GREAT KING RAT
I know that for very many people, Great King Rat aren’t a well-known name. Especially for non-Swedish readers – this is probably the first time they hear the name. But the fact is, it was pretty close that the band made it big back in 1992 when they had just released their self-titled debut album and they got the gig as the opening act for Cher for three big gigs in Sweden. Before that album came out, Great King Rat were one of the most talked of bands in Sweden and their reputation as a live act was huge. For reasons I have forgotten, I never got to see them back in the day, but I did see them on a one-off reunion gig some 10-15 years ago (can’t remember the year) and they were great then. Great King Rat broke up shortly after that and an album of demos, Out Of The Can, was released in 1999. The members of the band went on to do other things – singer Leif Sundin sang on one album with MSG (Written In The Sand) and a short stint with John Norum, guitarist Pontus Norgren joined Talisman, Zan Clan and The Poodles and is now in Hammerfall, guitarist Anders Fästader played in Electric Boys’ Conny Bloom’s Titanic Truth, bass player Mikael Höglund joined British rockers Thunder and drummer Tomas Broman joined Electric Boys. But for Sweden Rock 2017, the guys decided to reunite and that was one gig I wouldn’t miss for the world.
They opened the show with “Woman In Love”, a fat, groovy, bluesy hard rock tune that breathes early 80’s Whitesnake a long way and it only took a few seconds to hear that these guys were well rehearsed. In fact, it felt like they never had been away – so tight! The faster rocker “Good Times” followed and the tune really is made for the stage. It swings, rocks and have this refrain that nails itself to the skull right away – a true winner. Next up was “Lovin’ You” from the Out of The Can album, an album that I’m not that familiar with so it took a while for me to get in the groove but after the first chorus I was game. It’s a brilliant song, big on Zep influences and a chorus to die for. Do I need to say that it went down splendidly? “Top Of The World” is groove deluxe with a 70’s hard rock base and a brilliant pop chorus – awesome. “Bright Lights” is a heavy rock stomper, a bit slower in pace with a big Zeppelin influenced riff. The contrast between the softer, ballad like verse and the ballsy, attack of the big chorus works like a charm live.
“Take Me Back” is the big ballad and the fact that it’s more of an uptempo pop song than a power ballad made the groove stay on. It’s one of my favorite Great King Rat songs so I was smiling happy. “Follow The Rains” comes with an addictive groove and an equally addictive chorus and with a song like that it’s impossible to fail. Yeah! “One By One” came on, ballsy and pumping with a driving rhythm and a sing along friendly refrain that made us all open our throats. With the ever smiling Fästader taking on the keys for second Out Of The Can song, the slow blues “Be My Friend” was the first real breather for this noon and when even a slow blues works so well as this one did, it feels like nothing can go wrong – what a killer! “Bad Woman” is a more straight forward hard rocker and even though it went down well, it’s my least favorite GKR-song. Still, I had fun watching them run through it. They closed the show with “Calling For My Angel”, a Zeppelin / Whitesnake influenced rocker with a bad-ass groove and a pop refrain to die for. And with that, it was bye-bye for this time.
Afterwards it stood clear that Great King Rat had pulled off their reunion with all the glory. They are all great musicians and this day they were tight as Hell and the whole gig oozed of having fun, honestly and the love of playing. Sundin has always been a great singer and he still is, even though a couple of the higher notes went sour. The sound was good as well but from where I stood, the bass was a bit too loud and broke through the music at times. But why they didn’t play their best song – “Dirty Old Man Stomp” – is beyond me. It’s the kind of tune David Coverdale would have sold his mother to write back in the mid 80’s and it’s made for the stage. I’m sure that song would have kicked us all right into next week. Great King Rat’s gig was one of the highlights for me this year and now it looks like we might be seeing more of these guys in the future if we’re lucky. Let’s hope so because Great King Rat is a too great band to fall into oblivion. Go, guys. Go!
