JON ENGLISH – Sweden Stage (7/10)
The last day of the festival and the first day we actually could spot some clouds in the otherwise so clear blue sky. It didn’t matter much as the only result being that the weather turned from hot to very warm. We slept in pretty late and after breakfast and a cold Nils Oscar God Lager or two outside the house I decided to take a walk by myself down to the festival area to check out Jon English for a while. Now, Jon English is hardly a guy who has made an impression on me and my musical life, but I remember owning an old album of his, In Roads from 1981 and that I used to like it. But it must have been over 20 years since I listened to it and that album is all I have ever heard from him. But through Wikipedia I’ve seen that he has actually made no less than 16 albums since his debut in 1973, his last one came out in 2001. Also, I remember watching the TV series “Against The Winds” back in 1978, which I followed back then. So when it comes to a set list, I’m pretty clueless and I really can’t name drop any songs. However, I must admit that I had no expectations whatsoever on how he and his band would sound, so I was very pleasantly surprised by his performance. Jon’s voice is in really good shape still, as the guy is 64 years old and he still has that cool rasping to it. Also, his band were very tight and groovy and it was easy to tell that they were enjoying the hell out this. That made for a not so big crowd increasing for each song. I must admit that I thought that this was a bit of strange booking at first as I didn’t even know that the guy was still around, but it turned out that he has a pretty big following. As I said, I didn’t know any of his songs, but the ones that were played here rocked enough for me to stay and watch the whole gig. A really nice way to start the last day of the festival.
THE QUIREBOYS – Festival Stage (8/10)
As the sunny day moved on, we grabbed a cold one and made our way to the Festival Stage where The Quireboys would give us a nice dose of groovy rock ‘n’ roll like it was supposed to be played. Almost! The Quireboys are always a good booking and they are one of the best live acts around and therefore a killer booking to a festival like this. The only downside to this booking was that they were going to do an all acoustic gig. I can’t think of one good reason for a stunt like this, but apparently it wasn’t the band themselves who had chosen this. I usually get bored at acoustic gigs pretty quick, but on the other hand, this was The Quireboys doing it and how can you get bored at a Quireboys gig? Well, you can’t, acoustic or not. But what happened was, instead of me and my friends dancing around the area to their ultra groovy rock, we sat down in the grass in the sun, had ourselves some cold beers and enjoyed the gig from there – and it worked out brilliantly. They opened up the gig with “Don’t Bite The Hand” that went right into “There She Goes Again” and by then they had already won everyone over. An ever smiling Spike also seemed to enjoy himself tremendously which of course becomes contagious for a beer drinking, happy audience. “Mona Lisa Smiled” must be one of the best songs the guys have ever written and it works out really well acoustically. But as always, it’s the songs from their debut and now classic album A Bit Of What You Fancy (1990) that draws the biggest acclaim. The more unknown songs from that album, if you can use that phrase, “Roses And Rings”, “Misled” and “Sweet Mary Ann” worked out almost as well as the hits. Of course their big ballad “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and their ultimate party hit “7 O’Clock” are the ones that draw the biggest cheer from the fans. But guys, where was “Hey You”? There really should no Quireboys gig without that one. Still, a very well-played gig and great way to carry on this final day.
