Festival Stage (8/10)
It feels really weird writing this, but since leaving Kiss for the second time back in 2002, the future has been brighter for Ace Frehley than in a long, long time. What started so good in 1996, the Kiss reunion soon became more turbulent and both Ace and drummer Peter Criss had big problems staying sober, but after his last demise, Ace has been getting his life in order, both personally and on a musical level. Now seven years sober, Ace has released two solo albums and been touring quite the deal. His first solo album after leaving Kiss, Anomaly (2009) has been under debate among Kiss-fans whether it’s a good record or a crappy one. I think it is a good one for most parts, but sure, there is stuff that he could have done better, but Ace was getting his shit together still while recording that album. But his last album Space Invader was a huge surprise. I knew that Ace would come up with a real good album sooner or later, but this good, I hadn’t expected. Space Invader was Ace best effort since his 1978 Kiss solo album and it didn’t only surprise on a quality level, it also outsold Kiss’ latest record Monster (2012), something I think no-one had expected. But reports from his tour has been both good and bad, but a little too many reports has been of a sloppy guitar player and a half arsed singer acting blasé and jaded, so I didn’t know what I would expect. The last time Ace visited Sweden Rock was back in 2008 and he did a really good gig then and also when I saw him at his own show in 2009, he and his band did a good job, so I was hoping for a kick-ass gig. Ace and his band kicked off with “Rocket Ride”, a perfect opener and right there and then, it felt good to see that Ace was in a real good mood and shape and that the song really stuck. Also, Ace’s playing sounded better than in a long time. To play two new songs, first single “Gimme A Feelin'” and “Toys”, so early in the set is a brave move when most of the crowd is there to hear the classics. But the quality of those songs speak volumes because they sit very well in between a classic like “Rocket Ride” (Alive II, 1977) and the next song up, “Parasite” (Hotter Than Hell, 1974). The latter grooved just like in the old days and big kudos to Ace’s band, that sounded very well rehearsed and tight. Next up is “Love Gun”, a Paul Stanley-written tune. I’m not totally happy with that one in the set, but Ace’s drummer Scot Coogan, takes the lead vocals and man, what a great singer he his – he totally owns the song. So much that maybe he should put on Paul’s make-up and join Kiss on tour. Paul hasn’t sounded that good in ages. “Breakout” from the 1986 debut Frehley’s Comet record breaks out (punpunpunpun…) and since Ace’s old-new guitar player Richie Scarlet did co-write the song but left the band before the recording, it feels great to hear Scarlet sing this, this is how it was supposed to sound. His replacement, Tod Howarth, who sang it on record didn’t do this track justice one bit. “Snow Blind” is one of my favourite tracks off Ace’s 1978 solo record and judging by the crowd’s reaction when it was being played, it wasn’t just me who loved the song. After a totally unnecessary bass solo, the bassist himself, Chris Wyse, takes the lead vocal in “Strange Ways” (Hotter Than Hell) and what a killer groove it has. It’s Peter Criss that sings on the original recording, but Wyse does the song extremely well. “Strange Ways” is one of those Kiss songs that Kiss would never play live and it’s exactly the kind of song I love to hear on a Ace gig. “New York Groove” is the Russ Ballard tune that gave Ace his biggest hit ever and it has to played, of course and the band makes the song swing really hard and the big crowd really sings their heart out – brilliant. “2 Young 2 Die” from the 1989 album Trouble Walkin’, sung by Scarlet, is an ok song, but there are so many better songs to choose from. But the classic opening drum fill that we all know told us that it was “Shock Me” time and if there is one song that people associate with Frehley, then it’s “Shock Me”. His guitar solo that has always been attached to that song is classic and a must but truth be told, it’s more cool and for show than well-played. But it was during “Shock Me” that I turned to my brother and said: “Ace is playing real fucking good, tonight. I can’t remember when he played this well last”. My brother, a huge Ace fan, just nodded smiled. “Cold Gin” kicked in next. The classic from Kiss’ 1973 debut album is just so much Ace and when Ace sings it, it becomes even more Ace. To be honest, to hear a song about someone loves for a special drink of alcohol sung by Gene Simmons sounds plain wrong. Ace should have sung it from get go. The band make a fantastic version of it this noon as well. To me, the opening track off Ace’s solo album, “Rip It Out” is a must at every gig, but on this tour it had been left out on many dates. That’s why it felt awesome when he introduced it and the band was kicking and screaming and I loved every second. They finished the set with “Deuce”, Ace’s favourite Kiss track and the whole place went nuts. “Ace is back and he told you so”, is a line from “Rock Soldiers” (to not play this tune is sacrilige, Ace!), a track by Frehley’s Comet and this day, he showed us that he really was. I have been a big Kiss fan since 1975, but it took me up until 1996 to see Ace live for the first time. I loved what I heard then, but today was the best I have heard Ace play since then. The solos sounded the way the should and he had power, feel and attitude in his playing. Still, I have a big problem with the set list. I really see no reason for songs like “Love Gun” and “Deuce” being played, songs that Ace didn’t even write and these are songs Kiss play anyway, when Ace has so many killers of his own. “Talk To Me”, the classic from 1980’s Unmasked has been in the set during this tour but had to go today – a total bummer. I would have loved to hear that one and I wasn’t alone on that, I know. “2000 Man ” has also been on the list. “Getaway”, “Save Your Love”, “Dark Light”, “Hard Times”, “Two Sides Of The Coin” – they are all old Kiss songs that would have gone down great at a festival like this. Quality wise, I could have given Ace and his band a 9/10, but the choice of songs takes one point off the rating. Other wise, a killer gig by a killer band!
