As a fan of this band from Glasgow since their brilliant debut album Taking On The World (1989), this was another concert I was really looking forward to – there was quite a few of them this year. I never saw the band live in the golden days of the late 80’s, Hell I don’t even know if they ever visited Sweden back then. The band’s two follow-ups, Gallus (1992) and Swagger (1994) were also great albums and it’s really unjust that Gun never made it to the big scenes because judging by the quality of their records, they really should have. Of course, by 1994 – even earlier – grunge and alternative crap had taken the world by the balls and even though Gun were never either glam, sleaze or melodic rock they weren’t alternative enough – and probably way too melodic – to make it through the gloomy grunge era. When they released the completely useless 0141 632 6326 as G.U.N. in 1997, they managed to scare off the few fans they had left – that album was the curtain call for the band. But in 2008 brothers Giuliano and Dante Gizzi (guitar and bass respectively) reformed the band using former Little Angels singer Toby Jepson as replacement for original singer Mark Rankin and they released the E.P. Popkiller in 2009 before Jepson jumped the ship. Fast forward a few years and Gun is back for the third time, now with Dante as the lead singer, Giuliano still on guitar with Johnny McGlynn on guitars, Derek Brown on bass and Paul McManus on drums and in 2012 they released the brilliant Break The Silence album and it felt like the band was back for real. The position was consolidated by 2015’s also brilliant Frantic and now on tour, Derek and Johnny are replaced by Andy Carr on bass and Alex Dickson on guitar. But of course, when I finally get to see Gun live, another band-clash took place here, this time with The Winery Dogs. That meant that I got to see almost half of Gun’s gig and I liked what I heard. Dante has a very personal voice and I think he did justice to older tracks such as “Better Days”, “Money”, “Taking On The World”, “Money To Burn” and “Welcome To The Real World”. When it came to the newer tracks, I really didn’t get to hear anything else than the awesome “Hold Your Head Up”, but it sounded great and the response the got from the small crowd showed that I wasn’t alone in digging it. As a singer, there’s nothing to complain about, but as frontman Dante really could act out more. A lot of standing still, sunglasses on and a thumb in his pocket isn’t really that crowd-pleasing – he needs to be more up-front, in my book. Still, his Swedish was very good. This clash was a real bummer because I really had wanted to catch the whole concert, but it wasn’t to be. Hopefully, Gun will be back on Swedish soil again soon.
THE WINERY DOGS
Nowadays, the world is full of side projects to the left and to the right. In a world where record sales are low, it’s not unusual for musicians to be part of many different constellations, hoping that at least one of them will work and actually sell enough for a tour of some sort, but for the most part, it usually ends with one album, recorded by the members without them even meeting each other. When guitarist and lead vocalist Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big) teamed up with bass player Billy Sheehan (Mr Big, David Lee Roth, Talas) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Flying Colors, Transatlantic, Dream Theater, Adrenaline Mob) got together and formed The Winery Dogs, I wondered if they could have imagined how big this would get. See, from the beginning, this was just another all-star project on the side, albeit with a damn brilliant record behind them. But there are only a few really brilliant side-project records that actually gets the recognition they deserve. As a huge Kotzen-fan (yes, I’m a fan of Sheehan and Portnoy as well) I was floored by the debut from go and man, how I hoped that this would be a project that turned into a (successful) band. And successful it became, so much that a tour to follow it was booked, also very succesful. So why not follow it up with another (great) album – Hot Streak – and another tour. Said and done – today we know that this band is really a band and a real success. I wonder if Kotzen, Sheehan and Portnoy will start looking at The Winery Dogs as their main priority in the near future. For me, the booking of this lot was one of the best bookings of the entire festival and that’s not only because I managed to miss out on their sold-out gig in Stockholm this February. But of course, there was a clash with another band I really wanted to see – Gun – which meant that I missed the three first songs “Oblivion”, “Captain Love” (my favorite song off the new album) and “Hot Streak”, making my entrance in the middle of the fourth song “How Long”.