When Hardline played Sweden Rock Festival the last time, back in 2013, I wasn’t overly impressed. Many begged to differ and I didn’t think they we’re bad, I just thought they didn’t deliver – they felt bland. I stuck around only to hear “Hot Cherie” and then I left. This year, however, I decided to give them another chance – because I really, really like this band. Well, to be honest, it is the original band that features the Gioeli brothers, singer Johnny and guitarist Joey, Journey and Bad English guitarist Neal Schon, drummer Deen Castronovo and bass player Ted Jensen, that I really, really like. It was they who released the awesome Double Eclipse in 1992 and it is that line-up I still wish would reunite. Because if we’re honest now, the Hardline that is active today is really nothing more than Johnny Gioeli’s solo project. But hey, that’s beside the point really. It says Hardline on the records and on the posters so it is as Hardline they will be judged. The line-up today includes guitarist Josh Ramos, bass player Anna Portalupi, drummer Francesco Jovino and keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio.
The band hit the stage with the opener on their latest album Human Nature, “Where Do We Go From Here” and even though it’s a really good song and the performance is faultless, I believe that it would have been better to open the gig with a classic song as this one doesn’t really bites like it should – which becomes clear when they start the second song, “Takin’ Me Down” which is followed by “Dr Love”, both from Double Eclipse. The crowd – a huge one, by the way – reacts instantly and especially the latter tears down a loud roar from the crowd. Both songs grooves like crazy and I almost get goose bumps. The title track from the latest album, “Human Nature” gets a really good welcome as well but when the ballad “Take You Home” from the same album tags along, it gets awfully quiet. However, it must be said that Gioeli totally nails the tune vocally. The blues tune “Trapped In Muddy Waters” from the latest album is a good song on record but I don’t think it worked that well here – especially as it was played after a ballad. A faster rocker would have been more appropriate here.
When “Life’s A Bitch”, one of the more obscure songs from Double Eclipse follows it once again stands clear just how popular that record is among melodic rock fans – the crowd rocks out like there was no tomorrow to it. “Fever Dreams”, the opener and leading single from Hardline’s last album Danger Zone, gets a surprisingly warm welcome from the crowd, almost as it was a classic track from the debut. Very cool. But it is a great track that works splendidly live so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that so many knew of the song. When a band plays mid-day when the sun is shining to a party happy crowd, ballads usually doesn’t work that well, no matter how great they are. That’s why it was – again – quite a surprise just how well the finishing ballad from Double Eclipse, “In The Hands Of Time”, worked. Add to the fact that the song is six minutes long and it gets even more surprising. But the crowd knew it, loved it and welcomed it with open arms – how heart warming.
But more classics was about to come. The brilliant AOR-pop-rocker “Everything” brought down a big cheer and the song’s magnificent pop groove was something no one could resist – what a winner. But that was nothing to the crazed rock riot Hardline’s biggest hit “Hot Cherie” created. It’s a song that everybody loves and the hair was standing up on my arms when the band rocked out to it. I can’t imagine how Johnny Gioeli must have felt when he got the reaction from the crowd. The band finished with the mid paced rocker “I’ll Be There” from the debut and with a chorus like that, all one can do is to surrender – and we all did. The band came back and played the raunchy rocker “Rhythm From A Red Car” from the debut and with that Hardline had won. Well done!
On the downside it stands pretty clear that a few of the band’s latest songs really can’t hold a candle to the classic tracks which shows by the crowd’s reaction. Also, it’s a mystery just how badly mixed Josh Ramos’ guitar was. It sounded compressed and flat without any bite or crunch. For God’s sake, if you’re gonna play melodic rock, it’s extremely important that the guitar makes some noise and that alone took one point of the grades here. But on the plus, the band seemed to have a mighty good time, they were all smiles and very crowd friendly – and they are all great musicians, well rehearsed and tight. I’m wondering if I maybe misjudged their 2013 gig back then. Also, Hardline pulled a very big crowd, way bigger than I had thought they would and one can just imagine how big the crowd would be if the original line-up was to reunite. But since that probably won’t happen anytime soon, this line-up does very well on their own.
In later years, I have become a big Alter Bridge fan. So when they were booked for Sweden Rock Festival in 2014, I was happy like a kid in a candy store since I had never seen the band live before. Sadly though, their concert at SRF turned out to be somewhat a disappointment. Firstly, the sound was horrible and secondly, it felt like the Festival Stage was a bit too big for the band. Not that they didn’t pull a big enough crowd, they did, but since the band aren’t exactly showmen and doesn’t move around much, it looked like the stage contained too much space for the guys to fill and the gig turned out somewhat an anti-climax. That said, Alter Bridge were a long way from bad that day, but I had expected a bit more. Then I got to see them on their The Last Hero Tour in Sweden last year and they were awesome! So I was really glad when the band got booked for SRF again and this time I had hoped that they would play one of the smaller stages and that they would knock me for six like they did that day in November last year. Well, Alter Bridge were to play the same stage this time and I was wondering if I would get the same kind of anti-climax feeling this time. But we’ll get to that later, first the gig itself.
