Thin Lizzy at the University of Limerick Concert Hall, Limerick, Ireland

John O’Regan wrote this review.

Ending the Irish leg of their 2005 European Tour, Thin Lizzy arrived in Limerick to play at the University of Limerick Concert Hall to a capacity house. During the halcyon days of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Thin Lizzy were regular visitors to Limerick during their many Irish tours. For this re-constituted line up, this was their second time in the University of Limerick Concert Hall, as they played here before on their 2003 ‘Global Chaos’ tour.

While the name is still associated with the glory days of the 70’s and 80’s, Thin Lizzy’s legacy is alive and kicking. Currently comprised of John Sykes and Scott Gorham on guitars, bassist Marco Mendoza, with Michael Lee occupying the drum stool, the lineage of this classic rock line-up includes Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and of course, the most successful Thin Lizzy line-up. The seminal mid-70’s quartet of Phil Lynnott, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, and Brian Downey, was responsible for a slew of radio rock classics such as ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, and ‘Dancing in The Moonlight [It’s caught me in its spotlight]’. They also issued chart-busting albums like Jailbreak and Live and Dangerous — one of the best ‘live’ rock albums of all time.

Scott Gorham and John Sykes were in Thin Lizzy’s final throes in 1983 on the ‘Thunder and Lightning’ and ‘Life’ tours, and they are the only surviving links left from the Lynnot period. Marco Mendoza came in through his association with John Sykes’ post Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake band project Blue Murder, while Michael Lee has played with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on their 1995 ‘No Quarter – Unleaded’ tour and album and its less renowned follow up, 1998’s ‘Walking into Clarksdale’. Michael Lee stepped in for regular drummer Tommy Aldridge when the latter rejoined Whitesnake last year. Both John Sykes and Tommy Aldridge were part of the Whitesnake outfit that recorded its most successful album  1987, while Sykes made his Whitesnake debut playing on the US version of their 1984 album Slide It In while original guitarist Mick Moody featured on the UK issue.

Entering the foyer of the University of Limerick Concert Hall, I noticed a wide-ranging age group attending the show. Everyone was here from hard-core Lizzy fans to the merely curious. Many people there had obviously seen Thin Lizzy in their prime and returned with their children who are now catching up on the Lynnott legend through their parents’ CD collections. This all ages crowd brought a family atmosphere to the concert as young and old enjoyed over two hours of classic rock.

It was a fun show — a great concert and a superb night’s entertainment and memorable for more than one reason — more of which anon. At 8 p.m. sharp, support band H*llyw**d, a quartet from County Wicklow went on stage. The band’s first EP, ‘Black Tide Silver Path’ was sent to Thin Lizzy’s management and they were subsequently offered the support slot for the Irish tour. H*llyw**d’s music is straight-ahead melodic twin-guitar rock — strong on melodies and with the familiar twin lead guitars. Bassist Tony Cullen handles lead vocals with the appropriate authority and drummer Davy Ryan impressed. Playing material from Black Tide Silver Path’ along with a scorching cover of Rory Gallagher’s ‘Shadow Play’ they made a positive impression.

One short ten-minute break later it was time for Thin Lizzy. They opened with ‘Jailbreak’ complete with atmospheric sirens — the band knew what the audience wanted and gave it to them. In a set list dotted with ‘Greatest Hits’ and classic album tracks, ‘Waiting for an Alibi’, ‘Don’t believe a word’, ‘Chinatown’, ‘Dancing in the Moonlight [It’s caught me in its spotlight]’ and ‘Killer on the Loose’ came in quick succession followed by ‘Cold Sweat’ and eventually ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. Album cuts included ‘Massacre’ from 1976’s Johnny The Fox set, ‘Suicide’ from 1975’s Fighting and the title track of 1977’s Bad Reputation album. The latter — complete with Michael Lee’s drum solo — kept up the energy level. However, ‘Still in Love with You’, and the Celtic Rock extravaganza of ‘Black Rose’ emerged as particular highlights.

‘Still In Love with You’ is the heartfelt epic ballad of unrequited love, which still cuts to the bone. Chilling and emotional, the current band’s reading is faithful to the original, complete with a powerful guitar solo from Scott Gorham. This is his epic performance, slowly building to a bluesy climax before stepping up the tempo for some fearsome twin lead work.

