Friday 8th June 2018

VIXEN
Rock Stage

The last – and only – time I saw Vixen live was a few years back at SRF. Then it was guitarist Jan Kuehnemund who had put together her version of the band together with three more or less unknown women, playing their hits for people who wanted to see them. The gig was ok but really did nothing at all for me other than I thought Kuehnemund was a brilliant guitarist. To be honest, they came across more like some kind of tribute act and the album they released later, Live And Learn (2006) was a dull deal. A real reunion featuring the original band of Jan, vocalist Janet Gardener, bassist Share Ross (ex Pedersen) and drummer Roxy Petrucci – who also played a gig at SRF this year with Madam X – was in the works in 2012 but before anything could be done, Kuehnemund was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away in 2013. The girls decided to keep going with Gina Stile who left in 2017 and was replaced by Britt Lightning and that is the band that visited SRF this year. I have always liked Vixen but I can’t say I’m a big fan – I always thought that their albums were too uneven for me.

Still, I thought it would be fun to get the (almost) original version live so Vixen wasn’t to be missed. Which I’m glad for because Vixen put on a damn good show and the opening was a real hit-cavalcade. “Rev It Up”, “How Much Love” and “One Night Alone” are all songs that will get a crowd going and those songs are among those I really dig. The band seemed to enjoy themselves tremendously and sounded both tight and inspired. “Cryin'” is the kind of song that will make anyone sing along, fan or not. The fact that it was a huge hit for the band goes without saying, a killer song both live and the studio version – and it went down like a storm. “I Want You To Rock Me”, however, is one of those in one ear, out the other tunes but it do come with a groove so I guess they thought it would go down well – which it did. “Streets In Paradise” was always my favourite Vixen song so I was really happy to hear it live and they made a great version of it – uptempo and punchy. Then bassist Ross got to take the lead vocal for a cover of Humble Pie’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (also covered by W.A.S.P.) and even though I felt it was a bit unnecessary to play a cover, I was really taken aback by how good a voice Ross have. Their hit ballad “Love Is A Killer” was dedicated to Kuehnemund and it felt real heartfelt there and then and the song really went down well. A song called “Big Brother” was also played. I don’t recognize it, maybe it’s a new number. Anyway, it passed me by quite fast so I couldn’t really make anything out of it. The biggest cheer – of course – went to their biggest hit and closing track “Edge Of A Broken Heart” and it sounded so damn good in the noon sun with a cold one in my hand. The fact that the Vixen girls are all great musicians isn’t even under discussion but to be honest, they sounded much better than I thought they would. New girl Lightning was also a real treat for guitar lovers – she sure got the chops and skills and is a perfect replacement for Kuehnemund. A very good gig and a very good way to start the day.

PRETTY MAIDS
Festival Stage

I’ve been talking a lot about expectations. If there’s one band at this festival that brings on some extremely high expectations it’s Pretty Maids. I have seen the band many, many times and I still haven’t seen a bad gig by them – and I don’t think I ever will. Hell, when singer Ronnie Atkins almost lost his voice last year, he still managed to sound great. Pretty Maids is one of my favorite bands ever and I have loved them since I first heard Red Hot And Heavy in 1984 so I always look forward to catch them live. But this time it was very close that the band had to cancel their show. The band’s gear got stuck in the customs in Malmö due to a pretty big over weight – their driver didn’t have the license to drive such a heavy loaded truck. But a big fine was being paid and the band could rush most of their stuff in time for the show. But it was only 15 minutes before the show they got the clearance that they could play. Phew!

And it showed that the guys were happy that everything got sorted out and they could play. Opener “Mother Of All Lies” has turned into their “Detroit Rock City”, a killer tune to open with and the following “Kingmaker” is a modern Pretty Maids classic that goes down like a storm with the crowd where we could all chant back the title to the band. Yes, the crowd – it was huge. Huge! I know that Pretty Maids are bigger today than they have ever been but this many people!?! It must have been 15 – 20 000 – at least –  in the audience this sunny noon. How awesome it must have felt for the band to come out on stage and see that. “Back To Back” and “Red Hot And Heavy” are true Pretty Maids classics today and the crowd always goes wild when they are being played. Today was no exception – bang, boom! A punch in the gut! “Pandemonium” is the odd song this day – it was unexpected to hear it as the band only had one hour to play. But it went down brilliantly and the same with “Bull’s Eye” from their latest album, the band really nailed it and the crowd seemed to love it. But what’s not to love with a refrain like that!