Alter Bridge hits the stage with “Come To Life” from their 2007 Blackbird album and they get the big welcome from the crowd and right away it looks like the band are enjoying themselves at SRF. They followed the track with two songs off their brilliant Fortress (2013), “Farther From The Sun” and the ballsy, heavy and punchy “Addicted To Pain” and especially the latter went down like a storm. “Addicted To Pain” is a headbanging-friendly but still very catchy rocker that is made for the stage and it sounded tighter than a camel’s ass in a sandstorm. “Ghosts Of Days Gone By” (AB III, 2010) might by a ballad – a heavy one but still a ballad – but it didn’t matter, the band owned it and the crowd loved it – and so did I. Then it was time for “Cry Of Achilles” (Fortress) and there’s something with that song that puzzles me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the tune, but somehow it just doesn’t take off this evening. I had the same feeling back in 2014, but when they played on their own in Stockholm 2016, it worked like a charm. Maybe it’s just not a “festival song”.
“Ties That Bind” (Blackbird) works better, but since the first two Alter Bridge albums has never stuck with me, the song passes me by a bit unnoticed even though the crowd embraces it totally. “Crows On A Wire” from their latest masterpiece The Last Hero (2016) fits me way better and they kick out the riffs and the killer melodies like there was no tomorrow. The brilliant AB III tune “Isolation” shows up and it’s such a killer that works splendidly live. Some funny guy in the crowd has brought a blow up doll with a large penis attached which is being held up which makes a big smiling Kennedy lose his concentration for a while (“I can’t look that way anymore, that doll is so disturbing…” laughs Kennedy). “Blackbird” is next and I must say it works lots better live than on record and by the reaction of the punters, it’s one of the songs that is a must-play for the band. “Metalingus” from the debut album One Day Remains (2004) makes an appearance, but to me it’s a bit of a throwaway – I would have been much happier with another killer from the new album instead. Which I get when the kick into “Show Me A Leader” from the new album – how awesome. After some guitar duelling between Kennedy and guitarist Mark Tremonti (yes, they are both great players), the band closes their set with “Rise Today” from their debut album, but since I’m not that big on that song, I make my way into the VIP area for some refreshments before heading out into the crowd again for some Steel Panther.
To sum this up, Alter Bridge were better this year, much because of the fact that the sound was way better this time. However, the stage problems are still an issue – the Festival Stage is just a bit too large for them to digest. Myles Kennedy is a brilliant singer and he handles the crowd very well, but the guy is locked to his guitar and when he’s not singing he just don’t rock out enough. When they played on their own last November it was indoors and the stage wasn’t as big plus the fact that they had the benefit of a big light show and a big screen which helped. I would love to see the band again at the festival but on a smaller stage. Yes, they pull a big crowd and the, say, Rock Stage would be pretty audience crowded but it would suit them way better. That said, Alter Bridge have a treasure chest full of awesome songs and they are all great musicians so a gig with them never gets bad. A good gig that could – and should – have been a little better.
If the Festival Stage was a bit too big for Alter Bridge to fill out, then the opposite could be said about the Rock Stage and Steel Panther. Maybe not the stage itself but the space in front of the stage was so crowded it was impossible to get close to the stage if you were a bit late. It was more or less the same thing when they played the festival in 2012. My suggestion would have been to switch the stages with Alter Bridge. I first saw Steel Panther at Sweden Rock in 2010 and it was a show I look back on very fondly – in short, they were awesome then and I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt from their in-between-songs rap. I thought they were great the last time as well so I looked forward to this gig. And it’s not just about the humor aspect of their show, the guys are all brilliant musicians (even though their set includes lots of back tracks) and I really love their music. However, their latest album Lower The Bar (2017) was a disappointment and I was thinking that maybe they have taken their thing as far as they can. Which meant that I couldn’t help wondering if that was the case with their live show as well. Or would they knock me off my rocker for the third time this year?
