The first thing I noticed before Ammunition started to play was that the huge backdrop only had the Ammunition logo, without “Age-Sten’s” in front of the name. Good thing. Drop the “Age-Sten’s” tag from the band name – Ammunition alone sounds and looks way better. Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I can talk about their gig. Ammuntion’s gig at VRF was one I had looked forward to. The band’s debut album Shangaied was a real killer and I was curious about how the former Wig Wam vocalist’s new supergroup (Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, WET) on guitar, Hal Patino (ex Pretty Maids, ex King Diamond) on bass, Robban Bäck (Eclipse, ex Sabaton) on drums, Jon Pettersen on guitar and Lasse Finbråthen on keyboards) would sound live and how they would be received by the audience. Well, it was clear from the beginning that Nilsen had quite a few fans this midday and many of the punters were very aware of who both Mårtensson and Patino were. The band kicked off with “Do You Like It” from the debut album and it was clear that the small but dedicated audience were with the band right from the spot. For me, who has never seen Nilsen live before – I hardly knew what the guy looked like without the glam make-up from his Wig Wam days – it was really cool to see how much of a showman Nilsen is. Not only that, but the guy have a set of pipes that made me really impressed – this guy really can sing, what a range! It’s also a joy to see how much Nilsen enjoys himself – sometimes it feels like his big smile will cut his head in two. The rest of the band also seems to be enjoying themselves tremendously which rubs off on the audience. The band continues with “Shanghaied”, followed by “Strung Out” and a killer version of “Gonna Get You Someday” from Nilsen’s past band Wig Wam. The song was guested by the ever smiling Ted Poley from Danger Danger who seemed to be a big Wig Wam fan. He knew every word of the song – very cool. “Tie Me Down” is a song that sports a more sleazy way on the album and works like charm live and the half ballad “Road To Babylon” also breathes a new life live, its rootsier and blusier direction is perfect for a live situation. “Hit Me With Your Bombs” is a song that passes by unnoticed on the album and maybe not the song I would have hoped for in the live set, but it works and does its job, but “Take Out The Enemy” is a hard rocker that bites hard on the album and feels logical for a gig like this. “It’s Hard To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roller”, another old Wig Wam “classic” went down like a storm, just like the first one did and it was clear that a lot of people in the audience knew their Wig Wam well. “Give Me A Sign”, one of the best tracks off their album finished the set in a great way, but of course, there was an encore to come and the heavy rocker “Silverback” got to kick that off. A killer track and one of their heavier moments. But the biggest cheer of the day went to the Eurovision Song Contest hit “In My Dreams”. I guess everybody knows that song. The backing vocals were also very impressive and as far as I could hear and see, no backing tracks were being used. On the whole an awesome gig and I really hope that Nilsen’s “we’re here to stay whether you like it or not…” words are true because this really felt like a real band and not just some bunch of hand-picked musicians. This band has a future, I’m sure and with gigs like this, they will increase their audience along the way. But next time, if the old Wig Wam stuff shall be brought along, do play “Wild One” (Non-Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll, 2010). That song has a chorus that would make the dead get up and rock!
I must admit that these All Stars line-ups that seems to be a must at festivals has never interested me one bit. Usually there are too few of the musicians that really interests me and the covers that are being played are usually the same old, same old. But when one of this festival’s organizers, Zinny Zan (Shotgun Messiah, Easy Action) got to work with his first ever All Stars line-up, the interesting names started popping up, one after the other and when the line-up was released it was clear that this was not to be missed. Apparently, names for next year’s line-up is already being discussed. Of course, Zinny himself was part of the All Star team and on his motorbike he took the stage with drummer Björn “Grizzly” Höglund (Easy Action) who is the only musician, together with keyboard player Stefan Gunnarsson, who plays on every song this day. With him he had Allan S and Ludvig Turner (Adrenaline Rush, Reach) on guitars and Soufian Ma’Aoui (Adrenaline Rush) on bass and being a major Thin Lizzy fan, Zinny brings us an explosive performance of Lizzy’s “Are You Ready”, a perfect opener. The next tune, “Jailbreak”, might be a more expected choice, but non the less a killer one. The band sound tight and focused and it’s impossible not to be taken by what a brilliant frontman Zinny still is. After that another one of the organizers take the stage – Annika Lewin takes Zinny’s place as front (wo)man and the band bursted out in “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. Now, this might sound weird, but the fact is, AC/DC is a really hard nut to crack when it comes to cover songs. First of all, you have to get the rhythm right, but more importantly, the vocals is a bitch to nail. It doesn’t matter if you have a fantastic voice with abroad range, if the “THE” thingy isn’t there, you fail. Many have have tried and most of them can’t bring justice to their songs. But Annika can. Not only does she have an amazing voice, but she also manages to totally nail said song – fantastic!
