For Your Loving; For The Love Of God; The Audience Is Listening; Here I Go Again; Bad Boys; Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City; Still Of The Night.

Bonus Features: The Making of Slip of the Tongue; Slide Show.

2 comments:

John Degeny said...

Castle Donington was actually 1989....I was there.Tommy Aldridge performed the best drum solo I've ever seen., and the flying dutchman blew Steve Vai off the stage!

Steven Hatfull said...

August 1990, No monsters in 89' following the two lads dying in 88, RIP