So Steel Panther kicked off the show with “Eyes Of A Panther” from their debut album Feel The Steel (2009), as usual, and as usual the band were tight as hell, although each time I see them I wonder how much of what we hear is on tape and what is actually live. But I instantly notice that something’s not right – the sound. It’s not bad, but it’s low – very low. Fact is, I could talk to my friend beside me in a normal conversation volume – while they were playing!! Well, well, I guess their sound guy will fix that soon, I thought. Well, he doesn’t. Not by the second song, “Goin’ In The Backdoor” from their latest album, anyway, that they play after a bit of metal stand-up comedy. It’s an ok song, but their latest album wasn’t to my happiness and add that to the useless sound, well, it’s safe to say that it wasn’t that easy to focus on the tune. “Just Like Tiger Woods” (Balls Out!, 2011) is a great tune from an underrated album that has gotten too much crap thrown at it during the years. The band rocks out as good as they can, but the sound is still too low. The effect just isn’t there.
“Fat Girl (Thar She Blows)”, from the debut album, is a power ballad, Steel Panther’s own mix of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love” and a tune I think is awesome, but if a rocker falls flat from the low sound, then you can only imagine what it did to a power ballad. Needless to say, I was getting disappointed, unfocused and quite frankly – bored. The band tried to shake things up with a heavy metal track “Death To All But Metal” off the debut but instead of getting a kick in the nuts, we got a caress on the cheek. Thanks sound guy! Or whoever’s fault the low sound was. “That’s When You Came In” is yet another power ballad and this one is even softer than “Fat Girl”. Nuff said. When the band played “Poontang Boomerang”, I had enough. I don’t really like that song and I needed to take a leak so I left – and didn’t come back. The biggest disappointment of the festival was a fact.
I’m not sure how it sounded at the front, the place too crowded and I came to the show a bit too late so it was too much of a hassle to try to push myself forward so I was watching from the back. Maybe that was why the sound was so low. On the other hand, I wasn’t THAT far back and I have stood at the same place at other gigs and the sound has always been fine – and loud enough. Steel Panther’s gig never felt like a concert, more like watching a DVD in my living room at a fairly low volume. Also, I think that I might had my fair share of the band right now, they aren’t that funny anymore. Many of their jokes I have heard before and quite frankly, it’s starting to get a bit old. The same with their music, their new stuff sounds like band stuck in a rut that repeats themselves over and over. But still, they DO put on a high voltage show, they are great musicians and their old stuff is still awesome – and they tried their best to rock out this day as well. Maybe the fans in the front begs to differ here but this day, Steel Panther just didn’t work for me.
The first time I saw Aerosmith live was on their Get A Grip tour in an outdoor arena in Sweden in 1993 and they were awesome. As a fan, I had expected no less so when I saw them again on their Nine Lives tour a few years later – with The Black Crowes opening – I expected greatness again and that’s what I got. So when they were booked for Sweden Rock in 2007, I was thrilled to see them again. The band had had some turbulent times behind them then so I thought they would hit us a with a vengeance. And so they did – for the first five songs. Then ballad mania started. Ballad after ballad after ballad was laid upon us and after a while I just had enough and left. Oh the disappointment. When they were booked again in 2010 my expectations had lowered by large but all the same, there wasn’t a chance in Hell that I would miss them because of that. And even though a pretty large numbers of ballads were played even then, that gig was way better than the previous one. Still, it wasn’t good enough for me to purchase a ticket when they played the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm in 2012, on their Music From Another Dimension tour – something I regret today because everyone and their mother was there and told the same story – Aerosmith were awesome. Better than they had been in many, many years. Damn!
So for all the ups and downs that have surrounded the band both musically and in private, I didn’t know what to expect of Aerosmith now that they’re out on their farewell tour. But it only took me halfway through opener “Let The Music Do The Talking” (Done With Mirrors, 1985) to know that Aerosmith anno 2017 were in a real good shape. Steven Tyler sounded awesome and was running around the stage like Bugs Bunny with ADHD and the whole band sounded tight and ready to kick ass – firing on all cylinders. “Young Lust” (Pump, 1989), heavy, groovy and raunchy gave us all a big punch in the jaw. it was a long time since I got to hear this song live so a big welcome back to that one. To do a ballad like “Cryin'” as the third song might be a bit too early in the set but somehow they make it work. Yes, it’s a ballad, but it comes with a groove that works like a charm live – and the tune is catchy as can be. And speaking of groove, say hello to “Livin’ On The Edge” (Get A Grip, 1993). It starts out slow but it doesn’t take long before we all grooves along to it – a total winner and now it stood clear that Aerosmith wouldn’t take no prisoners this night.
