When you find yourself before absolute rock ‘n’roll royalty, with a group that can be defined as ‘super’ in every acception of the term, you realise that you are experiencing a totally different league altogether.
Words: Dany Jones
Pictures: Steve Ritchie
With a pedigree as kingly as Black Sabbath, Def Leppard, Dio, The Offspring, Lynch Mob, Heaven and Hell, Last In Line started as the continuum of the Dio band with a new singer, however they have quickly departed from that very label and morphed into a brand new class act in their own right.
With two albums under their belt and now a third one in the making, as well as having already been announced for some major European festivals in 2020, Last In Line are well and truly riding the high tide.
While the Dio legacy shall never be undermined, nor forgotten, filling such big shoes has been a non-issue when you encounter a talent of the stature of new frontman Andrew Freeman, whose incredible powerhouse vocals keep grabbing audiences either sides of the hemisphere. Dio was in the past and ever so glorious, however Last In Line are very much in the now and comparisons seem merely speculative.
Not without encountering their share of hard times either, with the tragic loss of the late Jimmy Bain, the band have once again resurged with another perfectly fitting addition when ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan joined as a permanent member.
We are gathered tonight at the historical KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, residence of Judas Priest legend KK Downing, for a near to sold out show. The Mill is an ex-auto manufacturing factory turned into venue and filled with Judas Priest Metal memorabilia; dark, industrial and foggy, yet with an atmosphere ever so welcoming and relaxed.
The house is nearly full, abounding with rockers of old and modern school, who have come together to witness this magical rock show and Last In Line are indeed out to fulfil everyone’s expectations by offering a balanced setlist of new original songs mixed with the old Dio classics.
The musicians take their places while the guitar intro is resounding in the room. Phil Soussan and Vivian Campbell run a quick tuning check, while Andrew Freeman walks on stage wearing his iconic ‘Stay Metal’ cat jacket, which has now literally become his signature piece.
A quick nod at the audience and then straight into the lines: “bury me in your clever words, head down following the herd..” and we are enveloped into the familiar refrain of ‘Landslide’, one of the singles from their second album ‘II’. The song is a perfect cocktail of a thumping rhythm section on the verses and slower, solemn choruses beautifully showcasing Andrew’s incredibly powerful vocals, at a point even literally reaching stratospheric highs, while it all gets finished off by a killer classic Campbell solo; the perfect opener indeed.
‘Landslide’ and ‘Stand Up And Shout’, the first two tracks of the set, are shot like a burst of bullets, with no break. The pace gets a lot more urgent as soon as the band launch into the latter, a classic Dio tune in true Power Metal fashion. ‘Stand Up And Shout’ may well have been rehashed from the Dio set, however Freeman certainly gives it a fresh new perspective. Soussan’s playing really shines on this song, where the bass is ever so prominent and, of course, there is plenty of opportunity for Campbell’s sophisticated shredding.
The band carry on uninterrupted and follow with another oldie from the Dio era and it is now the turn of ‘Straight Through The Heart’. With a solid beat and an old school type guitar riff, the song marks the epitome of rock’n’roll, with a saucy stop/start feel that leaves way for Andrew’s signature belt, at times even totally naked. The guitar aficionados aren’t to be disappointed either as the Def Leppard hero launches into another one of his blistering solos.
‘The Year Of The Gun’, an original Last In Line song from their second album, tackling on the controversial socio-political issue of gun control, is a solid up-tempo tune offering plenty of percussive barrage, a thumping bassline and a riff mimicking the drums along to Andy’s shout out “have we come undone”. Freeman then launches into another of his signature dirty high belts on the middle eight, immediately followed by Vivian’s screaming guitar.
Time to roll back the years again and another ace is pulled out of the Dio back-catalogue. This time it is the anthemic ‘Holy Diver’ and literally the whole place is singing along to the lyrics. With a trademark 80s galloping riff, ever so catchy and familiar, this song has been heard over the years absolutely everywhere across the globe.
When you have such a longstanding and loyal following, it becomes extremely difficult to deviate from what’s expected, however Last In Line are doing it the right way. By mixing the old with the new, the transition becomes seamless and a clear example of that is the warm reception received by the next number.
‘Black Out The Sun’ is a track from the album ‘II’, evoking the Soundgarden-esque era of Superunknown and here comparisons to the late Chris Cornell seem inevitable. When you have two singers with equal power, grit, and such passion and intensity in the delivery that are second to none, it is simply impossible not to feel jolted. Cornell has been rightfully glorified as one of the best singers of all times; Freeman tonight has demonstrated not to be that far off from that very title.
