at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., March 9, 2023

THE CLASSIC ROCK SHOW (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., March 9, 2023)
Photo: Mick Burgess

The fact that The Sage is packed from top to bottom is testament to the enduring popularity of Classic Rock music despite what the mainstream music press would have us believe.

Tonight is billed as a celebration of all things Classic Rock – highlighting those songs that we grew up listening to all those decades ago and which our children and even grandchildren have also grown to love.

The Classic Rock Show has become something of national phenomena, playing to sold out crowds the length and breadth of the country bringing the delights of Classic Rock to old and new fans alike.

An opening salvo of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, “Barracuda” by Heart and a supremely slick “One Of These Nights” by The Eagles featured three lead vocalists, Jesse Smith, Jess Harwood and Ricardo Afonso, each bringing something different to the table.

So far so good but Deep Purple’s “Burn” took things up a notch or two with Pete Thorn channelling his inner Ritchie Blackmore while Smith and Afonso went toe to toe with Coverdale and Hughes and came out rather well.

It’s not often a band covers Rush so it came as something of a surprise to hear Rush tonight. Of course it would be “Tom Sawyer” wouldn’t it? No. “The Spirit Of Radio”? No again. What The Classic Rock Show did was attempt the impossible with “YYZ”.

As a Rush fan of over 40 years standing they were treading on very dangerous ground here. Surely they would make a ham-fisted effort of this intricate masterpiece? Not only did that not happen, but they did one of the most accurate recreations of this Rush classic outside of Rush themselves with Pete Thorn absolutely nailing Alex Lifeson’s tone and technique to perfection with bassist Wayne Banks and drummer Tim Brown playing as close to the Lee and Peart parts as is humanly possible. Major respect to the musicianship on display so it came as no surprise to discover later that Thorn has played live with Chris Cornell and Don Henley while bassist Banks has played with Brazen Abbot, Persian Risk and Blaze Bayley over the years as well as playing a few shows with Saxon a while back. Drummer Tim Brown has played with Don Airey and Europe’s Kee Marcello

A couple of songs didn’t quite hit the mark in the same way with only fair renditions of old staples “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet” and “Keep On Lovin’ You” by REO Speedwagon. Instrumentally the songs were spot on but then, the vocals are so different for each song it would be unreasonable to expect the singers to reproduce every song to sound exactly like the original.

When they did hit the mark, they hit it big time. “Black Dog” sung by Smith was absolutely sensational and the riffs and solo from Thorn and musical director James Cole would have made Page and Plant glow with pride.

Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” brought Part One to a spirited end with Thorn again shining bright.

With an impressive lightshow and a 8-screen video wall together with ample amounts of smoke, this looked every inch the professional, slick show that it was and when Afonso delivered a spine tingling take on Bowies “Space Oddity” it was one of the show’s highlights.

Again the dual vocals of Smith and Afonso shone on “Rosanna” with the band harmonising perfectly while Harwood delivered a cracking take on Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” before heads were down, feet were stamping and everyone was up on their feet for Quo’s “Down Down” which rocked big time to the extent that even the ushers and security guys were bopping in the aisles. Even the most ardent of Rock snobs couldn’t fail to be swept along.

Harwood returned for Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Desperado” with sublime four-part harmonies before heading into the killer final stretch of “Bat Out Of Hell” which was every bit as melodramatic as Meatloaf’s original.

Trying to match Steve Perry is an almost impossible task but Afonso delivered his finest performance of the night on “Don’t Stop Believin’” which was all the more remarkable for the fact that he had just joined the tour and tonight was his first show.

“Thunderstruck” and “Jump” kept the momentum flying and a dedication to the loss of Gary Rossington preceded “Freebird” replete with a stunning guitar duel climax to close the set.

Quite how they could top that was the big question but top it they did with a stunning take on “Bohemian Rhapsody” with awe-inspiring harmonies at the start, top class vocals in the verses, where each of the three lead singers took a turn culminating in an incredible seven-part operatic section – a feat that even Queen never attempted live. Of course the guitar frenzy at the end had the crowd in raptures.

A thunderous “Rock and Roll” proved a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable night of classic music. Smith proclaimed at the end that although they didn’t write the music, their job was to play the music they loved and entertain the crowd and judging by the extended ovation at the end, it was one successful job done.

Review and Photos By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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