Next up, Turner leaves the stage with Lewin and in comes guitarists Chris Laney (Laney’s Legion, Zan Clan, Randy Piper’s Animal) and Martin Sweet (Crashdiet) together with singers Zinny Zan and Johnny Lima and the band kicks into Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”, the version that Zan Clan played it on their underrated album We Are Zan Clan, Who the F**k Are You (2005) and it sounds awesome! Being a Cheap Trick fan, it’s a killer whenever you get to hear a Cheap Trick song live. After that Laney, Sweet and Zan leaves the stage and Turner returns for a version of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”. Ok, so I used to be a Bon Jovi fan and sure, “It’s My Life” is a great track, but I’m sorry, this choice of cover is a pretty dull one. Lima is an ok singer, but a brilliant frontman and it’s a shame that he couldn’t come up with a more inspiring cover choice. His next one is event worse – Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”! Come on, already! Where’s the imagination? That song is up there with “Smoke On The Water”, “Proud Mary”, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Rockin’ All Over The world” when it comes to boring cover choices. Lima’s performance was faultless, but his choice in covers left a whole lot to be desired, I’m afraid.
Next up, a totally new band. In walks guitarists Chris Laney and Göran Elmqvist, bass player Nalle Påhlsson (Therion, ex- Treat, Randy Piper’s Animal) and singer Thomas Vikström (Therion, ex- Talk Of The Town, Candlemass) and they give us a monstrous version of Dio’s “The Last In Line”. Hello, world, this is how the big boys do it! Man, my hair on my arms were standing straight up. You really can’t find a better bass player than Nalle Påhlsson and Vikström still has the pipes to die for. I’m also impressed by Elmqvist, a player I haven’t seen in a live situation in ages – the guy is brilliant. Next up, the guys play a killer version of Judas Priest’s “Breaking The Law”. Yes, I know, that is also an unimaginative cover choice, but the guys play it so well that I just don’t care. To round things off, they bring us Vikström’s first ever hit “Free Like An Eagle” by his first band Talk Of The Town. Foreign readers might be clueless of this tune, but in Sweden that song was huge for a while. This was a great choice and I got the feeling that the choice was very appreciated. The performance from these guys was one of the best of the entire festival and I would love to have an album from these guys – please form a band, guys!
After that, one of the most anticipated performances of this year’s festival was about to take place, the come back of former Runaways singer Cherie Currie. Now, I can easily admit that I was never a Runaways-fan. Sure, the posters was up there on the wall, but that was more because of the fact that I thought they were hot than anything else. I was all about Sweet and Kiss and I never heard a note from the Runaways until many, many years later. But that doesn’t matter one bit, Cherie Currie is a legend and the fact that she makes one of her first appearances at Väsby Rock is nothing less than a sensation – a huge thing, no doubt. Cherie walks on stage, looking very fresh and fit and she doesn’t seem to have forgotten how to work the stage at all. Also, Elmqvist had left and was replaced by Martin Sweet once again. The band kicked off with “American Nights” and it sounded brilliant. Cherie still has her voice intact and it looked like she loved every second. Unfortunately, there were some technical problems so there were a long pause where Currie showed that she had no problem filling that hole, chatting up the audience with some stories and jokes. Well done! Problems solved and “Is It Day Or Night” follows and suddenly I got the feeling that I’m the only one out there who hasn’t got a Runaways connection as a kid – everyone is singing along and when they kick off “Cherry Bomb” I too had rock out. That song I did know and the version that was played by this band was just awesome! To bring in Currie to the All Star line-up was a big success. The 56-year-old singer also let us know that she has a new album and tour coming in the near future. Something to look forward to, if her performance here is anything to go by.