‘Black Out The Sun’ has a mid-tempo phat, filthy rock riff backed by a solid beat enhanced by plenty of floor tom and a searing guitar solo to finish it off. No frills and straight to the point, it is simply stunning.
A band called Last In Line most certainly could not get away with not paying tribute to the Dio anthem ‘The Last In Line’ and we have literally reached the climax of the set with a song that requires no introductions and one that will never cease to wow audiences. Marked by Dio as one of his absolute classics at the time, it seems a foreign concept that ‘The Last In Line’ wouldn’t be a LIL contemporary. An absolutely remarkable tune offering everything on the menu; great groove and room for crafty fills, an epic riff, plenty of hooks, a grandiose guitar moment and, of course, vocals to die for.
However ‘Starmaker’, from the first Last In Line record ‘Heavy Crown’, really strikes a chord. A Tom Morello style guitar motif opens it, quickly joined by a haunting bass line on the steady beat that Appice so excels at, while the vocals show a true emotive quality, especially with the depth and warmth displayed in the verses. The room is filled with Andrew’s words: “Make me a star, Starmaker, cause you’ve always been a giver not a taker…” and the moment is simply glorious.
With ‘Electrified’, from ‘II’, the tempo picks up again, with a succession of in-verses in true classic rock style, while we bare witness to a guitar vs bass battle on the break, all beautifully finished by Freeman’s haunting scream at the end.
Equally, the Dio anthems keep on coming and ‘Egypt’ is certainly one, thanks to the sordid riff Vivian plays at the very start, the relentless beat, the slow gallop of the bass, while Andy does it more than justice with an absolutely outstanding vocal performance. With yet another stunning and tasteful solo by the axe wizard and the faster shredding when the tempo picks up on the outro, ‘Egypt’ becomes a show stopper in its own right.
Freeman asks the audience if they can help with a simple count in of 1, 2; 1,2,3,4 to help him introduce the next song, however ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ requires no introductions. Classed as the ultimate poptastic Dio classic, with a truly catchy riff and a magnificent refrain, this song is simply timeless and has been covered by contemporary artists of all genres including Corey Taylor and Kobra And The Lotus.
It is time for a well-deserved break. The band quickly disappear, until the frontman comes back for the encore and asks if people want more. To an expected yes, they then re-open with the iconic ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’. Atmospheric at first on the verses, however quickly picking up pace on the chorus, the band and the audience are simply one.
We are heading towards the end of the set, however Andrew has something to say: “We really appreciate you guys coming out and we are very grateful, but it makes it hard for us to pick songs and we want to keep creating. We love playing the Dio songs, but we want to take this band into the future.”
Seems the perfect place to launch into ‘Devil In Me’, a Last In Line original from ‘Heavy Crown’ and one of their sleaziest numbers to date. Sludgy and simply plain sexy, with Freeman beautifully showcasing that grit and ever angsty quality in his vocals, followed by the stunning signature solo played by the Def Leppard axe extraordinaire and an ever steady, yet loaded with dynamics rhythm section, unsurprisingly, the song goes down a storm.
Andy cheekily follows with “But I have one question before you go… are you having a good time?” and second question: “Do you rock?” before the very last number, ‘We Rock’. A bombastic fast tempo track from Dio’s 1984 ‘The Last In Line’ album and the perfect outro to such a remarkable succession of gems. With an intense killer riff, while Appice showcases his Buddy Rich type fills, Vivian Campbell has his final opportunity to lash out in yet another flashy solo, while the bass thumps all the way through. The final belt on ‘We Rock’ marks the call to the ending of this memorable night.
The cool, yet meticulous precision in the delivery of all players vs the intensity of Freeman’s performance create the ultimate magic formula that renders this band ever so special. The singer never loses sight of the audience either and works the entirety of the area ensuring that every last person is included.
In an earlier interview, Freeman describes himself as “the plumber, who goes and gets the job done”, however tonight has only confirmed what an absolutely invaluable asset he is to this already star-studded commune of absolute pros.
Last In Line have given us a generous fourteen song set, offering a solid performance throughout, churning tunes one after the other, where it is simply impossible to single a few out as the best ones. With very little fuss and never once losing momentum while simply gracing us with outstanding finesse, they are the catalyst of a well and truly mind-blowing experience and already leaving you wanting more.
Needless to say that the future can only look promising for this extraordinary foursome; we shall indeed be looking forward to the summer and to an awaited imminent return to our shores.
Stand Up And Shout
Straight Through The Heart
Year Of The Gun
Black Out The Sun
The last In Line
Egypt (The Chains Are On)
Rainbow In The Dark
Don’t Talk To Strangers
Devil In Me