This Swedish hard rock band is an act I have been waiting to see in concert for quite some time. They were supposed to play Väsby Rock last year, but due to the fact that lead singer Sofia Lilja and her guitar playing hubby Christer Åkerlund were due to have their second child around the time of the festival, they found it best to be safe and cancel their gig. Treat played a killer gig instead that year. The fact that I found their then only record Mountain (2012) a bit uneven didn’t matter one bit. I had been reading reviews of their live show and every magazine was giving their praise. I was also curious to find out if singer Lilja had the impressive range in a live situation as well as in the studio. Well, I would be given a chance this year and this time the moment was even better as they band had released their second album, the brilliant knock-out Mental Revolution (2014). Hand on heart, I did actually see them live once before, at a quickly announced release party a while ago. That meant that there was hardly anyone in the room (I guess no more than 50 people) so I really don’t count that. But the gig did give away that Lilja’s was as strong live as in the studio and that the band was a killer live act. So this was a gig I wouldn’t have missed for the world. This time, a pretty small but dedicated crowd had gathered to watch Nubian Rose’s debut at the festival. The band opened with the new album’s opening track “War”, a brilliant Metal track that shakes you up if you’re not ready. The sound is good and Åkerlund is riffing like hell while Sofia Lilja show everyone that she has no problem being a metal head at all. “Get Ready”, a song from the debut that didn’t stick with me at all on the record, gets a new life here and I’m actually a bit amazed how I good I find the tune all of a sudden. “Ever See Your Face”, the opening track and easily the best track off the debut, is just as great live as on the record. It’s a mystery that that track never became a smash hit – it really should have been. “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” is an ok song off the new album that almost get a bit lost on record, but live, it’s a winner. The Aerosmith-like groove together with the more Metal undertones makes the tune a live killer. “Higher” from the new record gets the audience rocking, the song has killer groove and a chorus that you just can’t avoid – I’d think of this as a single if I was in the band. Sofia Lilja take place behind the keyboard for the ballad “How Am I” from the debut, a beautiful song that works really well. The same goes for “You Will Never Walk Alone”, the band’s new single and also a ballad. Two ballads in a row at a festival by a pretty unknown band can be distastrous move, but not here. Lilja’s presence and the songs ability to move people makes them winners. To continue with an almost progressive melodic rock track like the fantastic “Illuminated Within” has also a risk tendency and is a brave move, but no-one leaves, instead the crowd increases. “Mountain” follows and the song’s 70’s hard rock feel make the tune a real ass-kicker. After three slower tracks this was just what the gig needed and when the über-catchy “All Of Your Love” bursts out with a huge pop feel and a chorus to die for, no one could avoid to not sing and rock along. Can you say next single, guys? The first single off the new album, “Break Out”, follows and maybe the tune isn’t exactly single material, but it sure is live material. A fast Metal track with a striking melody can never go wrong – and it doesn’t! Maybe the band should have finished with that song because the only song that I really didn’t get off on was “Sisters”, the last track. It’s off the debut and one of the songs on there I found dull and even though it’s better live, it never quite lifts. But that doesn’t matter one bit, Nubian Rose played a killer gig and even though the crowd was small, everyone seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t hear one negative comment about the gig afterwards. The sound was really good and Lilja is both an amazing singer and frontwoman, has a powerful voice and stage presence that oozes self-esteem. The whole band did a great job, but sometimes when the solos were played it had a tendency to sound a bit thin. Maybe a second guitarist for live situations? But these are bagatelles, really and I must stress that if you get the chance, go see this band live – you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s another Swedish Melodic Rock band that I have been looking forward to see live. This band has been playing for some 10 years now, but I have just recently discovered their greatness. Their new album Armageddonize was one of this year’s biggest surprises for me and an album that forced me to check out their entire past. How could I have missed out on this band? I mean, I should have known that there was something about this band. First, the plays the kind of Hard Rock that I usually dig. Second, lead singer Erik Mårtensson is not only a guy that delivers songs to more or less every All Star record that the Italian record company Frontiers releases, he has also made two critically acclaimed – and yes, very good – albums with his side project W.E.T. (featuring singer Jeff Scott Soto) and is now also the guitar player and co-song writer for Ammunition, fronted by ex Wig Wam singer Age-Sten Nilsen who also played this festival. So that I would catch their gig this day was a no-brainer. However, to be a great band in the studio is one thing, but a whole other case of beer in a live situation. The band kicks off with the two opening tracks off their new album, “I Don’t Wanna Say I’m Sorry” and “Stand On Your Feet” and it is clear from the first chord that Eclipse are no studio