BLACK STAR RIDERS – Sweden Stage (8/10)
My mood was certainly up after the Quireboys gig so heading off to the Sweden Stage, chins were definitely up. Last year the band were at the festival under the Thin Lizzy banner and they played an awesome gig, but since then things have changed. Brian Downey has left the band and is replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso (Y&T, Megadeth) and keyboard player Darren Wharton has also jumped the ship, which leaves Scott Gorham as the only remaining Lizzy member, therefore it was only natural that, now that the band has recorded a new album, the name has been changed. Sweden Rock Festival has this rule to never book the same band two years in a row, but due to the name change, that’s what they actually did. But no complains from this guy. I love the band’s debut album and I was really looking forward to watching their debut gig as Black Star Riders. Also, I was a bit curious to see how their new material would stand up to the old Lizzy tunes. We got the first taste already with the opener, the title track of the new album, “All Hell Breaks Loose” and in my opinion, I think it worked out great. Two Lizzy tracks followed in “Jailbreak” and “Massacre” and it was really nice to hear that DeGrasso fits perfectly within this band, playing great together with bass player Marco Mendoza and staying true to the Brian Downey sound. Of course, he is no Downey, but he knows his Lizzy, that’s for sure. Also, it’s clear that singer Ricky Warwick has really grown into the part as the band’s frontman. He really owns the stage and he feels really secure in both the BSR stuff and the old Lizzy stuff. “Bloodshot” and the Lizzy / Whitesnake bastard child “Bound For Glory” follows and it seems like the audience really knows the new stuff. “Rosalie” follows and even though it is a good song, it is a Bob Seger song and frankly, even though Thin Lizzy recorded it in 1975, I would have preferred some original Lizzy track instead. I mean, there are shitloads of them to play. “Hey Judas” from the BSR debut has a big Lizzy feel to it and must be played and sits well by the side of “Emerald”, which is the next track played. Of course, “Emerald” is a must as it is one of Lizzy’s best and most popular songs. “Hoodoo Voodoo” works well as an album track but for some reason, it doesn’t work out as good this afternoon. It feels daft and lifeless and really passes by unnoticed. Which isn’t something you can say about “Whiskey In The Jar”. I have always thought that it is a pretty overrated track, but one have to admit that it really gets the crowd going. “Kingdom Of The Lost” is one of those “Emerald” / “Over The Hills And Far Away” (Gary Moore) type of songs, with a clear Celtic influence that makes it very hard to stand still to. It works out brilliantly live and it could very well result in a hit for the band. “Valley Of The Stones” is a again a good album track, but it kind of disappears here. The finishing is brilliant, first with the brilliant groovy (and my favourite) “Cowboy Song” and of course “The Boys Are Back In Town”. The song is a bit over played, in my book, but it is Thin Lizzy’s biggest hit ever and just like Deep Purple are forced to play “Smoke On The Water” every night, it’s the same with this lot. They would probably get executed if they didn’t. And it is a crowd pleaser, we all love hearing it live, so there you go. I’m not sure how objective I am in this case as I am such a big Lizzy fan, but I really feel that the Black Star Riders has a life of their own. Their debut album is a killer and they showed this noon that the new stuff holds up very well in a live situation as well. I hope and believe that there is a bright and long future for this band.
ACCEPT – Rock Stage (9/10)
First of all, Accept is not an nostalgia act. That’s been proven a few times over the years. I think we all was a bit sceptical when they decided to reunite without charismatic singer Udo Dirkschneider once again in 2010. The first time they tried that it ended with a disaster, but this time they didn’t change musically, they went with the classic Accept sound and a singer, Mark Tornillo, that was somewhat similar to Dirkschneider. I saw this line up live for the first time at Getway Rock in 2010 and they blew me away so hard it was actually hard to breathe. They sounded great, looked great and they had the damn time of their lives. With two great albums under their belt, Blood Of The Nations (2010) and Stalingrad (2012), it was expected that they weren’t about to play only the old classics live. Accept is a band, like Europe for instance, that has decided to move forward and not to live on past glories. And they both do it really damn well. The crowd for Accept’s gig this sunny evening were huge as in HUGE! In hindsight it’s really strange that the Rock Stage was the band’s home this evening. They could – and should – have played the Festival Stage because I don’t think that I have ever seen a bigger crowd around the Rock Stage area ever. The band hit the stage with two new songs, “Hung, Drawn And Quarted” and “Hellfire” off their newest album and right there it stood clear that the new stuff goes down equally as well as their old classics. “Restless And Wild” followed and the crowd went berserk. The band really had the crowd in their hands and watching Wolf Hoffmann (lead guitar) and Peter Baltes (bass) is a true pleasure. They look so natural on stage and they really can’t stop smiling. Mark Tornillo in his turn, fills the Udo shoes without any problem, fact is, we don’t miss Udo for a second. “Losers And Winners” (love the German accent in the backing vocals here – what’s ze metta…!!!) is a forgotten pearl off the Balls To The Wall album before “Stalingrad” kicks our asses and with “Breaker” following that we really never get any room to breathe. But who needs that? Instead we happily get ourselves seduced by the amazing “Shadow Soldiers” off the new album, that goes right into the angry “Bucket Full Of Hate” from Blood Of The Nations, before another lost gem, “Bulletproof” from their first reunion album Objection Overruled (1993) leaves us more breathless than ever. But it doesn’t end with that. “Pandemic” is a true live killer that takes us to “Princess Of The Dawn” and by now they have us singing by the top of our lungs and it feels like the whole place is moving with the crowd jumping around. “Up To The Limit” is the only song that feels a bit flat tonight, but when the intro to “Fast As A Shark” starts nobody cares about that and thousands of voices going all “hi-di-hi do-hi-da” over the intro tape. The song is still terribly fast and it is still furious and it is still brilliant. “Metal Heart” starts what can be described as an encore and the crowd goes nuts once more with the following “Teutonic Terror” showing everybody that their new stuff is as much as a must as their classics – what a brilliant tune! “Balls To The Wall” ends the whole thing and if there was a roof over our heads, it would have been tore down, if not earlier then by this one. Easily one of the best concerts on this year’s festival and by now no one can doubt that Accept are back as the real thing and not some guys travelling around playing classics for nostalgic reasons. If you’re an Accept fan and haven’t seen them live, then do so. This is real damn deal!
SKID ROW – Sweden Stage (6/10)
The last time I saw Skid Row was on this festival a few years back, but I can willingly admit that I didn’t give them the benefit of a doubt. I watched a couple of songs, dismissed them as shite and went on to other things I found more interesting. I didn’t watch the whole show this time either as I watched a couple of songs with Rush. But one thing is clear, either I had already made up my mind the last time or Skid Row is a better band today. Poor lead singer Johnny Solinger has gotten plenty a beating for not being Sebastian Bach and it actually is a bit unfair as the guy is a good singer. On the other hand, he’s not Sebastian Bach and everyone – including your truly – wants Bach back in the band. Except the band themselves, that is. It’s really admirable to never give in on your beliefs, but in Skid Row’s case that also means that they’re stuck playing a decent crowd at Sweden Stage and not selling any albums instead of headlining the whole thing and start making a bit of a profit on selling their music. When Bach played SRF last time, he drew a much bigger crowd than Skid Row and his records also outsells his former band by the numbers. It also doesn’t help that where Bach stands true to his musical roots and Skid Row don’t. Their two latest albums, Thickskin (2003) and Revolutions Per Minute (2006) has been complete crap, at least the latter, with music that really doesn’t own up to their name. That’s why it feels pretty good to notice that they have found their way again with their new 6 track EP United World Rebellion: Chapter One. The music is the melodic heavy metal we’re used to and the EP is really good. Two songs off that EP was played this night, “Let’s Go” which I missed and “Kings Of Demolition” which worked out really well. Also, “New Generation” from Thickskin was played and it worked out surprisingly well. But of course, it was the classics that went down the best as they were the ones everybody was there to hear. And the band plays them really well, but unfortunately with Solinger singing them, Skid Row of today comes across as nothing more than a really good Skid Row tribute band. “Makin’ A Mess”, “In A Darkened Room” and the Rachel Bolan sung Ramones cover “Psycho Therapy” works out really well, but it was “Monkey Business” that was this night’s profit. The jam in the middle was a bit too long, but I think the song is brilliant and Solinger really sings it with conviction. “Get The Fuck Out” is a great song, but it has Sebastian Bach written all over it and yes, I know “Youth Gone Wild” is their biggest song and it must be played, but that one is also synonymous with Bach. He might not be the writer of that song, but it doesn’t matter – it’s his song, no matter if they like it or not and with Solinger, I can only think tribute band. It actually feels misplaced when this line up plays it. It’s when Skid Row plays their Solinger sung stuff that they feel the most convincing, but the problem is that stuff isn’t as strong as their classics and therefore they sound a bit lame beside the older tunes. I’m really glad that this version of Skid Row is making good music again that sounds like Skid Row should, but the harsh reality is that I think that Skid Row only has one way to go after this, if they want to be a force to be counted with – and that is a reunion with Bach. Bury the hatchet, boys and you’ll be headlining in 2014!