‘Black Rose’ is an interesting melange of historical romanticism with affectionate nods to the folk tradition, lifting the airs of ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘March of the kings of Laois’, ‘Shanandoah’, and winding up with the quickest version of ‘The Mason’s Apron’ ever known to mankind. ‘Black Rose’ also hints to Phil Lynott’s other musical interests, and his poetic bent. From a Celtic roots viewpoint, Lynnott’s use of ancient Irish myths and his extrapolation of them for a contemporary audience makes this work suitable for an interesting case study. ‘Black Rose’ (the English translation of ‘Roisin Dubh’) tells of his love of Irish history, legends, folklore, music, and the pastoral elements of the tradition. Apart from ‘Dublin’ released on a 1972 EP, ‘Black Rose’ is one of Phillip Lynnot’s most personal evocations of his homeland and the most blatant statement of his ‘Irishness’ that he had ever put down on paper. As well as being a rocker, and sex symbol, Phil Lynnott carried an affinity with Irish folk music and history all his life. Among all the stories of bad boys, jailbreaks, and macho connotations he wrote, this six-minute-and-thirty-second-long chunk of Irish history fits into Lynnott’s canon of larger than life characterisations while speaking of a wider, bigger and longer lasting historical perspective.

While this re-united line up of Thin Lizzy has been in existence since 1996, there have been some criticisms as to this particular line up masquerading under the Thin Lizzy moniker. The biggest criticism is that why should they do this without the commanding presence of Phillip Lynnott. Whatever questions are raised, having some of the past members involved makes this venture a personal tribute and a profoundly genuine remembrance. John Skyes’ handles lead vocals as well as playing lead guitar, and carries out his duties respectfully — dedicating every note of every song to Phil Lynnott. This adds an air of celebration to the show — commemorating Lynnott’s memory, but also acknowledging the huge void of his absence, and emphasising the depth of the loss contemporary music has suffered thereby.

The twin lead guitar work of John Sykes and Scott Gorham remains one of the latter-day Thin Lizzy’s most distinctive features, tightly focussed, melodic guitar runs–taut as leather and sharp as crystal glass. Apart from Phil Lynnott’s vocal, visual and verbal majesty, this is what made Thin Lizzy’s music stand out and travel across time zones and continents.

Back to the show, on reflection, two lovely incidents stand out from this gig though not strictly from a musical standpoint. The first was during one of Scott Gorham’s solos when the crowd clamoured at the front of the stage. The bulk of the crowd went to Scott Gorham’s side and they freaked out, sent up devil signs and made all the usual HM audience moves. What was special was Gorham’s reaction to the crowd coming down to his side — a big wide beaming smile crossed his face. This signified how genuinely he was enjoying being onstage with this revitalised Thin Lizzy line-up. While his solo career has been partially successful, and while he didn’t grab the limelight as much as Lynott or Brian Robertson did, Gorham remains part of the Thin Lizzy legend, and his presence in this line-up guarantees their legitimacy.

The second incident is one that will stick in memory for as an example of professionalism and humanity. At one point with the stage area besieged with eager head bangers, John Sykes noticed two young children at the front. They were in danger of injury from the weight of the crowd. He motioned to the road crew to come forth and remove them from the crowd and bring them on stage. They were subsequently helped on stage and taken to the far wings where they got a side stage view of Thin Lizzy performing — bottles of lemonade were given them and the kids had a great time and shared the stage with one of the worlds’ greatest rock bands. This was a lovely human moment that showed true professionalism, responsibility, and genuine concern for the youngsters’ welfare.

Another story concerns a couple that went to the concert; the lady suitably attired for a University Concert Hall event. This venue has been the domain of everyone from the Irish Chamber Orchestra to Paul Brady, Brian Kennedy and International Opera Companies. The lady arrived for Thin Lizzy’s show in full-length dress and fur coat only to be met by hordes of denim and leather. She — telling her friends about the show later described it thus — ‘It was a good old fashioned rock and roll gig!’ It was all that and more.

Listening now to the current Thin Lizzy’s ‘One Night Only’ live album while penning this review, what strikes me is the validity of the repertoire. The Thin Lizzy songbook is a solid gold back catalogue, full of classic radio rock songs, hummable choruses, melodic twin lead guitar runs, and memorable lyrics. It is everything melodic rock ought to be — concise, powerful and memorable. Phil Lynnott’s lyrics bring back memories of school holidays, and listening to radio late at night under bedcovers. While losing none of its original style and attitude, Thin Lizzy’s music contains a freshness and life seldom found in today’s contemporary sounds.

(February 19, 2005)

John O’Regan

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