The Return of The Wild Ones
October 26, 2011, Grand Sierra Resort, Reno NV
Sacrilegious some may call it - the audacity of reforming Thin Lizzy without the original Wild One, Mr. Phillip Lynott himself. Would the fans embrace a reformed Thin Lizzy just to hear those classic tales just one more time? The resounding answer is an overwhelming yes, if it was done right. Guitarists Scott Gorham and John Sykes tried for a few years to keep the franchise going, a number of turnovers in band membership made fans skeptical the group was any more than just a tribute to its former glory. In 2010 it was announced founding drummer Brian Downey, long-standing keyboardist Darren Wharton, Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell and singer Ricky Warwick from The Almighty would join Scott Gorham and bassist Marco Mendoza in bring back the original sound of the group. Less metal, more rock and roll. The key would be in the new found energy and how it would compare to the fab four. 2011 kicked off the tour and the electricity was immediate. Fans seemed to trust the line-up, as the band was now serious in all aspects including the possibility of recording new material together. In late October, a renewed Thin Lizzy played to a packed house in Reno, Nevada. Prior to the show we sat down with Downey and Warwick for a brief chat on things Lizzy.
“The initial idea was to get the classic-era of the band back with Robbo (Brian Robertson) and play a few shows,” says Downey. “When I was playing with Gary Moore a few years ago we did the 20th anniversary at the Point Theatre in Dublin. It crossed my mind then to get Scott, Robbo and myself back up there playing together again. Then I got a call from Scott who said John Sykes had left and would I be interested in getting together and having a play with them. Robbo didn’t seem to be into it so we started looking around. I met Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) at a Horslips gig in Dublin and he mentioned Vivian Campbell could step into Robbo’s spot nicely, and he’s Irish. Ricky (also Irish, Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland) is Joe’s best mate so we had a rehearsal in London to see how it would go. We’re here so it went real well.” After a Spring tour, Campbell returned to Def Leppard for the summer and was replaced by Richard Fortus (Guns N’ Roses) who was then replaced by Damon Johnson (Brother Cane, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar).
“Damon is a life-long Lizzy fan,” says Warwick. “He’s got a great sound and a great tone. He’s from the south so he brings a bit of a southern vibe to the band. For us this line up is as close to the original Thin Lizzy sound yet, especially the rhythm section.” Downey and Mendoza have been working together sporadically since 1995. Together they have jelled to form the internal fire that Lizzy was known for. “Marco’s style is right for this line-up,” says Downey. “He’s the first person I thought of when we were putting this whole thing together. He brings a lot of Phil into his playing and even has a similar stage presence.” The other magic ingredient was to get the vocals right. “You need to sing the songs the way people know and love them,” says Warwick. “There’s no point singing if it doesn’t sound like Phil. But at the same time you need to put your own personality in there. For me it was just trying to balance the two. It was six months of singing along with Phil in the house. Get up every morning, put Lizzy on and sing in front to the mirror for five hours every day. It was like I was a kid again.”
“Phil had these certain inflection, things coming in and out,” continues Warwick. “Like he would never sing the same line twice. You don’t notice it because it’s so subtle, but it’s brilliant, that’s what makes the melodies of the songs. That’s the hard part, getting those right. His timing was more of a feeling, sometimes he was a bit behind, sometimes a bit ahead. That’s the genius of what he did and that’s hard to replicate. That’s what Phil and Van Morrison had in common was the way they delivered their vocals, it was very similar.” Also new to this line-up is the presence of three guitars on stage. “We’ve had as many as four guitars,” says Downey. “One Japanese tour we had Midge Ure, Dave Flett, Scott, and Phil.” Warwick insists that the current Thin Lizzy line-up is only two guitar players and he is just beefing up the rhythm when he plays guitar. “I’m hitting the bar chords,” he says, “I’m not bleeding over anyone else’s parts, very respectful of what’s going on.”
Thin Lizzy is currently on tour with Judas Priest and Black Label Society. What’s nice about the Reno gig is the band’s headlining status allows them to extend out their set. “We’ll play a couple hours tonight,” says Downey. “We’ll add another seven songs like ‘Sha La La’, ‘Wild One’, ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. It’s the first time we’ve played a long set in a few weeks now, so were happy to being doing it.” Says Warwick., “Being in this band - every song is special!” When asked about the possibility of recording an album of new material Downey says, “We’re not nervous about it. It could happen in the future, right now we’re taking our time enjoying playing together. We’re really just having a good time. We socialize together, we hang out just really good friends. Maybe we’ll write one new song and if it goes down well we might add some more. There’s a lot of Lizzy songs we could still add to the set so we’re not sweating it.”
For their Reno live show, it started with Warwick’s battle cry, “Are You Ready” as the curtain dropped and the full stage lights worked in unison with the anthem of the same name. Johnson and Gorham were cutting head as the signature double-lead harmony filled the room. Drummer Downey was a mass of flailing arms with Mendoza thumping his bass with each pelvic thrust. The setlist was loaded with classics from “Waiting For An Alibi” and “Jailbreak” to “Do Anything You Want To” upfront. Warwick handled the rockers with perfect enunciation but the real test came when the tempo slowed. “Don’t Believe A Word” was the first test with an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Next came the funky groove of “Dancing in the Moonlight” powered by the thunderous “Massacre” with all four guitars blazing. The crowd was suspended during “Still In Love With You” as keyboardist Darren Wharton and Ricky Warwick shared vocal duties. It was an emotional tribute to the great Phil Lynott. Audience favorite “Whiskey in the Jar” was radiant until someone said, “Isn’t that a Metallica song?”
The air became electric as the spotlights turned green and Warwick announced the Lizzy classic “Emerald” with Phil’s signature accent. The guitar interplay was suburb as Gorham and Johnson laid into the Celtic classic. The heat continued to rise with the cherished “Wild One” from the under rated Fighting (1975) LP followed in quick secession by a grinding “Bad Reputation”. The irresistible sing-a-long “Sha La La” had the crowd at full volume. Warwick then brought out his acoustic guitar and strummed the opening of “Cowboy Song”, perfect for a hot night in Reno and played with just enough twang and swagger to keep the red-necks happy. No other song in the Lizzy catalog goes down like “The Boys Are Back In Town”. Everyone, even the bartenders and security personnel knew the words. As a closing number, the band wounded it up tight and delivered a rousing rendition. Yet, there was still more in the tank. The deafening applause brought the band out for two more, The Bob Seger’s cover “Rosalie” and a tribute to Gary Moore and Phil Lynott in “Black Rose”. A fitting set and class act right to the very end.
Website: Thin Lizzy