My first thought when I arrived was how brilliantly the three-man strong band managed to fill the very big festival stage. They owned it. And “How Long” sounded awesome. “Time Machine” is my favorite Dogs-song and live it grew on me even further. “Empire”, however, got a bit lost, for some reason. It’s a good song, but maybe it’s a bit too anonymous in a festival environment? I dunno, it kind of passed me by. But “The Other Side” is a real belter and the raw live version even bettered it – it has one of those melodies that refuses to leave your head no matter how much you try. “I’m No Angel” is another awesome song and what struck me here is just what an amazing groove the song comes with. Looking around me I saw only smiling faces, people that were singing along and rocking out – it sure looked like I wasn’t the only one who dug the tune. The ending with first “Desire” and then “Elevate” was mind-blowing and even though Kotzen isn’t the most talkative frontman he manages to reach the audience. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one that would gladly had taken another hour by this band. As musicians, we all know that all three of them are top-notch and among the finest this world has to offer, but they have also been accused for being too technical and lack both groove and swing and song writing abilities (well, maybe not Kotzen), but this midday they showed us that they all know exactly how to groove, how to swing and how to rock out. The only thing I must mention is that at far too many occasions, the sound left a whole lot to be desired. But by the way the guys on stage were acting, they were having a damn good time – and so were we.
The first time I heard of The Hooters was back in 1985 when a friend came over with their second, newly released album Nervous Night. I instantly took a liking to it and I played it regularly, but The Hooters soon fell into the shadows in my musical world – they simply weren’t interesting enough for a young hard rocker like yours truly. Yes, I heard the hits and I thought they were ok, but none of the hits could match any of the songs from Nervous Night. It would take me all the way to 1992 for me to reacquaint with the band. My then girlfriend (or maybe she was only my then girlfriend to be then) had bought the Greatest Hits CD and the first song on that album was “Satellite”. Me – down for the count! Yes, I know it was on their 1987 album One Way Home, but I totally missed its brilliance then. That’s when I started looking in to The Hooters again – and damning myself for what I had missed throughout the years. Still, when they were booked for the festival in 2011, I was a bit puzzled because I still didn’t see The Hooters as a rock band. I thought they were a pop band, a great pop band, but still a pop band and I didn’t think they would fit the concept. Boy was I wrong. The Hooters had such an obvious love for playing, their songs have swing and groove and what’s better than on a hot, sunny day than to listen to happy music that makes you smile? Nothing! The Hooters made an amazingly good gig that year and I had certainly no problem with them being rebooked – quite the contrary, this was something I looked forward to watch again – only this time with raised expectations.
They opened their set with “I’m Alive” from their 2007 Time Stands Still album, a song I’m not familiar with. I found out that it is great song, but not quite the opener – the song is a bit too mellow and therefore they didn’t quite the crowd going like I though they would, but they found a cure for that in “Day By Day” from Nervous Night, a brilliant pop/rock groover that got the party started – maybe they should have opened with this one instead? “All You Zombies” came next and yes, I know The Hooters had a huge hit with it, but it’s too slow and in my book, a bit prolonged and even though I know they have to play it, it came too early in the set, just when its predecessor had worked up a sweat. Next song up, “Morning Buzz” – a slow but still groovy pop song that I wasn’t familiar at all. Because of the songs infectious rhythm and happy-go-lucky streak, it worked despite being on the slow side and slowly we were on the way up again. I have always thought that “The Boys Of Summer” with Don Henley is an extremely overrated and quite boring song, but when