Rock Stage (9/10)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t gonna see Mother’s Finest this year. The thing is, I don’t know squat about this band. Yes, I know their hit “Baby Love”, but I’ll be honest again, I never thought much of it. Yes, I hear the swing and I can feel the groove but I just don’t think it’s such a great song – and that’s the only song I have ever heard by this band – at least as far as I know. But many of my friends has been telling me that this band should not be missed and my fiance was one of them. She told me I just have to go see them with her – there was no way in Hell that she was gonna miss them. So I did – and boy, was I glad that I did because the groovy mayhem that this band brings on their audience is merciless. From the opening “Angels”, “Burning Love” and “Truth’ll Set You Free” hit like big fists right on the jaw. The band swinged, grooved and played like their life depended on it – and lead singer Joyce “Baby Jean” Kennedy, still at the age of 67, has a voice that can move mountains. And at the age of 67, how is it possible to look that fit and have the condition to dance around like that. Maybe she should pay Vince Neil a visit to sell some advice. Lead guitarist Gary “Moses Mo” Moore is also a player from Hell. The guy has so much feel and groove and plays with a frenzy and attitude like you wouldn’t believe. He’s also the only white dude in the band which looks kinda cool on the stage. Now, thank God for people that remembers the set lists of the bands they see and puts them out on the net because if they didn’t I would have a clue which songs were being played this afternoon. “Can’t Fight The Feeling” and “Cling To The Cross” makes a few thousand people dance and smile while “Niggizz Can’t Sang Rock And Roll” has a message right in the groove, a statement that if you think that black people can’t rock, then you’re in for a damn big surprise. Guess who invented rock ‘n’ roll from the beginning, huh! With both Baby Jean and Glenn “Doc” Murdock, Mother’s Finest has two high quality lead vocalists and even tough is no youth, the guy has also kept a fine voice with a really broad range. But the fact is, even though Doc is great, it’s Baby Jean we want to hear the most. Not only her voice, the woman has so much charisma she’d be billionaire if she could put some of it in bottles to sell. “The Wall”, “Shut Up” and “She’s Ready” all kicks ass before we get to the section of the set that everyone – apparently – have been waiting for: “Baby Love”. I actually found it a little weird that as the song was (and still is) such a massive hit, they didn’t save it for last. Well, they didn’t and when they play it, it feels like the whole ground is shaking. All of a sudden, Sweden Rock Festival turns into a dance inferno. No matter where you looked, people danced. Everyone did, at least a little. I got the song right there and then – yes, it’s a fantastic tune. Before the end they played “Mickey’s Monkey”, a fast groover that kept people going, followed by a really heavy guitar solo by Moses Mo and for the first time we got a guitar solo with swing. They finished the set with “Piece Of The Rock” and the encore “My Badd” and afterwards, I was shaking. It felt like had been run over by a steamroller or something. I’m really glad I went to see Mother’s Finest because they turned out to be one this festival’s greatest gigs. If you ever get the chance to see this band in action – do it. You’re in for a killer time – and then some. I can – and a few thousand more – can promise you that.
