Even though I’m not a particularly big fan of Southern Rock, there is something about Blackberry Smoke that speaks to me. My music taste tells me I shouldn’t be into them but I am. Big time. Unfortunately, I have never seen the band live on their own, only at Sweden Rock a few years ago. I thought they were awesome then, the groove was endless and the band showed plenty and plenty of energy and applied lots of their love of playing on the audience so I can only imagine how great they must be in their own environment. Back then they played on the smaller Sweden Stage which suited them well. This year, the band had been “upgraded” to Festival Stage, the biggest stage on the festival. For some bands that’s great but not all bands can fill out that big stage – Alter Bridge is a good example of that. How Blackberry Smoke would manage that was to be seen – none of the guys move that much, but some times charisma and stage presence is way more important.
Openers “Six Ways To Sunday”, “Leave A Scar” and “Workin’ For A Workin’ Man” showed us that the groove was intact and that the band is tight as hell and at first, I didn’t even think about the size of that stage. “Waitin’ For The Thunder”, “Let It Burn” and “Rock And Roll Again” breathes rock ‘n’ roll, fun and with a couple of cold ones (and one or two Fernets) on the inside, it sure was hard to stand still on this sunny early afternoon. The brilliant “Sleeping Dogs” brought in The Beatles “Come Together” as a lengthy break and the crowd cheered along even more before “Sleeping Dogs” continued. Way to go. “Run Away From It All” is a party-stomper if there ever was one and by now it stood clear that Blackberry Smoke has a pretty large fan-base over here and even though there probably were quite a lot of people around that weren’t big fans, I saw only smiles as far as my eyes could see.
“Flesh And Bone” went into the heavy and gritty Southern Hard Rock number “Payback’s A Bitch”, a song made for the stage, both went over great. “One Horse Town” might have one of the most depressive lyrics I have ever heard and the song goes in a slower pace but despite that, the song is great live and brings on another ace groove. They close the gig with another mid-paced tune, “Ain’t Much Left Of Me” that goes right into a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”. And that’s when I have to ask the question: Why all the covers? I mean, we all love The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but hey, we were here to watch and listen to Blackberry Smoke. Even though The Beatles break worked really well, these quys has a treasure chest full of killer tunes and I would have chosen two more Smoke-songs over the covers any day.
So, how about the big stage then? Well, at first I didn’t think much of it but as the gig went along it was quite obvious that the stage was a bit too big for them – Blackberry Smoke works better on smaller stages where the audience is closer to the band and intimacy is important for a band like this. The distance between band and audience is a bit too big at the Festival Stage. But Blackberry Smoke did a great job, played well and got the crowd going any way. For me personally, I think they were slightly better the last time at SRF, but I had a great time at this gig as well. I’ll welcome them back to the festival with open arms any time.
I wasn’t sure whether to check Krokus out or not. See, I’m not really a fan of theirs. Sure, I own some of their records and I think they have done some good stuff – some of it is really good – but as a band, Krokus has mostly been strolling around in my musical periphery. But since this is their farewell tour I decided to give it a go and maybe see a few songs and then leave. I have never seen Krokus live before so a couple of songs and then I have, I thought. I was a bit late so I missed the opening with “Headhunter”, “Long Stick Goes Boom” (with The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” inserted) and a cover of Guess Who’s “American Woman”. I got there when song # 4 “Rock ‘n’ Roll Tonight” had just started. It was followed by “Winning Man” and since none of the two are favorites of mine, I was surprised by how good it sounded. In fact, it sounded really damn good. The same with “Hellraiser”, a newer song released in 2006. An ok track that was given new life from the stage. Hmmm, I might just stick around for a few more…
I have heard all of Krokus’ new releases but it would be a lie to say that I’m all that well-versed in the band’s new stuff. “Hoodoo Woman” is another new track, released in 2010. It’s a damn groovy Classic Rock tune so even though it took a while for me to figure out which song it was, it still sounded really damn good. “Fire”, however, is an oldie but the fact that Krokus are what Krokus are to me, I can’t remind me of ever hearing the song before. I should have – because it’s great, at least live. What they should have skipped, though, is their version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”. It’s an unimaginative and dull choice of a cover. It’s a tune that have been played to death and really, how many versions of that song do we need to hear? I went for a beer because frankly, I really wanted to stay for the rest of the concert. I was back in time for the brilliant “Bedside Radio” and the groove and catchiness of the song made the ground shake. This is what I’m talkin’ about!
The gig ended with an oldie, “Easy Rocker”, a tune called “Live For The Action that I don’t recognize and another oldie, “Heatstrokes” and it was clear that Krokus went down really well. Personally, I was impressed and by no means did Krokus sound or act like a band playing like it’s time to bid their farewells. Quite the opposite, they delivered a tight and tough set with a lot of attitude and they genuinely looked like they were having the time of their lives. On the downside I just can’t get it into my skull why on Earth they feel the need to play all of those covers when they are saying goodbye to their fans. They’ve got so many good originals that playing even one cover is a waste of song-space. And excluding “Screaming In The Night”, their biggest hit ever? I can’t really accept that. But the good overpowered the bad and if this really is goodbye, then they have done it with their heads held high.
