GATHERING OF KINGS
Starting off as a project a couple of years ago with lots of different singers and musicians and with a debut album quite recently released, I was actually quite surprised that Ron Dahlgren, the mastermind of the project, decided to bring the whole she-bang on the road so early on . I was also a bit intrigued/worried about how it would sound. If social media was to be believed, they hadn’t rehearsed for that long before this gig and with all these people involved, it really could go either way. I’m happy to report, though, that GOK delivered gloriously and it felt like they all had been rehearsing for years prior to this – so tight and well-perfomed. Soilwork/The Night Flight Orchestra dude Björn Strid was the first vocalist to take the stage when they opened with the brilliant “Forever And A Day”. It was clear from go that GOK wouldn’t let us down.
“Endless Paradise” (Tobias Jansson, Saffire), “Saviour” (Apollo Papathanasio, Firewind) and “Love Will Stay Alive” (Rick Atzi, Masterplan) followed and it was really cool to see the reaction from the big crowd. GOK is a new project and it’s not like they have had a bunch of hits on the radio but they sure gave GOK the big welcome. “Long Way From Home”, however, didn’t work as well live as on the album. It’s a good song albeit a bit sugary and Alexander Frisborg’s (Helldog) voice is a bit too saccharine for my taste which only makes the tune cheesier. He’s a good singer, no doubt about that, but here he didn’t sound Rock enough. Also on the downside is that the two (killer) guitarists Victor Olsson (Saffire) and Magnus Mild (Air Raid) had an almost apologetic presence on the stage and never moved an inch. Luckily enough Chris Laney (Pretty Maids) was just the opposite and the wall of bass Nalley Påhlsson has enough live experience to sell.
To hear Corroded’s Jens Westin sing AOR when “Lonely Road” kicked in was also an experience – a pleasant one – when you think about the much heavier direction Corroded goes in. With a stellar voice and a mighty chunk of charisma, the guy really owned the stage. Also, I never thought I would get to hear a song by Swedish pop-singer Carola at Sweden Rock but “The Runaway” was a great cover on the record and had to be played live. It worked like a charm and Björn Strid made the tune his own – that guy is a killer frontman. When the band ended with “Out Of My Life”, bringing all singers out on stage, it was clear that GOK would leave the festival as winners in a triumphant way – and everyone I talked to after the show agreed, this was a lot better than anyone could have expected. If you have the chance to catch this act live during the summer, for God’s sake, don’t miss ’em.
JOE LYNN TURNER
It must have been 10 years since I last saw former Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen and Deep Purple singer Joe Lynn Turner live. That happened at Sweden Rock as well when he was touring with Ritchie Blackmore’s son Jürgen and some ex-Rainbow dudes under the Over The Rainbow moniker. Joe was ace then and nailed even the Dio tracks. In all honesty, Turner’s later releases never set my world on fire – especially the Sunstorm records I have found underwhelming. And I wasn’t really sure which of Turner’s projects would be aired this night even though it was clear that Rainbow and Yngwie stuff would turn up at one point. Turner’s backing band tonight was 3/5 of Swedish rockers Dynazty – guitarist Love Magnusson, bassist Jonathan Olsson and drummer George Egg – complete with a keyboard player whose name I didn’t catch. He was really good, though.
JLT and his cohorts opened the show with three Rainbow tunes where the two first ones “Death Alley Driver” and “Power” brings up a spark right away – classic Hard Rock with a gritty drive and striking melodies. I noticed that Turner had some issues with his highest register but otherwise he was in fine form and no traces of his heart-attack were shown. “Street Of Dreams” showed up already as song # 3. It’s an awesome song but it is a pop-ballad and it showed up too early in the set. The spark the opening tracks brought along were never given a chance to start a fire. Joe’s stint with Yngwie Malmsteen was the guitar maestro’s biggest success and the first Odyssey song to be played was “Deja Vu”, a song I hadn’t heard live since 1988. JLT’s version tonight is brilliant and I’m happy to report that Mr Magnusson nailed Yngwie’s solo with all the glory. Goosebumps.
I raised both my eye-brows when Blackmore’s take on Beethoven’s 9th symphony, “Difficult To Cure” came along and JLT left the stage. I mean, I love the track but this is a JLT show so why on Earth play a song he’s not even on and his backing band has nothing to do with? I don’t get it. They sure do a great version of it and Magnusson is fabulous as always but it’s really a waste of song-time. “I Surrender”, however, is hardly waste of anything but I’m surprised it showed up this early in the set. I was certain this one would be an encore. Well, it gets the crowd back on their feet and the party can begin once more. I didn’t catch the JLT fronted Deep Purple live back when even though I believe that Slaves And Masters is an underrated album so to get to hear “King Of Dreams” – an amazing song – live was a real treat. It’s not exactly the fastest track in the world but the tempo lowering didn’t affect the gig in a negative way at all. We’re given a great version this evening and the crowd seemed to genuinely love it.
“Can’t Let You Go”, another track sniffing around balladry, brings down applause and loud cheer from the audience, “Spotlight Kid” rocks things up again and yes, Love Magnusson nails Blackmore’s solo without any difficulties at all and Malmsteen’s “Rising Force” just might be the most kick-ass track this night. Again, it’s hard to not be impressed by Magnusson’s guitar-skills. Damn, he plays better than the Y-man himself these days. Brilliant. Of course Turner wants to pay tribute to one of his predecessor’s, the mighty Ronnie James Dio, so they play the brilliant “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” for us, a thunderous version and it stands clear that JLT’s voice fits the song like a glove. It’s understandable that he wants to do that for his old friend, but that in turn takes away space for JLT songs so I’m not 100% happy about it. The encore, “Jealous Lover”, becomes somewhat an anti-climax. Firstly, it’s not one of Rainbow’s better tracks. Secondly, I would have preferred another Rising Force track here. Or a better Rainbow one.