Rock Stage (7/10)
It was the year 1990 and I was watching Headbanger’s Ball as usual this Sunday night. The VJ, Vanessa Warwick told us that she had the video for this pretty new band called Extreme. I knew the name because I had read about them in Metal Hammer a year or so before. I never bothered with them because frankly, I though that the name Extreme blew. They just didn’t interest me. Some four minutes later with their new single “Get The Funk Out” beaten right in to my skull, I was breathless. What the hell was this? I need this album, Pornograffitti, where the song was taken from and I needed it now. Apparently, everybody else needed that album as well because when I went to the record store after work the next day, the album was sold out – in every damn store. Of course, it just took a couple of days for the stores to order the CD and I had it by the end of the week. But me – and a whole bunch of my friends – became Extreme-fans right there and then. We all know what happened when the ballad “More Than Words” exploded a few months later. But Extreme only had a couple of years because already by the follow-up, 1992’s III Sides To Every Story, the band’s popularity had faded and when Waiting For The Punchline came out in 1995, grunge was the new thing and no-one cared about Extreme anymore. Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt went solo for a short while and lead singer Gary Cherone joined Van Halen for one album (III) and a disastrous tour. The band reunited in 2008 with the very underrated record Saudades De Rock and has been touring successfully ever since. I remember two gigs that Extreme did just after Pornograffitti had exploded. In pretty small rock club, they rocked the living daylight out of us and the second gig, at a larger place a few years later was also pretty damn great. Extreme was a killer live band! That’s why I was mighty happy for this booking and I couldn’t wait to see band again. Opening up with one of their strongest songs ever, “Decadence Dance”, Extreme went out to kick some ass and they sure did. “Li’l Jack Horny”, the funky rap-influenced groover did its best to create a swinging dance floor in front of the Rock Stage. “Comfortably Dumb” created some confusion in the crowd, many people didn’t know this song at all and it isn’t strange at all. It’s from their reunion album Saudades De Rock and it felt like most people didn’t know the tune at all. I think it was great that they played it, though. The leading pop-metal funker “Rest In Peace” from III Sides went down like a storm, a very popular tune, no doubt and “It (‘s A Monster)” was always one of the more popular tracks from this band and this evening was no exception. But what was a bit of a surprise was how popular their self titled debut is. Both “Kid Ego” and “Play With Me” drew som loud cheering from the audience, the latter showed that Nuno Bettencourt still has his guitar playing skills – a magnificent musician. “Midnight Express”, the instrumental acoustic guitar song from the very underrated Waiting For The Punchline was entertaining for a minute, but went on for too long. I guess no one actually knew what song it was, most probably thought it was a show-off thing from Nuno as that album sold next to nothing, which is a shame. While the acoustic guitar was already there they could might as well take the opportunity to play “More Than Words”. Said and done, “More Than Words” it was and the singing along started. But I’m a little surprised, I really thought that the song would draw a bigger cheer and louder singing. Extreme clearly has songs more popular than this. Or maybe people are still tired of it? “Cupid’s Dead” is a metal funker with ADHD, really good and heavy and works well live, but “Take Us Alive” from the reunion album doesn’t go anywhere and again, lots of people look like question marks. Besides, it’s one of the weakest songs on that record. This one should have been left behind. “Am I Ever Gonna Change” is part two of the “Everything Under The Sun” medley, well it’s more or less a smaller rock opera, from their III Sides record. Great song, but it’s a bit too bombastic to work here this evening, an error assessment, without doubt. But just when we were getting a bit sleepy, “He-Man Woman Hater” kicked in and all hell broke loose and when their semi-acoustic pop song “Hole Hearted” broke loose, we were drawn back in again and the guys re-started their groove fest. A short acoustic version of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” became a small appetizer before the whole gig reached climax with the you-know-which song, yes “Get The Funk Out”. With a closer like that, it’s really impossible to lose and Extreme weren’t even close to losing anything this evening. There were a few small mistakes, mostly song-wise, but it also felt like Gary Cherone couldn’t hit the notes on many occasions. Maybe it was the monitoring that wasn’t completely right, but it actually sounded sour at times. Also, the backing vocals sounded way too good and there were more than two voices doing those so the backing tracks were a little too obvious. Other than that, I have nothing to complain about. The fact is, I would love to see Extreme on their own soon, this gig certainly left me wanting more. A very good gig by a very underrated band.