The Hooters played it in 2011, I found it quite entertaining and this year I thought it was awesome. I’m still not that big on Henley’s version, but I love it when The Hooters play it! So now we’re finally back to party mode again and what to they do? They play “Graveyard Waltz”, a 6-minute ballad. Oh my! Yes, it’s a great song and big parts of the crowd sings along, but we were in a party mode, dude. So playing “5oo Miles”, another big hit for the band, right after that sure doesn’t help – because that is a ballad, see. I have also never liked that song that much so I just wait it out. So here comes “South Ferry Road” to the rescue. It’s a Bruce Springsteen influenced song that still has The Hooters’ sound and a nice chuck of AOR – and it swings like crazy, so much I have already forgotten about the ballads half way through the song. The fact that “Give The Music Back” is slow and has a bit of reggae thing matters little – the message is spot on and picked up by all of us and there is some major attitude when they perform it. “Johnny B” and “Karla With A K”, both big hits, are uptempo, swinging and sing along friendly and the mood is on top. “Twenty-five Hours A Day” is another up-tempo pop tune that gets the crowd going and by now everyone is in the right spirit. Then comes “Satellite” – a song that can make the most depressed individual the happiest camper on Earth. It swings, it rolls, it grooves and it has the most catchy melody ever, with a chorus to die for. Halle-fucking-lujah! The band finishes with the big time Hooters meets Bon Jovi pop groover “And We Danced” – oh yes we did. If it wasn’t for those darn show stopping ballads that turned up when they shouldn’t have – this gig could have gotten a 10/10. To me, The Hooters are perfect festival music and if you catch them on a hot and sunny day with a couple of cold ones inside (and preferably, one in hand), The Hooters is the best band in the world – in that moment!
ERIC SARDINAS & BIG MOTOR
Some 10 years ago a friend at work more or less forced Eric Sardinas’ Devil’s Train (2001) on me. I MUST listen to it, he said loudly. Yeah, yeah, ok then, I said. I looked at the cover and thought that this dude looks pretty fucking cool anyway, so it couldn’t be all that bad, now could it? Needless to say, that album beat the shit out of me – I loved it from the first opening riff till the last and from then, I was lost. Why can’t he become big so he can come to my country and play?, I said to myself many times. I wanted to – no, I needed to catch Eric Sardinas live sometime. I had to. So you can guess my state of mind when he was booked to SRF back in 2009. Back then the tent was pretty small so it got crowded, but me and my brother squeezed ourselves right up to the front row and there we stood until the end of the show. We both agreed on one thing – Eric Sardinas’ gig was easily top 5 that year. I wanted him to come back real quick. Well, that didn’t happen. He has since released four more albums, all of them really damn great, but no visit to Sweden. Until now. And I was almost as happy as I was in 2009. I guess I don’t have to point out that I had no problems convincing my brother to join me on that concert. To watch Eric on stage is to watch a full-blown rock star get the blues and he and his band Big Motor (featuring bassist Paul Loranger and drummer Demi Lee Solorio) creates an amazing groove from first riff to the last. (Yes, I admit I was so aroused I forgot to write down a set list…) The fact that he uses a Resonator Guitar makes his sound stand out and add his very personal voice, his hard and aggressive, but pretty traditional blues sounds only like Eric Sardinas and no one else. It would be a lie to say that the tent was crowded – wake up, people!!!! – but for us who was there loved everything about the gig. With songs like “If You Don’t Love Me”, “Down To Whiskey” and “How Many More Years”, you just can’t go wrong. It’s really a shame that Sardinas still is pretty unknown because this is really authentic music, it’s raw, stripped with shitloads of dynamics. Eric is also a great performer who knows how to handle an audience backed up by rhythm section tighter than a camel’s ass in a sandstorm. Just like the last time, Sardinas is responsible for one of the best concerts of the festival. Discover him now, dammit!
