Bad Company + RSO
Saturday 29th October
O2 Arena London
The Seventies supergroup phenomenon reached its evolutionary zenith with Bad Company. The band began in 1973 as an extra-curricular alliance between members of Free, Mott the Hoople and King Crimson. They were even managed by Led Zeppelin’s notoriously hard-charging Svengali Peter Grant, ensuring every Classic Rock box was ticked. Truly, “peak supergroup” had been achieved. With so many big personalities, their sound was predictably supersized, hits such as ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and ‘Honey Child’ stacking one Bluesy, mane-shaking cliché upon another. Their song titles, meanwhile, seemed ripped from a Rock parody – they included ‘Good Lovin’ Gone Bad’, ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’, and, this being the era when musicians wrote non-ironic odes to themselves, ‘Bad Company’.
Forty-three years later, Bad Company remained joyously larger than life as they finished their Swan Song tour at the 02 Arena in London, a lap of honour named after the Led Zeppelin boutique label to which they were originally signed. Riffs were piled high, greying mullets flailed under the strobe lights, a video screen projected images of lightning storms and swirling fires. With his carefully-maintained stubble and ever-present tambourine, singer Paul Rodgers (also of Free and a one-time guest vocalist with post-Freddie Mercury Queen) embraced the part of heritage Rock elder statesman. Rodgers brought the requisite mix of casual magnetism and puffed-up showmanship and has always been blessed with the most soulful voice in Hard Rock but it seems almost inconceivable that it's still a strong and emotive as ever at the age of 66. Tradition has it that decades on the road take their toll on the best of voices but Rodgers appears not to have got that memo..Still featuring three original members including Rodgers himself, drummer Simon Kirke and guitarist Mick Ralphs is something of a rarity for a band with such a long heritage. They may be older but they have lost none of that magic that gave them huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
Opening song, ‘Live For The Music’ could be the bands clarion call and with music like this how could they fail. Big hit, ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’ came early in the set and highlighted the strength in depth of their back catalogue and ensured the crowd was warmed up early and on their feet right from the start. Mick Ralphs is dressed more like a championship darts player than a Rock guitarist of superb pedigree, he doesn’t stray too far from his spot on the stage, but when given the opportunity to let fly, the tone he gets on his (mainly Gibson) guitars is one to cherish live. Originally in Mott the Hoople, Ralphs continues to deliver solo after solo of sheer greatness on stage and backed by Rodgers vocals it defines everything great about ‘70’s British Blues.....
Bad Company have so many better songs in their set besides the radio hits and ‘Electricland’ showed that with its moody verse and truly soaring chorus that highlighted Rodger’s effortless vocal range to perfection as he played piano from the back of the stage. This was spine-tingling stuff. ‘Burnin’ Sky’ showed the darker side of the band as the atmospherics were enhanced by some effective projections onto the huge video screens. There was no mid set lull to be seen with the following ‘Run With The Pack’ and the band also shone with their version of Mott the Hoople's ‘Ready For Love’ keeping the tempo running. It wasn’t all old songs though, the newly written ‘Troubleshooter’ was a surprise inclusion in the set. It may be new but the hallmarks of classic Bad Company were engrained in its very fabric from the glorious Rodgers vocal to the great harmonies of Ralphs and second guitarist, former Heart man Howard Leese. Again the videos added to the ambience as startling photos of The Somme, Tiananmen Square and the flag raising at Iwo Jima flashed across the screens. The closest to a plaintive moment was my personal favourite ‘Shooting Star’, their lament for icons who lived fast and died young, which was accompanied by sepia images of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Freddie Mercury, Paul Kossoff and Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott.
The final four songs brought the arena to their feet for a rocking climax to the show – ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Fantasy’ were mass crowd singalongs, the former giving Ralphs and Leese the opportunity to meet mid-stage and swap solos side by side. ‘Bad Company’ found Rodgers back on the piano, the iconic BadCo logo lit up blue above of him as cannons fired dry ice fired into the air. There were some dissenting voices questioning why the set couldn't have been longer or perhaps the crowd were just being greedy. One suspects Ralphs may not tour with the band again (he didn’t appear with them in the USA in early summer this year) and it could be that an hour and twenty minutes, including encores, was all that he could sustain. If so, it was a fitting farewell, poignantly played out on the backdrop slideshow to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy’ of pictures from the hedonistic days in the 1970′s when bands like Bad Company were more than mere mortals.
Earlier, support was proved by RSO - former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and his partner in music and life Orianthi (previously guitarist for Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper) - with a 60-minute set which took in proper Jovi classics like ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’ and ‘Livin' On a Prayer’, as well as covers of U2's ‘When Love Comes To Town’ and a bizarre choice of Sonny and Cher's ‘I Got You Babe’ (this is one seriously loved-up couple) Sambora and Cher were an item in the ‘80’s - with a seemingly uncomfortable Orianthi sharing vocals so it was all a bit strange to put it mildly. After what felt like an age between songs, the band got proceedings back on track with an emotionally charged version of ’Stranger in this Town’, with some top drawer Bluesy guitar playing reminding one and all of Sambora's status as one of the greatest living guitar-slingers and in my view he was always the best singer In Bon Jovi! With the finale of ‘Living on a Prayer’ - Sambora introduced Steven Van Zandt, of Bruce Springsteen and E Street and "Sopranos" fame, onstage as a special guest. But no-one could have predicted the self-indulgent car crash that followed. With a somewhat surprised Van Zandt being invited to sing a verse of the song, which clearly had not been rehearsed, he bravely stumbled through his guest spot with good grace and humour. However, this could not mask some of the more rougher traits of the performance I am afraid. Special mention must made of Orianthi who stole the show with her professionalism and virtuosity, especially during the sets rustier moments. By the time RSO return next year, with an album of new material, one can expect some of the basic of kinks of the 02 Arena performance to be fully ironed out.
So with RSO present beforehand, Bad Company were in good company. And in great form as well. Age is only a number but if this super-talented troupe do go on to celebrate their 45th – or even 50th – anniversary then don’t be surprised. Billed as previously mentioned as the Swan Song Tour, this classy quintet (including Leese and Todd Ronning) didn’t look like a band ready to call time on a phenomenal career. The WRC bloody hope not as we may never see their like again...
1. Live for the Music
2. Gone, Gone, Gone
3. Feel Like Makin' Love
5. Burnin' Sky
6. Run With the Pack
7. Ready for Love (Mott the Hoople cover)
8. Crazy Circles
10. Movin' On
11. Shooting Star
12. Can't Get Enough
13. Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy
14. Bad Company
1. When Love Comes to Town (U2 cover)
2. I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man (Willie Dixon cover)
3. Heaven in This Hell (Orianthi song)
4. Midnight Rider (The Allman Brothers Band cover) (Snippet)
5. Wanted Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi cover)
6. How Do You Sleep? (Orianthi song)
7. Lay Your Hands on Me (Bon Jovi cover)
8. I Got You Babe (Sonny & Cher cover)
9. Stranger in This Town (Richie Sambora song)
10. Livin' on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover) (with Little Steven)
Wrinkly The Silver