Festival Stage (9/10)
Back in the 80’s when Judas Priest were huge and your truly just a snotty little headbanger with a jeans jacket full of badges, emblems and pins of different metal bands, I never got to see Judas Priest. Why? Well, they didn’t really visit Sweden that often and when the 80’s had turned to 90’s I had actually grown at bit tired of them and neither Ram It Down (1988) nor Painkiller (1990) really were to my liking. And then Rob Halford left and they REALLY became uninteresting, kind of like Iron Maiden without Bruce Dickinson. The first time I saw Priest live was when they just had reunited with Halford and headlined Sweden Rock for the first time. I was in heaven. To me, Judas Priest sounded exactly like they should even though critical voices were raised even back then – but that always happens. The next time I saw them was at Sweden Rock again, 2008 and this time I had a critical voice as well. They did a great gig, but it took almost half the gig for Halford’s voice to get in shape. I sounded strained and he had work like a maniac to reach even half the notes he used to. A year later they played the Stockholm Globe Arena with Megadeth and Testament and at that concert, Rob sounded ok, but not at all like in his days of glory. When Judas Priest headlined Sweden Rock in 2011, the first with guitarist Richie Faulkner, Halford had announced that this would be Priest’s last world tour and that they were thinking about retiring. Not a bad idea at all because Halford’s voice was shot. The rest of the band did a great job, but Halford just couldn’t sing anymore. This was it, I thought. So much to my and many others big surprise, Priest announced a few years later that a new album was in the works. When said album, Redeemer Of Souls (2014), was released it was an extremely pleasant surprise quality wise and it sold like crazy. It doesn’t take more for aging rockers to change their minds and viola – a new world tour for Priest. When they were booked once more for Sweden Rock, I was happy because I love the new album, but also very doubtful – how could a guy like Halford that had a shot voice four years ago be able to sing better now. To be honest, my expectations on Halford wasn’t huge. Well, it took only half of the opening track, the new number “Dragonaut” (brave move) to shut the mouthes of the doubters. Halford, now 63, sounded better than he has done in 10 years. WTF!!???!! How is that possible? The guys rocks the tune like this was their first tour ever and “Metal Gods” sounded fantastic. To bring back “Devil’s Child”, one of the more obscure songs from 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance made me smile like a child – and Halford nailed it. How bloody awesome. “Victim Of Changes” (Sad Wings Of Destiny, 1976) is a must and a true Priest classic. The screams? Halford nailed them as well. Another newie, “Halls Of Valhalla” sounded awesome and did not make a fool of itself next to “Changes” which speaks volumes about the new record’s quality and when the intro to “Love Bites” started, the crowds’ cheering must a have been heard to the moon – fantastic. Next new song, “March Of The Damned” and I look out to the crowd – it looked like Priest were playing one of their old classics, fists in the air and jumping, the crowd tagged along. Their 1986 “pop” record Turbo is probably their must hated work to date. “True” metal heads are like that, they must hate everything that’s a little more catchy and melodic than what they’re used to. I love that album, though. Anyway, that’s why it’s a bit strange that “Turbo Lover” is the song that draws the loudest cheer of all, the loudest sing along and the most jumping. Isn’t that song supposed to be hated? Well, Priest makes a fantastic version of it, much heavier than on the record and the song still holds the number one position as my favourite Priest track. “Redeemer Of Souls” sounds like it could have been on Defenders Of The Faith (1984) album and therefore works like charm and the highly atmospheric “Beyond The Realms Of Death” gives me goose bumps and sends shiver down my spine – brilliant! And then there’s “Jawbreaker”. I can die now. No, not yet, I have to change my mind first. “Jawbreaker” is Judas Priest’s best song. Man! The ending with, first their biggest hit “Breaking The Law” and then the fantastic “Hell Bent For Leather” with Halford as usual on his bike, is superb. They could have ended it there and I would have been completely happy. But they didn’t, of course. There must be an encore. By the sound of the intro “The Hellion” that turns into “Electric Eye”, the crowd goes completely ape and with the heavy hypnotic groove of “You Got Another Thing Comin'”, Priest shows everyone which band that is metal’s number one. We start thinking that it’s over, but Priest has other plans. They don’t wanna leave what Halford calls “the best rock festival on the planet”, no instead they give us another encore. Yes of course, “Painkiller” must be played and I must admit, it’s an amazing live track. With the last number “Living After Midnight”, together we try to make the whole of Sölvesborg to rock like a boat. This is what I call metal action. Tonight, Rob Halford proved everybody wrong. He can still sing and he sings bloody great for a 63-year-old metal screamer. He even growls every now and again – how awesome. Also, it’s a joy to watch Richie Faulkner. Talk about giving the old men a real shot in the arm. The last time I saw Faulkner, he was the new guy and he took a more laid back approach in the background. Tonight Faulkner almost took over, his guitar playing is splendid and he works the stage like he owns it, he’s not in K.K. Downing’s shadow anymore, he co-wrote the new album and he now has proven himself a real member of the band, not just a hired hand and Priest is a better band because of him. I’m sure their new-found spark and willingness to make another world tour has everything to do with Faulkner. I didn’t miss Downing for a second tonight. I can’t wait to see the band live again. United, united, united we stand! This is a worthy Sweden Rock Festival closer!
Photo: Hanna Henrikson