Company of Snakes

Tyne Theatre, Newcastle

22 June 2001

Exactly 16 years and nine hours (!) since I first (and last) saw Bernie Marsden on stage (no prizes for telling me where and which band he was with), I saw him again with his "new" band, The Company of Snakes. A band which is basically, lets be honest here, Whitesnake with a litigation-proof name change.

The hall was packed but the band took to the stage to a fairly subdued reception and got a lukewarm reaction to the set opener Come On. Then, as their second song (Walking in the Shadow of the Blues) started, something clicked with the audience. The whole hall was on its feet, and never sat down again for the next 90 minutes. The sound in the hall was fantastic, the mix excellent, and the volume at just the right point for my ears (I'm getting too old for make-your-ears-bleed sound).

This was simply a Whitesnake greatest hits set, no more no less. And that's exactly what the audience wanted. And the band know exactly why they are there:

Bernie Marsden: "Ere's a song..."
Crowd: "FOR YA!"

It all made a hugely entertaining package. Everybody danced, everybody clapped, there were plenty of singalong opportunities, and I don't think anybody went away disappointed. I certainly didn't.

I'm not going to list the set; if you remember Whitesnake, you already know what it was. The band was superb. Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, and Neil Murray are the only Whitesnake members in The Company of Snakes, but the rest of the band fitted in seamlessly. If you closed your eyes, it was Whitesnake. The drummer is solid but not flashy. The hammond player (Don Airey is no longer with them; I didn't catch the new guy's name) remains in the background but sounds great on the blues tunes. And the singer...

The singer (Stefan Berggren, I believe) is remarkable. He sounds more like David Coverdale than David Coverdale does. Like the old Coverdale, I mean. Not just in tone, but his act, his phrasing, everything. And his voice is very good. Not just a good copy, but a good quality voice. He struggled to reach the high end of Coverdale's range. For example, Here I Go Again, the first encore: he just couldn't sing it. But there again, neither could Coverdale.

Marsden and Moody were undoubtedly the main attractions and the spotlight was firmly on them. And quite right, too, as their guitar work is what made these songs. While they never appear on lists of favourite guitar players, they are both superb players and work well together. They split solos fairly evenly, with Bernie Marsden playing most of the straight solos and Micky Moody playing all of the slide solos. Bernie Marsden does all of the song introductions. He chats and jokes with the crowd in a friendly, non-superstar sort of manner. The singer doesn't do anything except, well, sing. Marsden also took brief turns at lead vocals. In fact, the band dynamic is quite strange in this respect. I mean, it feels like, "we're the Marsden-Moody band, oh and here's some guy we hired because he sounds like David Coverdale". But it works, and everybody (band and audience) seems happy with the arrangement.

Some highlights: Micky Moody's long (I mean loooong) slide guitar solo, dedicated to John Lee Hooker. Slow and Easy, dedicated to Cozy. The new song Kinda Wish You Would. And the crowd singing Ain't No Love In the Heart of the City. And... oh hell, how can you pick out highlights when it's Whitesnake's greatest hits?