project. The guys fires on all cylinders right away and it’s impossible not to get hooked by Mårtensson’s stage presence – the guy obviously loves what he does and I can’t help thinking of Erik Grönwall from H.E.A.T. when I see Mårtensson in action. Mårtensson also has that spark and frenzy, just a little less ADHD. The opening track from the band’s last album Bleed And Scream (2012), “Wake Me Up” follows and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that that album is a popular one, judging by the crowd’s reaction. New song “The Storm” goes down like a, well, storm (pun might be intended, if you want it to…) and so does “Battlegrounds” (last album). “Breakdown”, “Wide Open” and “Blood Enemies”, all from the new album are crowd pleasers and it’s really astonishing how this band gets away with playing so many new songs at a festival – Eclipse do have lots of fans with them this day. Last album’s “Ain’t Dead Yet” is a great live track, but the biggest cheer this day goes to “Bleed And Scream” and the pretty big crowd (I was actually surprised what a big crowd Eclipse actually drew, guess they are bigger than I thought) really goes wild to this one. They finish their high energetic set with “Breaking My Heart Again” from their 2008 album “Are You Ready to Rock” (rereleased and rerecorded in 2014 as “Are You Ready to Rock MMXIV”), a great album if you ask me. Eclipse’s mixture of Melodic Hard Rock, AOR and sometimes Metal is made for live appearances. Anyone who doesn’t move to their groove and dance friendly rock must be paralyzed. Mårtensson also turns out to be a phenomenal live singer and the rest of the band – Magnus Henriksson – guitars (this guy is fantastic, please discover him now), bass player Magnus Ulfstedt and drummer Robban Bäck (yes, he also plays with Ammunition) doesn’t hold back either. This is what I love about festivals, you can find new favourites and I have found a new band to follow in Eclipse. Just like I wrote about Nubian Rose above, if you get the chance to see this band, for the love of what/whoever, don’t miss. This is entertainment, folks!
First let me say that I am a Magnum fan. Fact is, I love Magnum. Back in the 80’s, I thought that Magnum were one of the best bands that had ever walked the face of the Earth – I worshiped the ground they walked upon. True story. I’m not that obsessed with them anymore, but I sure do love them still. As a teenager, a friend at school played me one song, “How Far Jerusalem” from their 1985 album On A Storyteller’s Night on a break and when school ended that day, I bought that record based on only that song. Still love that album. Still love Vigilante (1986). Still love Wings Of Heaven (1988). Hell, there are shitloads of old Magnum records that I – and many, many with me – still love. I also hold a very deep respect for that band for refusing to become a nostalgia act. The still release albums in quiet a fast pace and they tour every one of them, basing their shows on both new and old. And that’s awesome when you’re on your own tour – then the fans buys tickets knowing that this is what they are gonna get. However, festivals are a different beast. At a festival, a band does not only play for their hardcore fans, they play for old fans that hasn’t heard a new song from their then favourite band since Jesus went to pre-school, they play for people who might just wanna hear the well-known songs and they play for people who might not give a crap. A festival is not YOUR tour and therefore a band should base their set on the songs that most people has grown up with – the classics. Magnum made a fatal mistake a couple of years ago when they played Sweden Rock Festival, doing not that. It took almost half their gig until the first classic track appeared and by then it was more or less too late. The show came to a halt and a lot of people had walked off to something different. I was hoping that Magnum had reconsidered for this festival, but my gut told me that it would probably be the same here. And sure enough, this is exactly what happened. However, the opening with “Live Til You Die” (Escape From Shadow Garden, 2014) and “Black Skies” (The Visitation, 2011) went down really well, much better than at SRF and Bob Catley managed to get the big crowd going. But already by third track “Freedom Day” (also from The Visitation) people started wandering off to the bar and whatnot and then it didn’t matter than song # 4, “Dance Of The Black Tattoo” (On The 13th Day, 2012) is great rocker that should please any old Magnum fan, people simply didn’t recognize it. And this went on for two more songs, “Blood Red Laughter” (On The 13th Day) and “Unwritten Sacrifice” (Escape From Shadow Garden) before the first classic arrived. Both “How far Jerusalem” and “Les Morts Dansant” (On A Storyteller’s Night) brought down a loud cheer and the hairs on my arms were standing up. The band should have realised then and there that the response to the old stuff is in a different league than to the new songs. But instead, they played a newie – “Falling For The Big Plan” off the latest album – and the spell was broken. Sure, “All England’s Eyes” (Storyteller’s Night) got a polite reply and “Vigilante” kicked up some dust and yes, “Kingdom Of Madness” (Kingdom Of Madness, 1978) are really the perfect show closer, but the damage was done. “Sacred Hour” (Chase The Dragon, 1982) is a really good track, but it is a piano ballad and it hardly does its job as an encore, I’m afraid. I’m sorry, but seven “new” songs out of 13 are way too many – especially when you skip true classics. What about “The Spirit”? “Just Like An Arrow”? “Midnight”? “Days Of No Trust”? Just to name a few. I can’t help but to say that I’m once again a bit disappointed. More classics, guys! More classics!