AVANTASIA – Rock Stage (9/10)
Who said that Rush was headlining this year’s festival? Rush played from 9.30 – 11.45, but Avantasia played from 12.00 – 2.00 and they were the last act to play this year. So, they didn’t play the Festival Stage, but they were the last to go on and that makes for a headliner in my book. Now, Avantasia is a rock opera, something that are mostly made for the studio and not live situations. But, I know that they have done this once before at Sweden Rock, but I missed it then, so this year there was no way in Hell I would do that. After no less than six albums, Tobias Sammet has a lot of material to choose from and a whole bunch of lead singers to ask if they want to take part of this tour. Norwegian singer Jorn Lande has always been a big part of Avantasia, but he declined to be part of the latest album The Mystery of Time and he also declined to be part of this tour, which really is a shame. That said, it’s not like Sammet has brought with him a bunch of Vince Neils, Mike Tramps or Ron Keels on to this tour – the ones he brought along are all brilliant. The whole shebang started with “Spectres” followed by the fantastic “Invoke The Machine” and the first singer out was Pretty Maids man Ronnie Atkins. Right there and then was the time when I stopped longing for Jorn. The guy is just brilliant. Atkins also did “Black Orchid”. Michael Kiske (Helloween, Place Vendome, Unisonic) was brought out to sing “Reach Out For The Light” and “Avantasia” and it’s nice to state that the guy still has his voice left. In fact, the latter track was one of the show’s highlight. For “The Story Ain’t Over” and “The Great Mystery” we got Bob Catley of Magnum and even tough I have always known that the guy is a good singer, I didn’t know he was this good. I mean God, the guy is almost 70 years old and still have the pipes, never missed a note – impressing! Fourth man out is Eric Martin of Mr Big who totally lifts the already magnificent “Dying For An Angel” to new heights and also “Promised Land” is done more than justice by Martin. Michael Kiske and background singer Amanda Sommerville duets on “Farewell” and they’re really convincing. Sommerville is fantastic – what a beautiful voice. With all those brilliant voices on the stage it becomes all too apparent that Sammet himself has a real hard time keeping his head above water. I mean, the guy isn’t bad by any means, but the fact is, Sammet’s strength lies as a songwriter and producer and not as a singer because he really couldn’t hold a candle to they guys and girl he brought along. Besides, his imposed vibrato is nothing but annoying. Kiske and Catley both sings “Shelter From The Rain” and it’s really something else hearing Catley sing a fast metal song as it’s nothing like he usually does, but he totally nails it. Ronnie Atkins almost outdoes himself in “The Scarecrow”. That song used to be Jorn’s piece but Atkins totally owns it this night and I didn’t even give Jorn a thought. Did I say the guy is amazing? And so is the song. Atkins, Kiske and Martin does “Saviour In The Clockwork” brilliantly and Martin and Atkins turns the otherwise dull “Twisted Mind” into a live killer. Well done! “Lost In Space” is Sammet’s baby and it is a really good song, but Sammet sings this himself which takes the edge off a bit, to be honest. They bring the whole ensemble out for the encore of “Sign Of The Cross” / “The Seven Angels” including rhythm guitarist Oliver Hartmann and backing singer Thomas Rettke and they all end this rock opera with a bang! I knew that Avantasia’s music is brilliant and I knew there was gonna be some great singing and I had a feeling they would put on a good show, but after the gig I was completely taken on how brilliant this was. During this tour Avantasia plays for three hours but as this was a festival gig it was shortened to two hours which only makes me hope that they will return for a proper gig. If / when they do, count me in on that one. Avantasia did one of the best gigs of this whole festival and I believe that they were the true headliners this day.