But I guess that the All Star singer most people were looking forward to see and hear was Tony Martin. With his past as the frontman for one of the bigger eras of Black Sabbath with classic albums like The Eternal Idol (1987), Headless Cross (1989), Tyr (1990) and Cross Purposes (1994), Martin has a place as one of the iconic lead singers of Sabbath, with only Ozzy and Dio in front of him (yes, I know that Ian Gillan was in the band for 15 minutes, but he was never really accepted as the voice of Sabbath). Having seen Martin as Sabbath’s lead singer back in the day – and being totally blown away by both his voice and stage presence, I was really looking forward to see the guy on stage again – and I did I have my hopes on hearing a few favourites from his Sabbath era. As a note I can highly recommend Tony Martin’s pop/rock album Back Where I Belong from 1992. A brilliant album! Backing him up he had Chris Laney (guitars), Nalle Påhlsson (bass), Björn Höglund (drums) and Stefan Gunnarsson (keyboards). To be honest, it was a bit of a shock when they announced that the first track would be “Call Of The Wild” from Headless Cross. I love that song and I love that album, so it was really cool to finally hear that song live. Unexpected, but cool. And Martin sounded really good, to begin with, but it was clear that just one song had taken its toll on Martin’s voice. You could hear when he started talking that his voice sounded strained and hoarse. “The Shining”, one of the Martin era classics was up next and it brought down a loud cheer from he audience. Martin’s voice was beginning to shatter, but I think that for the most part he managed to bring the song home. But it was clear that Martin hadn’t been using his voice for a very long time, he sounded rusty, but I really didn’t care, I was just happy to hear those songs live again. It was with his last number “Headless Cross” that it became obvious that Martin’s voice wouldn’t last. Still, he did the best of it, cutting the vocal lines short and brought in the audience to help him sing and I think it worked. “Headless Cross” is not an easy song to sing and Martin is hardly a youngster anymore and I think with a bit more vocal training, he’ll be fit to sing those songs well in the future. How about the band, then? There were guys on the stage that were replacing guys like Neil Murray (bass), Cozy Powell (drums),Geoff Nicholls (keyboards) and the mighty Tony Iommi (guitar) musically, a task that could make big names nervous wrecks. Well, Påhlsson is a rock and I knew he’d pull it off and keyboards were never pivotal for Black Sabbath so Gunnarsson didn’t really have big shoes to fill. But Cozy Powell…! Well, throughout the whole All Star gig, Höglund impressed the shit out of me. I have never heard him play before even though I knew about him and man, that guy is a killer. He did the Sabbath songs with the glory. But the biggest part was played by Chris Laney. I mean, we’re talking about Tony Iommi here. And the thing is, Laney’s day job is in more melodic hard rock and sleazy stuff, but just as Tony Martin told me after the gig: “Oh man, he pulled it off brilliantly!”. He did, really. I know the guy and I know he would never pull an half-assed performance, but this was better that I had thought. He even got the Iommi tone down – on a Flying V!!! Yes, this All Star thing was an impressing gig and one of the coolest gigs on this festival. You got one helluva challenge for next year, Zinny dude.
It was just a little more than a month ago since I saw H.E.A.T. take over Sweden Rock Festival, showing the real headliners of that festival, Mötley Crüe, how you own a festival. To compare a guy like H.E.A.T. lead singer Erik Grönwall with a guy like Vince Neil makes me laugh just thinking about it. So, nowadays, a H.E.A.T. gig comes with some major expectations that only grows bigger every time you see them. With their brilliant Grönwall fronted albums and their constant touring, H.E.A.T. has gathered a very big following and I’m sure that they are really close to get their big break world-wide. Just watching the crowd this evening, it’s clear that H.E.A.T. is the biggest draw this year’s festival. I have said it from day one, H.E.A.T. should have headlined this day, not Danger Danger. I’m not gonna kick on D2, but the fact is, this is not even a competition. H.E.A.T. is way bigger than D2 in Sweden. The set list this night was exactly the same as at Sweden Rock and the band kicked off with “Point Of No Return” and “A Shot At Redemption” from the new record. This is really the perfect way to open a show, the first being a fast and edgy melodic rocker while the latter has this blusier groove with a beat that makes it impossible to stand still. Even if their sound wasn’t top-notch at first, H.E.A.T. had won already by now leaving the road open for the band to just bring it home. The melodic monster “Better Off Alone”, the Bon Jovi-esque “Heartbreaker” and the amazingly groovy “It’s All About Tonight” took them across the finishing line at number one. With the quality of the performance and the songs themselves, it’s a wonder that this band isn’t already headlining the biggest festivals around. “Inferno” is a brilliant tune with Metal undertones that works like a charm live. “Tearing Down The Walls” is a swinging half ballad that has Grönwall playing acoustic guitar and the chorus has the whole crowd participating with their voices – goosebump time! “Mannequin Show” might have the melody of “Oops I Did It Again”, but who cares? It’s such a brilliant track that has to be played live. Two older tracks from the Kenny Leckremo fronted days follows, first “Late Night Lady” off the debut, a good song and it lifts even more with Grönwall at the mike, but the song just don’t have the same high quality of the newer stuff. “Beg Beg Beg” is catchy mutha that will have anybody singing along, no matter what you think of the song. Grönwall breathes new life into the song and to bring out pieces of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” in the middle of it is so spot on – a true winner. “All The Nights”, the ballad featuring only Grönwall and keyboard player Jona Tee is a nice little breather that really hold its place in the set before the more jazzy AOR of “Downtown” stirs shit up again, making room for the finishing rockers “Enemy In Me” and “Emergency”. When I write finishing, I mean before the encore, of course. “Breaking The Silence” and “Living On The Run” are both perfect as encores and when we all think it’s over, the band give us another one in the extremely sing-alongish “Laughing At Tomorrow” and H.E.A.T. can count another victory on to list. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, H.E.A.T. is a fantastic live band and in Erik Grönwall they have the best damn frontman this side of Sebastian Bach. He has the charisma, the power and the voice to take hold of any audience anywhere. But it’s not just Grönwall, bass player Jimmy Jay is the silent, but steady rock that helps showman drummer Crash – you can’t miss that guy, he’s like a Swedish version of Tommy Lee – keep the heavy beat up and guitarist Eric Rivers is everywhere and as a guitar player he sure has the skills, both technically and emotionally. World domination is just around the corner, believe you me.