I have never been a huge Michael Schenker fan. There, I said it. I didn’t grow up on UFO and to this day I really don’t understand what the fuss about them is all about. Sure, I like some of their stuff, but I hardly ever listen to them. And with Schenker’s solo MSG thing, I have been totally oblivious. My first Schenker album was when he teamed up with ex-Grand Prix singer and changed the name of the band from Michael Schenker Group to MacAuley Schenker Group, Perfect Timing (1987). I still hold the three MacAuley Schenker records high, something that most Schenker fans do not, I have gotten to understand. Some years ago I did discover the greatness of MSG’s Assault Attack (1982), my all time favourite Schenker album, but the Gary Barden fronted records are still not of interest to me. The early 70’s Scorpions that contained Schenker’s guitar are albums that has never done anything for me either. The only time I have seen Schenker live was when MSG supported Def Leppard in 1988 and that gig left me pretty cold, I’m afraid. After the MacAuley Schenker split in the 90’s, I more or less lost interest in what Michael did, but from what I have heard, those were turbulent times for the guitaristand his records weren’t always that great. But all that changed in 2011 when he released his solo album Temple Of Rock, an album full of melodic rock pearls signed Schenker at his best. The follow-up’s Bridge The Gap (2013) and this year’s Spirit On A Mission weren’t as good but it stood clear that Michael was now focused and in good spirit and he still played his axe as well as ever. All this said, I have always respected him as a guitar player and I really love his style so this gig was something I was looking forward to. His band features singer Doogie White (Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tank) and ex- Scorpions rhythm section Francis Buchholz (bass) and Herman Rarebell (drums), so there were lots to look forward to watch. The band opened with a true classic, UFO’s “Doctor, Doctor”, a tune usually saved for the encore, but it sure did its job. Everybody – Schenker did have a really big crowd – were on their feet as soon as the opening chord left the speakers. “Live And Let Live”, the opening track from the new album followed and most of the crowd looked confused. I don’t think that that many in the audience owns that album. But another UFO-track, “Lights Out” kicked the night into motion again – it sounded really good and Doogie White did a phenomenal interpretation of the old UFO tunes. Another newie, “Where The Wild Winds Blow” (Bridge The Gap) followed and again, people didn’t seem to have a clue what they were listening to. UFO’s “Natural Thing” and an old MSG number, “Victim Of Illusion” (The Michael Schenker Group, 1980) got the gig back on the road. But the highlight for me this far was the two Scorpions songs that followed, “Lovedrive” and the awesome instrumental “Coast To Coast”, two song the Scorps never play live anymore. Both from the Lovedrive (1979) album which Schenker played on, they worked real well and my guess is that Buchholz and Rarebell really enjoyed playing those songs again. The two songs from the new album, “Vigilante Man” and “Saviour Machine”, that followed worked surprisingly well – I guess the audience were worked up by all those fine classics by now. The old UFO classic “Shoot Shoot” kicked ass big time and Schenker looked more and more like the true winner of this festival. They dedicated the track “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” (Temple Of Rock), one of Schenk’s best new tracks, to Ronnie James Dio and it worksed like a charm – the crowd were with the band all along. This is a song that really holds up beside the older stuff. “The Lord Of The Lost And Lonely” (BTG) is an ok song but could easily have been skipped for something else. Then they play the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane”. I’m puzzled. Yes, I know that Buchholz and Rarebell played on the track, but this is not their band and Schenker never played on that record. Of course, I’m no fool, they played it to work up the audience, but I find it a bit cheap, to be honest. As I do when Glenn Hughes proclaim that his audience CRAVE that he play “Smoke On The Water”! No, they don’t and Schenker would easily have gotten away with not playing this song. That said, they made a great version of it. UFO’s “Rock Bottom” ends the set and we have a VRF crowd on fire. When they open the encore with the old Scorpions ballad “Holiday”, the biggest cheer of the day gushes over Upplands Väsby – goosebumps. They close their gig with “Blackout” and again, they play a really good version of it, but again, they didn’t have to as Michael didn’t play on that record either. On a good note, yours truly has completely surrendered to Schenker after this great gig and Schenker did draw the festival’s biggest crowd and was the real winner, I guess. But there were still issues. For one, they played way too many new songs and to not play a single song from Assault Attack is sacrilege to me. I would also have welcomed at least one MacAuley Schenker tune, but that will probably never happen. I also wonder why Schenker has dropped the MSG moniker to use to more clichéd Temple Of Rock name. Well, be that as it may, Michael showed everybody this evening that he is still one of the greatest and most influential of rock guitarists of all time and his band is really good, even though Rarebell isn’t the most exciting of drummers. Now I can cross watching a Michael Schenker gig off my bucket list and I’m thankful he played so well when I finally got around to see him.
