|Last In Line / Toseland – Belfast, Limelight 1 – 3 December 2016|
|Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen|
|Thursday, 08 December 2016 19:27|
Hometown gigs are always a bit special – especially when the artist concerned has had to move away, either to make their name in the wider world or just simply because of the demands of the craft they play. And I’m sure that Vivian Campbell could think of no better venue at which to end Last In Line’s latest European tour than with this farewell show in the heart of his native Belfast.
Things don’t augur well from the opening seconds of support Toseland’s set, however, as the sound is muddy and dissolute, with James’ vocals virtually indistinct and you have to strain to hear the beautifully integrated guitar harmonies on the likes of ‘Life Is Beautiful’. Nevertheless, the former motorcycling champion shows that he is ‘Living In The Moment’ as he gets the evening off to a suitably high energy start, and he’s obviously enjoying his first visit to Belfast (but not to Northern Ireland, of course, as he had made that debut back in March, at one of Uber Rock’s favourite venues, the Diamond Rock Club – an appearance which co-incided with a certain landmark birthday in this camp!).
Songwise, it’s a tight and balanced set, drawn from both of his first two albums – although ‘Singer In A Band’ is a strange omission – and, when you can hear it, crafted by the superb musicianship of each member, especially Toseland himself and guitarist Zurab Melua. With the mix continuing to muffle both the bass and rhythm guitar, and JT’s voice constantly dipping in and out, it’s nevertheless a good solid set of old school hard rock delivered by good solid musicians schooled the old way.
Discussions about “legacy” bands have been oft rehearsed, both in these pages and elsewhere: and, as Last In Line was formed specifically to pay homage to the musical heritage of the late Ronnie James Dio and return his music to the live forum where it deserves to be heard at its loudest and proudest, similar arguments inevitably circulate around them – especially with only half of the band line-up (bassist Jimmy Bain, of course, unfortunately having passed away at the beginning of this particular annus horribilis for the music business) still extant.
But, as was mooted at in our review of the first date of this tour at Hard Rock Hell, they know what the fans want… and what the fans want is exactly what the fans get – and then some! With the set largely, and inevitably (as it’s the band’s virtual raison d’être), concentrating on the first three Dio albums, together with LIL’s recent original collection, ‘Heavy Crown’, it’s a stonking performance which is a more than fitting tribute to the great man – and more than a mere tribute…
As the band take to the stage almost 25 minutes after their advertised time, Vinny Appice greets the crowd like they are conquering heroes before taking his place behind his kit and frontman Andrew Freeman invites us ‘Stand Up And Shout’ – and no second invitation is needed as, to a man and woman, everyone in the room spends the majority of the next 80 minutes or so singing themselves hoarse.
Stage right, Viv Campbell looks cool and relaxed, dressed from head to foot in black and his trademark curly locks now almost fully regrown. And he’s wreathed in smiles from the first note to last, his grin as big as the dome of the nearby City Hall as he wrings the living daylights out of his guitar, recreating his solos with relish but embellishing and modernizing them. It’s great to see him back on his native soil, and having so much fun, as he bounces off his bandmates, the crowd and even his own enjoyment
On the other side of the stage, Phil Soussan spends the entire set jiving and jumping and looks equally happy – and comfortable in the big boots he has had to fill in such an untimely way. Centre stage, meanwhile, Freeman is commanding and dominant, towering over the stage with the confidence of a man perfectly in his element, fully recognizing his place as the purveyor of a master’s craft but stamping his own authority on the songs in a way which ensures they are delivered ‘Straight Through The Heart’.
The singer totally nails ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ in terms of the emotion, energy and pathos which are combined which the song combines, while ‘Holy Diver’ is taken out of his hands as the crowd takes over, leaving Freeman just to hold the mic out over the audience as every syllable is delivered in perfect time by his makeshift choir.
Of course, the band have their own songs, and ‘Heavy Crown’ does get a decent airing, with ‘Devil In Me’ in particular emphasizing the RJD influences which still stands on their shoulders: but, as mentioned above, there is an expectancy from the fans as to what exactly they will hear – and that expectation is more than met. ‘The Last In Line’ itself is euphoric and practically brings the house down early, while ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ – a song with a special resonance for the UR team – is sumptuous and glorious in its faithful interpretation.
At the start of the encore, Soussan takes to the mic to introduce a brief tribute to the late Jimmy Bain. Two more tracks from ‘Heavy Crown’ follow: ‘Starmaker’, on which Campbell’s brief solo is vitriolic in its fury, and ‘I Am Revolution’ spits and snarls with an even darker intensity than on the album. But, there can only really be one finale – and Freeman takes to the barrier to lead his choir in a roof-raising ‘We Rock’… and, indeed, we – and Last In Line – fucking do!
PHOTO CREDIT: All photographs © The Dark Queen / Uber Rock.