“Rodeo” is pop-metal with a killer groove that should please any festival crowd in the world – and it did. A killer song that worked the crowd. The half-ballad “Little Drops Of Heaven” is the closest thing to hit for the band in later years and is really a must at every gig. The fact that it’s a bit softer doesn’t matter one bit, the audience loves it and the singing was loud. What amazing song. But no song gets the same reaction at any Pretty Maids gig as “Future World”. This is their gem, their trademark, the song that everybody knows, the song with the monster riff. And when said riff blasts over us, the place explodes. It sounds terrific and the band is all smiles. They close the gig with “Love Games”, the song that should have given Pretty Maids their first mega hit in 1987 that would have made them superstars,  in a just world. It didn’t but this noon, it really doesn’t matter because the explosion continues and thousand of fans is jumping up and down and singing along. Afterwards I can state that this is one of the best gigs I have ever seen with the band and the only bad thing I can think of is the short play-time they got. I don’t understand, Pretty Maids are a classic Hard Rock / Metal band, they are bigger than ever but every time they play SRF they get to play pretty early in the day and they only get an hour worth of play-time. They really should be granted a later time and a longer set. On the other hand, when the sun is up, people have gotten their first couple of beers and there’s party in the air, 1 o’clock is pretty good time to play because everyone is down at the festival era and haven’t gotten tired yet. Today Pretty Maids made the crowd great but I think it was vice versa as well. This was easily a top 5 gig for me this year.

INGLORIOUS
4Sound Stage

Ever since I got this fairly new British / Swedish band’s self-titled debut album in my hand when it came out in 2016, I have wanted to catch them live. Now with two brilliant records full of Deep Purple / Whitesnake / Led Zeppelin influenced Classic Hard Rock out, this one of the bookings I looked forward to the most. See, I had a feeling that they would be a really great live act, especially after seeing some live clips of them online. I know that they’re all are great musicians but Swedish guitarist Andreas Eriksson (ex- Crazy Lixx) and singer Nathan James (ex- Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Uli Jon Roth) stands out the most and I was really curious to hear how they sounded live. Eriksson, I have seen live before but would James hit those high notes live? What a stupid question – of course he did. And Inglorious sounded like a million bucks from opener “Read All About It” to closer “Until I Die”. That the band have been touring more or less constantly since the release of their debut album shows – they’re a tight unit, aggressive and fun to watch. Without any gimmicks, the band played like their lives depended on it and it was easy to spot that they loved standing on that stage this sunny evening. Songs like “Holy Water”, “High Flying Gypsy” and “I Don’t Need Your Loving” sounds punchy on record but live they’re raw, raunchy and amazingly groovy. It was also really cool to see that the band do have their fans here – the crowd wasn’t huge but it was big enough, much bigger than I thought it would be, something that surely must have encouraged the band to bite down hard. I truly believe that this band have every possibility in the world to make it big, not only do they have the songs, they’re also a killer live act and Inglorious were one of the top 5 highlights of this festival for me. Brilliant.

HEAVY LOAD
Rock Stage

When I was only a teenager back in 1982 I saw Heavy Load’s album Death Or Glory at a friend’s house. I thought the cover looked kinda cool so I borrowed it from him. I loved that album and I bought a copy myself a bit later but as much as I loved that record, as disappointed was I with their follow up Stronger Than Evil (1983). And as we all know, that album was their last one, they only managed to put out a really lame single back in 1985 called “Monsters Of The Night”, a failed attempt to keep up with the more poppy trends. This meant that I never really got to be a fan and I still haven’t heard a note from the previous albums Full Speed At High Level (1978) and the E.P. Metal Conquest (1981). The fact that a Heavy Load reunion was to take place was something I never thought would happen but here it is and here they are playing the Rock Stage at SRF. Now, I can’t say that this gig was something I felt aroused to attend but on the other hand, I was damn curious to find out how Heavy Load would sound in 2018 and it was no way I was gonna miss this gig.

