As the frontman of one of the biggest stadia-filling rock bands of their generation, it was perhaps fitting that Joe Elliott‘s self-described “little side project” should be born in a similar environment – in front of thousands of people supporting, and then emulating, in turn one of the most iconic and influential acts of their particular generation… however, wind the clock forward a decade or so, and the Def Leppard vocalist has turned his career full circle and is taking rawk ‘n’ roll back to its roots – sweaty little backstreet bars and clubs with his like-minded band of musical troubadours known as the Down ‘n’ Outz (although, believe us, with a multi-millionaire at the helm, these particular tramps won’t be looking for a free handout from the Sally Ann anyway soon!).
Openers Vega show exactly why 2014 has been such a great year for the band, and why they are winning over so many new shows with both their impressive ‘Stereo Messiah’ album and their ebullient, energetic live shows. Lying very much in the late-80s/early 90s FM-meets-Loverboy style of pop rock, they possess the parp of the former combined with the balls of the latter, as evinced by the soaring style of charismatic frontman Nick Workman and the Neal Schon-esque guitar work of Marcus Thurston (who also bears more than an uncanny passing physical resemblance to the Journey axeman) in particular.
Workman has a confident and expert delivery, and a smooth interaction with the slowly growing crowd of early comers, which, combined with a determination to enjoy themselves ‘Wherever We Are’ and a collection of insanely catchy tunes such as ‘What The Hell?’, ‘Gonna Need Some Love Tonight’ the Joe Elliott-penned ‘Ten Times Better Than Love’ and the crunching ‘All Or Nothing’ – the latter of whyich summarizes their attitude as Vega give it their all and end on a suitably rapturous note with even the most hardened of doubters getting their ‘Hands In The Air’ for the final number.
Speaking to Joe Elliott before the gig, it was very obvious that the singer was battling the final stages of a bronchial infection, as he sought to protect his throat as much as possible: what was not so obvious was that two-thirds of the rest of the band were in a similar predicament – something that he alluded to early on when, affter a surprisingly lackadaisical start, which saw the singer seated behind a piano for the extended instrumental intro of ‘Funeral For A Friend’ / ‘Love Lies Bleeding’, he welcomes the now half-filled auditorium to the ‘Rock N Roll Pneumonia Boogie Woogie Flu Tour’…
But, being the consummate professionals that they are, Elliott and the rest of the band – Quireboys Keith Weir, Guy Griffin and Paul Geurin, Vixen bassist Share Ross and session drummer Phil Martini – battle on through the sauntering, swaggering ‘Rock N Roll Queen’ and into the bumping grind of ‘Drivin’ Sister’. Elliott also plays cognisance to his surroundings, recalling that, while he may not have played this particular stage before he has visited the venue, when he popped up from Dublin to watch his good friend and bandmate Viv Campbell perform with Last In Line back in August 2013: the singer happily reports that the guitarist is well on the mend following his recent stem cell surgery, and dedicates ‘Whizz Kid’ to his brother in musical arms.
‘One Of The Boys’ brings the sublime guitar interplay of Griffin and Guerin to the fore, as the duo simultaneously recreate and update the classic tracks from which the set is drawn: rather than just patly covering the songs, Joe (and the musicians) displays his indepth knowlede of his rock ‘n’ roll craft and heritage, as he also tells the stories behind songs such as ‘Shouting And Pointing’ and the haunting ‘Sea Diver’. The result is a set that balances the right combination of grit, grunt and sleazy grind to recreate an era when – in Elliott’s words – “music was fun”. With Elliott’s voice failing fast, the likes of ‘Crash Street Kidds’ and its 40-year old riff nevertheless shakes the grout from between the brickwork and and the dust from the overhead air-conditioning, while ‘Violence’ retains its dark broodiness and the encore of the specially re-monickered ‘Belfast Rocks’ is no less rambunctious.
There may be those who would argue that the Down n Outz are nothing more than an all-star tribute band: but, when the hat is tipped to what has gone before with such obvious affection and passion then, as Elliott again said, “it doesn’t get much better than this”. And who am I to argue?
‘The Further Adventures Of The Down N Outz’ is available now on Bludgeon Riffola Records.
Photographs by Paul Verner.