Then “Love In An Elevator” kicks in and the whole plays just explodes – and it’s understandable. Yes, it’s a great songs but the fact that the band is on fire and seems to love this whole heartedly makes the performance even stronger – I’m in awe! “Janies’s Got A Gun” might be slower and more laid back but it is one of the band’s biggest hits and the crowd is with the band all the way. I couldn’t love this more! The Fleetwood Mac cover “Stop Messin’ Around” is being Aerosmithized and kicks major butt but it’s a pretty obscure choice and by the looks of things, not everyone is familiar with the tune. The same can be said of the following “Oh Well”, another Mac cover. But the fact that Tyler leaves the stage and puts the lead vocals over to Joe Perry makes it a small dip in the show. I have a weak spot for Perry’s voice but without Tyler, some of the energy leaves the set. One Perry lead vocal would have been enough. But “Mama Kin” from the band’s self-titled debut album comes along and puts things right again. It’s a kick-ass tune with balls and groove that is a must-play for the band. It’s made for the stage.
Rocks (1974) is one of Aerosmith’s best and most loved albums so the fact that “Back In The Saddle” punches some jaws tonight isn’t that much of surprise. It’s a joy to watch the band deliver this oldie with such passion and conviction. “Chip Away The Stone”, taken from their 1978 Live Bootleg album is a bit of a weird choice, the way I see it. I’m not very familiar with the song, I must admit, but the songs works very well here and I really dig it. “Sweet Emotion” (Toys In The Attic, 1975) is probably my favorite Aero-tune ever and needless to say, the hair on my body was standing while the band played the living daylight of it – the groove was crushing and I was in classic rock Heaven! “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” might be the biggest hit Aerosmith ever had, but to me the song is underwhelming. Still, because of how magnificent the band were this night, even I sang along to it. It must be said that if we’re talking Aero-ballads, there are many that kills this one – “Angel”, “What It Takes”, “Amazing”, “Hole In My Soul” to mention a few.
But as soon as the groove deluxe “Rag Doll” (Permanent Vacation, 1987) took off, the previous ballad was already forgotten. The furious groove of the song made the whole place shake and proved just how swinging these guys still are – awesome! The Beatles cover “Come Together” (Abbey Road, 1969) might seem like an unnecessary tune to play, but the fact is, the boys totally kills it – meant in a positive way btw – and judging by the crowd’s reaction, Aerosmith brought it home completely. Speaking of groove, again, their huge 1987 hit “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” is a song no Aero-concert can be without and as a closing track, the tune is perfect. The swing was total, the crowd was in awe and I wanted this to never stop – I was having the time of my life.
Of course, the concert wasn’t over – an encore was to be and when the band came back to play one of the best ballads ever written, “Dream On”, I was close to tears – what an amazing performance. The following James Brown cover “Mother Popcorn” was a funny and swinging thing but it could easily had been replaced by an original – good but no great. The band bid their farewell with a glistening, punch, kick ass groove version of “Walk This Way”, another tune they can’t leave the stage without playing. And with that – bye, bye. I just stood there exhausted and stunned. What a brilliant fucking gig.
Aerosmith’s farewell tour? Yeah right, buddy! This is NOT a band that are on the verge of falling dead. Everyone I spoke of after the gig said the same thing – there’s so much life left in Aerosmith it’s ridiculous. Steven Tyler might be 69 years old but they guy is a 20-year-old kid in an old man’s body – and he’s everywhere all the time. Joe Perry is still Mr Cool even though his recent health problems makes him a bit more laid back – but still is a center piece of the band. The rest of the guys are more anonymous and doesn’t show off that much but they are the corner stones of the band’s tightness and groove. Sure, all the covers they played might seem a bit overkill, I mean the band have so many brilliant originals that are being missed because of this – and that’s the difference between a 9/10 and a 10/10 this night. On the other hand, I’m so happy to not have to suffer through the overrated crap song “Jaded” once more, so I might let the covers slip. I don’t think Aerosmith are over for many years and I’m pretty sure we’ll get to see them again in not a too distant future.