The band opened with “Heavy Metal Angels” from Death Or Glory with original members Ragne and Styrbjörn Wahlquist (lead guitar, lead vocals / drums, lead vocals) and bassist Torbjörn Ragnesjö with new guitarist Niclas Sunnerberg (Steelwing) in full Viking clothing, the same look they had back in 1982. How it sounded? Well, I’m not sure to be honest. I still think it’s a good song but it felt somewhat rusty. Since I’m not really familiar with Heavy Load’s stuff apart from Death Or Glory, much of the material they played passed my by pretty unnoticed. “Run With The Devil”, “Heavy Metal Heaven” and “The King” are songs I have no connection with and they failed to make an impression on me. “The Guitar Is My Sword”, however, was my favorite Heavy Load tune so I was on tenterhooks when it was introduced. It’s still a damn good tune, however a bit cheesy lyrically. One thing I had thought about throughout the gig is how thin and fragile Ragne’s voice sounds nowadays. It was also very low in the mix which meant some of the power got lost. Two brand new tracks were being played as well. “Valhalla Warriors” and “Lionheart” didn’t make much of an impression on me, though. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I hear the studio versions. “Bleeding Streets”, “Heathens From The North” and “Trespasser” were the last songs I could manage to digest before I found myself going elsewhere.

How did the band do as a live act then? Well, as I wrote above, they sure felt rusty and Ragne sure had to struggle a lot to reach the high notes. Original guitarist (well, he’s not really) Eddy Malm guested on a few songs and the guy had his voice in a pretty good shape but he looked like a granddad with leather pants with his grey hair and old man appearance and he felt a bit misplaced. But he wasn’t alone in looking old, they all did except for maybe Ragnesjö and sound wise, it felt like they could have used a month or so of more rehearsals before going out on tour, it sure wasn’t the tightest gig I have ever witnessed. Another guest was bass player Thodoris Vogiantzis from the Greek Heavy Load tribute band Heathens From The North who guested on a couple of songs and I guess this must have been heaven for him. As a nostalgia thing I guess they did their job but I can under no circumstances call this a great gig. However I enjoyed seeing the band live but I don’t think I would go see them on their own.

OZZY OSBOURNE
Festival Stage

This year had a true classic Metal theme – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were all headliners and all of them are usually on top when it’s time to headline a festival like this. Iron Maiden completely mashed everyone with their brilliant show and today it was Ozzy’s turn. The last times I have seen him at the festival, both solo and with Black Sabbath, he did an impeccable job. No matter how old and tired Ozzy might be in his personal life, something happens when he hits the stage and it’s hard not to be entertained by the guy so he’s got a lot to live up to – besides he and his band that featured Zakk Wylde back on guitar had to give Iron Maiden a run for their money. This time he opened with “Bark At The Moon” followed by “Mr Crowley”, “I Don’t Know” and the old Black Sabbath monster “Fairies Wear Boots” – it’s hard to fail with songs like that. At least it should be. But something was wrong here. The crazy, loony Ozzy had been traded to an old and tired Ozzy that spent most of his time leaning on his mike-stand. He’s voice really haven’t been what we’re used to for many years now but tonight he sounded horrible. At times. Because all of a sudden his voice was back and sounded better than ever. Hmmm. “Suicide Solution” was up next followed by yet another big-time guitar masturbation from Wylde before it was time for the brilliant “No More Tears”. And all of a sudden Ozzy sounds phenomenal. It is now that it stands clear for real that Ozzy’s voice is on tape because it’s not possible for a singer that have lost so much of his voice to sound this good all of a sudden.

This explains why Ozzy changed from hardly listenable to magnificent in a second – he simply signs to the sound guy when it’s time for the backing track to start, when he just can’t hold his voice no more. Well, I’d rather he had the whole thing on tape instead, it would have made the whole experience more enjoyable. Maybe someone should present this idea to Paul Stanley… I could handle about half of “Road To Nowhere” before I realized things wouldn’t be much better than this – a tired singer than alternates between real singing and backing tracks and a guitarist that is soloing every song to pieces. But in Wylde’s defense, with the shape that Ozzy’s in, he pretty much saves the show with his highly energetic performance – at times this was more Zakk Wylde’s gig than Ozzy’s. I think Ozzy as a live artist is pretty much done and I think it’s for that retirement he have talked about for decades now. This was not a good gig at all.

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