Paul Rodgers Live at the O2 Apollo Manchester
9 May 2017
Review by Mark Dean || Photos by Mark Ellis
Gig dilemma in Manchester when this was announced, as exactly the same night one of the world’s largest Heavy Metal bands, Iron Maiden, were also in town. A difficult choice perhaps??? Well, not really, as it happened there was only one when Paul Rodgers, the legendary voice of Free and Bad Company, was playing a complete set of Free songs. Iron Maiden, I would always have the opportunity of seeing again once their next world tour passed through. This, however, was a unique and quite possibly a one-off chance which had to be firmly grasped with both hands. Paul and Bad Company had, only a few months ago, played the larger Manchester Arena which had resulted in quite a show. Fond memories of that night remained, so I was really looking forward to hearing the songs of his other super and very legendary group, Free. As that band had sadly folded quite some time ago, this would present the first and quite likely also the last opportunity to hear Paul paying homage to the Free back catalogue.
Support was the much lauded and very rock and roll genetically connected Deborah Bonham. Her family lineage is already well-documented, so I will instead focus on the exquisite quality of her music. Deborah was only accompanied by a sole guitarist, as the rest of her band had recently found alternative employment with only Paul Rodgers himself. This, however, allowed her voice to shine without the usual electric band accompaniment. The quality of her performance effortlessly engaged an almost capacity venue who had come along for a much heavier main act. She received a great reaction from the crowd who seemed to warm to her instantly.
Paul and his borrowed band had previously played some select shows before the Free Spirit tour was released. This proved very beneficial as it allowed them to establish a chemistry and there was no awkwardness given that the tour was still in its infancy. The tour was billed as Free Spirit, so the audience should have been well forewarned as to the set contents. However, it was to the crowd’s amusement that one female member shouted out for “Shooting Star” at one point…hmm. Well, Paul himself engaged with her several times but not to the point of changing the whole tour premise.
Last time I had been more than impressed with Paul Rodgers and the diversity and range of his vocals. Unlike many of his peers he had lost nothing in terms of the upper register, the fact that he was also able to retain all of its power was quite simply spellbinding at times. I am quite sure that I was not the only audience member standing visibly open-mouthed for the majority of the one-and-a-half-hour set. Backed by a high-quality band where all the elements both individually and collectively shone in terms of talent. Kudos should however be paid to guitarist Pete Bullick. To not just replicate the playing of Paul Kossoff by rote but to also add both emotion and feeling to capture the very essence of the songs certainly was very admirable. All the musicians were also graciously offered their own solo spots in the set. Generally musician solos leave me cold and disinterested but they came over as just the correct length in order to just entertain and engage, but not leave me disinterested.
The set list as promised was essentially a walk through the Free back catalogue. Personal highlights were “My Brother Jake,” and a fast and furious “Wishing Well”. I also particularly enjoyed the slower paced number “I Need a Friend.” The show culminated in a great audience interactive “All Right Now,” in which audience members were actively encouraged to leave their seated confines and let their hair (if you still have some) down.
In a nutshell, a fantastic evening paying respectful homage to the standards of the past but which, through the voice of Paul Rodgers, delivered one of the best sounding live vocal performances that I have ever been fortunate enough to witness.