I left after three songs. Here’s the deal, I usually don’t write reviews after only three songs but for this gig, I have to make an exception because I’m really puzzled by this one. I have always liked King Kobra very much, their debut album Ready To Strike (1984) is an album I still hold very dear and the follow-up Thrill Of A Lifetime (1985), is an album I couldn’t get enough of back then. Unfortunately it has aged very badly, but it still holds some really good songs. The original line-up ceased to be after only two albums and they released one more album, III, with only drummer Carmine Appice and guitarist David Michael Philips as original members and the album wasn’t that much to write home about. The band reunited with its original line-up – Appice, Philips, guitarist Mick Sweda and bassist Johnny Rod – except for singer Mark Free, now Marcie, with Paul Shortino on vocals and they released two good albums, a self-titled one in 2011 and II in 2013. But the band haven’t toured – I don’t even know if they have played live until now – so their appearance at this festival is the band’s come back, a chance to show people that they are still a force to be reckoned with. I had really high hopes for this gig and I was pretty stoked at the fact that I was finally going to see King Kobra live. Due to stupid circumstances, I was a bit late for their show, so I arrived in the middle of 6th song, “The Ballad Of Johnny Rod” and the first thing I noticed was that it sounded pretty terrible. The song was followed by a bass solo that left shitloads to be desired from Rod, who clearly have some kind of letter combination – or maybe the guy was completely hyper wasted. The solo ended with the band playing a cover of W.A.S.P.’s “Wild Child”. Really? Yes, Rod used to be a member of that band but he didn’t co-write the song, Hell, he wasn’t even in the band when that song was recorded, so there was absolutely no reason for playing that cover. Talk about grasping at straws. That said, Johnny Rod have a really good voice, very similar to Blackie’s. But we weren’t there to hear W.A.S.P. songs, this was a King Kobra gig!
After that we got “Hunger”, the Kick Axe written pop rocker that is KK’s biggest hit by far. It failed completely. I have never seen a band so uninterested in making a great show – except for Rod, of course. That guy was everywhere, running around like a lunatic, kicking down mike stands, headbanging like crazy and making all the funny faces you can imagine. Nothing wrong with that if it wasn’t for the fact that the guy didn’t know what he was playing. The thing is, Rod was flying so high that I guess he didn’t even knew which song he was playing or how to play it – or where he was. Shortino on the other hand – the guy has a million dollar voice and is one of my all time favorite singers – looked like he wanted to be somewhere else. He hardly moved, he made no attempt to have any kind of crowd contact, sunglasses on, on hand in pocket and when he sang it sounded like he didn’t give a rat – at times it even sounded sour. Philips stood on his side of stage, playing but didn’t do much more – he too looked like this gig was a necessary evil. On the other side of stage, where Mick Sweda should have been standing, Mick Sweda didn’t stand. Instead there was some young player, actually a good player who at least tried to make an effort. I didn’t have a clue who he was – no one did because no replacement for Sweda had been announced – but now I have the information that the guy’s name is Jordan Ziff. If I was Ziff I’d take my playing elsewhere. That leaves us Carmine Appice, a legend and a drum-god. Carmine tried, but behind his drums there wasn’t much he could do about this debacle. I don’t get it – here the band get a bona fide opportunity to make a grand come back at one of the biggest and most respectable festivals in the world and they throw it right in the trash can – a bunch of guys that didn’t seem to give a shit about the gig or the fans and a bass player, high as a kite, that couldn’t even play properly. Then Philips and Ziff played a guitar solo where we got a snippet of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star”. Lucky us. When the band came back they gave Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” a go. A tribute to Ronnie James Dio. Guys, Dio passed away years ago. Also, the song sounded like crap with no attitude or conviction at all. Next up, a song called “Monsters And Heroes”, apparently a new track. That’s when I – no, we – had it and left and we weren’t alone. Not since Lita Ford’s catastrophe gig in 2009 have I seen bigger hordes of people leaving a concert. All of this is why I decided to review a gig on only three and a half songs. After the gig I have watched clips of the gig and them combined with comments by people who stayed on, I did the right thing by leaving. I also read the set list and again I didn’t even miss much song wise. This is just too sad. But that said, if King Kobra wanted to have another go at it – Paul Shortino did apologize for the band’s crappy concerts recently, on his Facebook – I’d give them another chance on the spot, they’re too good a band to fade away after this. But what happened to Mick Sweda?
MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST
Since Sweden’s Sabaton – a power metal band I have no interest in what so ever – headlined this festival’s last day, I had some time after the King Kobra failure to hang with friends and drinking Sweden Rock’s own rum with coke in the VIP before it was time to catch Germany’s biggest guitar hero Michael Schenker in action. The last time I saw him – at Väsby Rock Festival with his Temple Of Rock – he blew me away big time. But this year was something special. Instead of MSG or Temple Of Rock, he decided to invite some of the most well-known singers in his career for a really cool set. His recent singer Doogie White wasn’t around, neither was Kelly Keeling, but he had managed to lure Leif Sundin, who sang on MSG’s underrated album Written In The Sand (1996), out of the shadows, something I looked forward to watch. But the big names this night were of course Gary Barden (1980-1982, 1983-1985), Graham Bonnet (1982-1983) and Robin McAuley (1987-1992). The opener, “Into The Arena” is an instrumental rocker and it showed that The Schenk still got what it takes – the guy can still play like a motherf**ker. It was on song # 2, “Attack Of The Mad Axemen” that Barden took the stage. Barden also sang on “Victim Of Illusion”, “Rock My Nights Away”, “On And On”, “Cry Of The Nations”, “Let The Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “Armed And Ready” and even though everything sounded really good, it was obvious that Barden doesn’t cut it as a singer anymore. To be honest, I never though he was all that, but in 2016, he sounds really bad. Scorpions old instrumental rocker “Coast To Coast”, in a groovy and rough version that sounded real awesome, followed before it was time for Bonnet to hit the stage. I was never a big Bonnet fan either, but the guy did sing on MSG’s best album ever, Assault Attack and with Bonnet’s solo gig in mind, this had all the chances in the world to become something to remember fondly. It did. The heavy rocker “Desert Song” went for the throat and won me over completely – this sounded great. Then it was time for “Dancer”, maybe my favorite MSG track of all time and as Bonnet played it on his solo gig as well, it was the second time I got to hear it this festival. But it’s a bit special to hear it with the whole original Assault Attack line-up – Ted McKenna on drums and Chris Glen on bass, with Steve Mann who was in the McAuley-Schenker line-up, filling in on rhythm guitar and keyboards. And yes, it was great and for me the highlight of this gig. “Assault Attack”, a song that Europe based the whole of their album Wings Of Tomorrow on, finished Bonnet’s set. In my opinion, they could have played the whole damn album in its entirety.
Next up, Robin McAuley – my favorite Schenker singer by far. The McAuley-Schenker years have been the most spat upon era of Schenker’s career, of course it’s because it was the most pop one and as real heavy metal warriors in the night, we can’t have that, now can we? But that era also has a lot of fans, me included, so I looked forward to this section a lot. But only two songs from that era was played, “Save Yourself” and “This Is My Heart” – both from Save Yourself (1989). That meant that both Perfect Timing (1987) and MSG (1992) were neglected. Oh, the disappointment. Both albums are awesome, dammit. Well, McAuley sounded brilliant, but unfortunately, the sound was below all criticism and a killer pop song like “This Is My Heart” totally drowned. The rest of the set was dedicated to Schenker’s UFO years. McAuley stayed on for “Shoot Shoot”, “Doctor Doctor” and “Rock Bottom” and the guy sang them with all the glory. The sound was bettered for those songs so, the ending of the show was really good. Yes, the ending because after those songs it was time to get all singers on stage and say goodnight. But Leif Sundin, then? Well, no explanation was given but I later heard that Sundin was waiting in the wings, but that this concert suffered from the same thing that happened to Avantasia yesterday, they simply ran out of time. Again, I don’t know whose fault this was but to me, this is really unprofessional and not acceptable at all. Well, despite that little misfortune and the sound mishappenings, this was a really good gig and again Schenker has proven that he really has a lot left to offer us. Now, please reform MSG and bring back McAuley.