I have seen Def Leppard on numerous occasions now and they have yet to disappoint me. They’re also one of my favorite bands – I love them. The last time they played Sweden Rock they floored me completely and my expectations on the band are high. Yes, I know that they use backing-tracks here and there, but you know what? I don’t give a crap. A Def Leppard gig is something I always look forward to and as far as I’m concerned they can headline SRF every damn year if they feel like it. The opening with “Rocket”, “Animal”, “Let It Go” and “Foolin'” was grandiose – you can’t really go wrong with songs like that. And it sounded awesome. The band was obviously on fire and seemed to have the time of their lives. Unfortunately the bland ballad “When Love And Hate Collides” not only brought the tempo down, that ballad isn’t one of their strongest moments per se.
But “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Armageddon It” brought things back on track again and SRF started rocking once more. Then Def Leppard (almost) did an Aerosmith. Back in 2007 (I think), Aerosmith went out hard and were close to doing one of that year’s best concerts when all of a sudden they went into ballad-mania, something that ruined the whole show. Leppard followed their grand opening with a David Essex cover, “Rock On”, a song hardly anyone seemed to recognize and the whole atmosphere went down and instead of kicking up some dust after that they played the ballad “Two Steps Behind”. Sure, it’s a great ballad and things could have been all and well if they hadn’t decided on playing the daft electronica laden, mid-paced newie “Man Enough”. I was starting to jawn by now and even though I love a ballad like “Love Bites” and I really want to hear it live and even though it sounded awesome, it had the wrong spot in their set and things were about to get sleepy here.
“Bringing On The Heartache”, another ballad albeit a more uptempo one follows and now Leppard are dangerously close to pulling an Aerosmith. What made sure they didn’t is that most of Leppard’s ballads are so damn good – but the rocking groove was nowhere to be found. The instrumental “Switch 625” that’s tied together with “Heartache” on the High’n’Dry record brings up some of the groove but the song isn’t really one of their more famous ones. “Hysteria”, with a snippet of David Bowie’s “Heroes” chucked in the middle, is hardly a steady rocker either but it’s uptempo enough to get us going again – and it is of course a brilliant tune. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” ends the set and when it does, it’s like the ballad, slow-pace thing never happened. The closing with encores “Photograph” and “Rock Of Ages” is as brilliant as the opening and when they rocked us with those, all was forgiven.
To sum this up, this wasn’t the best Leppard gig I have seen in my life, they were better at both their earlier SRF gigs, but that don’t mean that they were bad this night. When Leppard are good, they’re bloody brilliant but unfortunately, their set had too many slow songs in a row which resulted in long moments where it felt like nothing really happened. The Essex cover was also completely unnecessary and so was “Man Enough”. When I think about the treasure chest of songs this band holds, there are so many killers that could – and should, if you ask me – have been played. Def Leppard at SRF 2019 were part brilliant, part sleepy.
One negative thing with having a broad taste when it comes to Rock music is that the clashes at festivals can be really damn annoying – and this night one of those showed up. I love Slayer and I had wanted to see them this evening, but British melodic rocker s FM played at the same time. Since I have seen Slayer before and with FM’s last gig at SRF a few years ago in mind, FM were my choice. I missed FM the last time they played here, see, but all I heard about that gig was just how magnificent they were so I really had to see them. I was never a big fan of FM back in the 80’s. I thought they were an ok band with some decent records under their belt. I am a fan now because after the band’s reunion in 2010, album after album has been brilliant, when FM turned from a flat-out AOR band to a Classic Rock outfit with AOR and Melodic Rock influences, something I think suits them way better.
“Black Magic”, the opening track from their latest album Atomic Generation, opens the show with a beefy groove and swing and I could tell by just that song that I would love this gig. They followed it with old 80’s hits like “Bad Luck” and “That Girl” but with a crunchier, more Classic Rock laden arrangements and the groove just kept on going. The Melodic Rock meets Classic dito bouncer “Life Is A Highway” kept the swing going and the band’s old AOR-pearl “Let Love Be The Leader” proved to be a way better song live than a studio one. “Closer To Heaven” might come across as a needed breather but I’m not a huge fan of the song. I’d have chosen a rocker instead. I’m not that familiar with FM’s reunion album Metropolis, but after hearing both the album’s title track and “Over You”, I need to check that album out closer – both sounded superb this night.
My two favorite Indiscreet (1986) songs “Other Side Of Midnight” and “I Belong To The Night” followed with the amazing “Tough It Out” right after, all of which with a raunchier, Classic Rock fueled touch. FM completely nailed those songs and even bettered them tonight. The brilliant pop-rocker “Killed By Love” from the latest album ended the set and I damned myself for missing out on FM the last time around. FM played a killer gig this night and I don’t regret skipping Slayer one iota. The might not look like rockstars, more like your neighbour or the guy from work, but holy cow, those guys can play. Singer Steve Overland has a strong, soulful voice with a broad range and the band is tighter than a camel’s ass in a sandstorm. For all of you who skipped FM, thinking you were in for a night of balladry and sugary AOR/Pop songs really missed out because FM’s gig was nothing of that kind. FM rocked, they grooved and the crowd couldn’t stand still for a second. Awesome!
Photo: Hanna Henrikson (Def Leppard), Jompa (Blackberry Smoke, Krokus, FM)