When Väsby Rock announced that they had booked W.A.S.P. as one of the headliners, I became a bit worried. I have seen W.A.S.P. a few times in later years and they have always put on a great show and I have been a fan since they released their self-titled debut album in 1984, but the fact is, W.A.S.P. isn’t a big draw. No doubt, Blackie Lawless and co, are a fantastic booking, but they just don’t draw enough people to headline any festival. After Michael Schenker’s big draw it was obvious that W.A.S.P. weren’t even close to pull the same crowd, but it was too soon to call this an anti-climax. W.A.S.P. has since 2007 had a stable line-up featuring Blackie, Doug Blair on lead guitar, Mike Duda (been with WASP since 1997) on bass on Mike Dupke on drums, making this the longest version of the band so far. But that has ended now. Drummer Dupke just recently left the band and has been replaced by a Swede, Patrik Johansson (ex – Yngwie Malmsteen). As a full member or just temporarily remains to be seen. W.A.S.P. opens up with a jawbreaker medley of “On Your Knees” and “The Torture Never Stops” and it sounds really damn good. But I raise an eyebrow over the first song. Blackie says he refuses to perform “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” because of his faith and that he don’t want kids to use the f-word. Well, “On Your Knees” wasn’t exactly written about praying so I wonder how that song slipped through Blackie’s God-filter. Well, let’s move on. Without a seconds’ pause the band kicks of with their The Who cover “The Real Me” (The Headless Children, 1989) and again, it sounds really good. The band is tight, the sound is great and Blackie sings really well. “L.O.V.E. Machine” has become a real rock classic and no WASP show would be complete without it and still without a single word in between songs, the band deliver a killer version. “Wild Child” (The Last Command, 1985) is another WASP-classic and again, no WASP show would be complete without this song. The song really kicks up dust and the crowd is rocking out to the max. “Sleeping (in the Fire)” is next – one of WASPs best songs, in my opinion – and the ballad feels really heartfelt and real and when the band finishes the song by adding the chorus from their second best ballad “Forever Free”, the hairs on my arms are standing – fantastic. But. By now, it stands clear that everything we hear isn’t live. WASP are known for using a lot of backing tracks and they do so tonight as well. Most of the backing vocals – if not all of them – are on tape and so are keyboards. If there are any other instruments and parts of Blackie’s lead vocal also on tape, I can’t speculate in. But again. I really don’t care. They sound good and they sound live – good enough for this guy! “The Headless Children” is one of WASPs heaviest songs and one of their most popular. In fact, said album is one of WASP’s most liked albums of all time. The ballad “The Idol” (The Crimson Idol, 1992) follows and I’m not sure about how much is pre recorded here, but it sounds so damn good and the song sends shivers down my spine – Blackie delivers the goods vocally so hard. Still not a word in between songs. They start playing “I Wanna Be Somebody” and we all know what that means – last song of the first set and sing-along time. The song is such a classic it almost plays itself and of course, the crowd goes ape. The crowd-singing part becomes a bit of a anti-climax though. The band leaves the stage, but the come back rather quickly and kicks off with “Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The New Morgue)” from The Crimson Idol and again, they play the living daylight out of it. Still waiting for a word from Blackie in between songs. A “Thank you”, maybe? Band introduction? No? The big, epic ballad “Heaven’s Hung In Black” (Dominator, 2007) – the newest song this night – comes next and to me, this was the biggest highlight of the show. Blackie sang with such empathy, feel and passion and I was completely drained afterwards. But what’s more, guitarist Doug Blair got his solo spot at the end of that song and duuuuuuude, that guy can play. It’s nothing but a mystery – and a bit of a tragedy – that more people hasn’t heard of this amazing guitarist. Easily the best guitarist Blackie has ever played with – I’m totally blown away. “Blind In Texas” finishes the set as always. It’s a good time rock ‘n’ roll song and a damn good one so it’s a pretty easy crowd pleaser. Eyebrow # 2. “Blind In Texas” is about drinking yourself completely shit faced. Is being completely shit faced Bible approved? Just sayin’. Still, WASP might not be the big draw as a headliner, but they damn well should be. They get the work done, even though I had hoped for a longer set, but as a live act, WASP always delivers. A great ending for a great festival.
By: Jon Wilmenius
Photo: Hanna Henrikson – Nubian Rose, Eclipse, Magnum
Photo: Mats Vassfjord – Michael Schenker, W.A.S.P., Top picture