Paul Rodgers | Metro Radio Arena | Newcastle | 18 Apr 2011

Paul Rodgers - Free at Last...

These days it seems that the word “legendary” is so frequently used the term has been devalued almost to the point of worthlessness, but in the case of Paul Rodgers the description is not only deserved it barely begins to do his career justice. From bluesy rockers Free through sold out world tours with supergroups Bad Company (several times) and The Firm to a successful solo career and even the unenviable task of filling Freddie Mercury’s shoes in Queen, Rodgers has had over forty years at the top selling over 90 million records. “Legendary” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

No, Rodgers is genuine rock royalty, selling out tours wherever he plays, most recently with the Bad Company reunion tour which filled arenas across the UK last year. Last week, in the more intimate surroundings of Blackpool Opera House, Rodgers kicked off his latest solo tour. On Monday night the tour arrived in Newcastle, some forty miles from Rodgers’ hometown of Middlesbrough. Such were ticket sales for the show that the gig was quickly rescheduled from the smaller City Hall to the more capacious Metro Radio Arena, shortly after going on sale last November.

Opening number “Walk In My Shadow” offered the first clue as to what the evening held in store as he dipped immediately back in time to 1968 and Free’s debut album “Tons Of Sobs” before following this up with a crunching version of “Wishing Well” surprising everyone so early in the set and which had those down the front up and out of their seats. Casually dressed in black and white t-shirt and waistcoat – well, this was Newcastle – Rodgers defied every one of his sixty-one years looking as spritely and trim as someone half his age and with his famous voice still in tip-top shape. It could have been easy to overlook the talent on stage – long-time guitarist Howard Leese (ex-Heart), bassist Todd Ronning (bass), and Jason Bonham on drums – but Rodgers has keen to ensure this was not the case allowing each band member their turn in the spotlight. By the time Bonham’s mighty solo drew the third number “Fire And Water” to a climax the audience were in no doubt that the evening was going to focus primarily on Free’s blues-rich rock.

Leese’s mandolin intro signalled the first Bad Company song of the evening, a singalong version of “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, before Markus Wolfe joined the band to provide additional guitar on a new song “Mr Midnight” which Rodgers promised would be on the next album. To everyone’s delight more Free classics followed including a beautiful version of “Be My Friend” which was highlighted by Leese’s exquisite guitar solo and a thumping take on “Mr Big” that drew a great reception from the crowd. Rodgers took to the piano for “Running With The Pack” and “Bad Company” before returning to the Free material and “The Stealer”.

For a cover of the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” Rodgers was joined by guitarist Colin Bradley – a member of his first band and who was “responsible for introducing him to the 12 bar blues.” More classics followed, “Seagull” in mid-set, “My Brother Jake” (at the second attempt after Rodgers laughingly called a halt to the first try after an endearing forgotten-words-and-wrong-key episode), and further Bad Company tracks “Shooting Star”, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” and the set closing “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” where the audience were only too pleased to bellow the chorus back to the delighted singer. An all Free encore of “Ride On Pony”, an extended “Alright Now” and “The Hunter” brought the evening to a memorable close.

As the crowd filed out you might, if you searched hard and long enough, eventually have found someone who would have liked to hear more new material, but Rodgers has a magnificent back catalogue and for me it was thrilling, in particular, to hear such a heavily Free-based set. The evening’s support was provided by Joe Elliot’s Down ‘N’ Outz. Initially formed to support Mott The Hoople at their Hammersmith Odeon reunion shows in 2009, the Down ‘N’ Outz are a side project clearly very close to Def Leppard frontman Elliot’s – a life long Mott and Ian Hunter fan – heart. Backed by assorted Quireboys, the set comprised of a collection of less celebrated songs by Mott, Ian Hunter and British Lions such as “Storm”, “Shouting & Pointing”, “Whizz Kid” and “Overnight Angels” played at an ear-splitting volume. While the project is highly noble it would have been nice to hear the band’s take on at least one, or possibly two, of Mott’s more well known tracks during their 45 minute set. As it was, I suspect only hard core fans got complete fulfilment from their mix of more obscure songs.

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