Rock Review: Last screams of an old rocker

Whitesnake

Labatt's Apollo, Manchester

This was likely to be very heavy, man. , almost the last Spinal Tap-style metal band in the land, on their last-ever (or so they say) tour before they unzip their pointy boots, hang up their leathers and settle down in rocking chairs with a hundredweight of Strepsils. Mean machine David Coverdale had promised quite a flourish (which turned out mainly to be bass amped up to defibrillator level), and you think the fans will be baying and punching the air, possibly even weeping. Cool.

Of course, some people find bands like the 'Snake a bit embarrassing. There's not a lot of room for all that heavy-weather bluster since Nirvana and grunge replaced it with more sophistication. Still, there's a legacy of something here: the last dregs of Deep Purple and the Coverdale voice, unmatched in the business - high notes that, sung in Southend, could strip paint as far away as Scunthorpe. As it turns out, the people who seem most embarrassed about are their record label. EMI, initially, cannot furnish you with a CD. Press cuttings? They're already "in the archives" (under Jurassic, perhaps). Finally, you drive 200 miles on a dark and stormy night, and end up begging for your complimentary ticket from a security guard at the back door with tattoos all over his face and an attitude problem. ("No ticket - you're joking." "I do not joke.") Sometimes, you have to fight for the right to party. But you get in. Hey, you're a rock chick, and you're ready to rock.

Coverdale is not what you expect. In every sense, he is , and the band exists almost solely in his mind - he's hired and fired more members than he's had split ends, hunting for guitarists to match his own drive and passion. On Saturday, it was his sheer charisma that propelled a two-hour set. Instead of the monomaniacal shrieker who comes across on record, the man in the dapper blue jacket and newly-shorn crop behaved like nothing so much as a camp, cut-glass panto dandy, an uncanny amalgam of Pierce Brosnan, Max Wall and Joan Collins, and the more he sent himself up, the more likeable he became. It was for Coverdale and his deeply sexist songs that the term "cock rock" was coined, but he sent up half of those, too. So, after a few bars of "Slide It In" he delivered a memorable aphorism on safe sex ("don't be daft, don't be silly put a snakeskin on your willy") - and, after "Ready and Willing", he told someone screaming for Slow 'n' Easy, "Oh, fuck off - have some respect for my age".

Of course, age has nothing to do with it: the voice still has a 10-octave range and only Nastassia Kinski lookalike guitarist Adrian Vandenberg could keep up with him for vigour. But though the hits - "Is This Love?", "Fool for Your Loving", "Lovehunter" - did the business, a side order of formula rawk just didn't stand the test. It was Coverdale's idea to wind up , and there was a certain "this is who we used to be" feel to proceedings. Only once did he deliver the 12-bar blues he used to say he was about, and that was the cover of Bobby Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City" he's made his very own. It was racked with glorious, Foreign Legion-style pain, and it made the tinnitus and the wind-lashed night worthwhile.

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