Ever since I heard that Danger Danger got the headline spot at Väsby Rock, I have been sceptical to say the least. Ok, so Danger Danger have never been my favourite band, but I have never disliked them either. They were always that band that just were around with some good pop songs for the party, no more, no less. But no matter your taste, the fact is Danger Danger were never a huge band, not even back in the day when their brand of melodic Hard Rock was the big thing – and in Europe and Scandinavia especially – not even all metal heads and rockers knew who they were. They might have gotten a bit of a poaitive word in latter days, but headline material? I’m sorry, but no. Still, they did play Sweden Rock Festival last year and they were one of the big surprises – and best gigs – for me that year. With an outgoing frontman like Ted Poley – the guy really knows how to work an audience – Danger Danger’s party popmetal worked like a charm in the sunlight at a festival like Sweden Rock. But I wasn’t really sure whether they had what it would take to pull it off as a headliner. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that Väsby Rock might have made a mistake making Danger Danger the headliners over H.E.A.T. I was to be proven right in that department almost instantly. The crowd wasn’t even nearly as big as H.E.A.T.s’ and after a while it stood clear that D2’s crowd wasn’t as wild either. But that not me saying that D2 played a bad gig, they didn’t. Quite the contrary, Danger Danger was really damn good. The set list was – if I remember things correctly – almost the same as at Sweden Rock a year ago. Openers “Rock In America” and “Boys Will Be Boys” – two songs that I actually find pretty mediocre on record – gets a new life played live. The rhythm section of bassist Bruno Ravel and drummer Steve West are real tight and feels quite underrated and Swedish guitar hero Rob Marcello is a joy to both watch onstage and listen to as always, but it stands clear quite quick that Ted Poley’s voice isn’t what it used to be – at times he sounds real sour. Luckily enough he is one hell of a showman and he really owns the stage. “Under The Gun” is a song recognized by many so it works well, but even though “Hearts On The Highway” is a good song and it comes across well live, I wonder how many in the crowd has even heard the album Revolve (2005) – the only D2 album that features Marcello – where the song comes from. In the ballad “Don’t Walk Away”, Poley takes a dive right out in the audience where he sings the song to the end before he jumps back on stage – with a big smile on his face, of course. In “Feels Like Love” Poley decides to get a tattoo – on stage. Right, in with a tattoo artist, get to work and at the end of the song, a nice little star with the Swedish flag in it is inked on Poley’s arm. Can you say showman? “Don’t Blame It On Love” is a catchy little pop number that really can’t be left out and Marcello’s solo that follows shows that the guy is a top act guitar player. It’s a shame that not more people are aware of his existence. “Bang Bang” is über-catchy and easily D2’s best song ever. Live, it can bring a smile to anyone’s face and it is by this song their gig lifts the most. At Sweden Rock, I saw Black Metal people dance to the song, all smiles – that’s how you do it. I have never understood the greatness of “Beat The Bullet”, but it does its job and it would take until last year’s performance at SRF for me to get the power ballad “I Still Think About You”. This night, the song was magical. “Crazy Nites” is really quite mediocre so it’s a good thing that the band’s bye-bye after that one wasn’t for real. Yes, the encore would come. “Monkey Business” (no, not the Skid Row song) is a real party number and of course it gets the small audience (I would guess around 300 people) going and “Naughty Naughty”, which is looked upon as D2’s big hit, closes this gig, as it always does and at the end of the day, Danger Danger really did their job as the headliner, performance wise. But the problem still rears its ugly head. D2 shouldn’t have been the headliner, H.E.A.T. should. Not to take anything away from D2’s gig, but the first night ended in some kind of anti-climax. A very good gig, but at the wrong time, I’m afraid.
By: Jon Wilmenius
Photo: Hanna Henrikson
All Star top pic: Mats Vassfjord