And that brings us to some negative things about this gig. As I said, Turner struggled in the highest register. Not a biggie, but it’s unusual when it comes to him. Song-wise, too few Rising Force tracks were played and there are a few Rainbow killers I missed. Other than that, this was a damn good gig and the Dynazty guys plus the no-name keyboardplayer were outstanding and JLT really couldn’t have found a better band to work with. JLT himself looked and sounded as he was in fine form and it felt like he was genuinely glad to be at SRF. Hopefully JLT will keep on touring and I can only imagine the setlist when he/they can choose the length of their gigs without a festival play-time to consider.
After the Joe Lynn Turner gig, three of the Dynazty dudes had only 15 minutes to get from Sweden Stage to the Rockklassiker Stage, the big tent, to perform with their day-job where singer Nils Molin and guitarist Mikael Lavér was waiting. How’s that for a warm-up, huh? I have been following Dynazty since they debuted with Bring The Thunder in 2009 and have been watching them pretty closely through line-up changes and musical genre ditos and seen them transform from young kids playing a sleazier and more Melodic Rock fueled Metal to the grown men going all in on the melodic Metal scene that they are today – and it’s been a fun ride. I always dug the band but the fact is, they have been growing and becoming better and better by each album. They’re also awesome musicians with a powerhouse lead singer at the front and if there was any insecurity lurking back then, then that insecurity took a hike years ago.
The opening trio of “Breathe With Me”, “The Northern End” and “Firesign” is a real punch in the gut that proves that Dynazty takes no prisoners. The sound could have been better, though but that’s an issue this stage has been battling with a long time ago. “The Grey” and “Ascension” follows and the mix of catchy melodies and aggression is a winning recipe and it sure feels like the crowd has been won over by now – the few that already weren’t fans, that is. That’s when a drum solo steps in. Here’s the deal – solos are not fun. Be it drums, guitar, bass whatever. They. Are. Not. Fun. George Egg is a stellar drummer and sure, I was entertained by his solo for 30 seconds or so but unless you’re Tommy Lee, don’t bother. Add another song instead. Well, I managed to get myself a beer so something good came out of it. “In The Arms Of A Devil” and “The Smoking Gun” might not be Dynazty-hits but man, did they go down well live. Like a fist on the jaw, those are live KO’s!
“Raise Your Hands” is the only song from the first musical era of Dynazty but the tune is one groovy MF and a must in their live set. It’s a mystery that song never became a big hit when its mother-album Sultans Of Sin was released in 2012. “The Human Paradox” is one monster of song, a total belter, a gut-puncher with a chorus more infectious than the ebola virus and again, how could this not be a huge hit? Live, it totally destroys everything in its way and when the gig ends with “Titanic Mass” and “Starlight”, I’m exhausted. It feel like I have been ran over by a bulldozer. Is there anyone out there that left the Rockklassiker Tent disappointed? Nah, no one could have been.
The sound started off pretty bad but got better throughout the show and besides the drum solo that could have given us another killer song, Dynazty played a brilliant gig – powerful, heavy, melodic, raging, ass-kicking and if I had been in charge, I would have had the guys working overtime this evening – and they probably would have done it. They were on fire tonight. It’s time that Dynazty get their big break now because they really have everything – great songs, killer musicians and they’re a – pardon my French – a fucking amazing live act. So if they play your town or anywhere near-by, whatever you do, don’t miss them.
To be honest, since Skid Row decided to reunite without Sebastian Bach – and Rob Affuso too, for that matter – they have interested me little. The two first Johnny Solinger fronted albums were more or less useless and even though they still could deliver live, the piece called Sebastian was clearly missing. I will never claim that Solinger is a bad singer or a dull frontman but Bach’s shoes are just too big too fill if you’re not extraordinary and extraordinary Solinger is not. The band upped the quality some with the two United World Rebellion E.P.’s but they were still miles away from the brilliance of Slave To The Grind and even their debut album. Solinger had enough in 2015 (or maybe he was fired?) and was replaced by former TNT vocalist Tony Harnell for about five minutes and in 2016 former DragonForce singer ZP Theart joined Dave Sabo, Scotti Hill, Rachel Bolan and drummer Rob Hammersmith – and that’s the line-up that visited Sweden Rock. Or so we all thought…
This meant that I was more curious than aroused to see Skid Row again. I’m not a fan of DragonForce but I am familiar with them and truth be told, I wondered how on Earth a guy like Theart could fit a band like Skid Row. Well, I was about to find out. The furious opening with “Slave To The Grind” which was followed by the heavy sleaze of “Sweet Little Sister”, the attitude-laden cruncher “Get The Fuck Out” and the knuckles-to-the-bone jawbreaker “Big Guns” told me that Theart fits this band like a glove – way better than I could have imagined and when he went all Bach on us in “18 And Life” it stood clear that Skid Row anno 2019 are firing on all cylinders. “Piece Of Me” is still a manic punk-ridden hard-rocker that will kick your nuts so hard they make two new earrings for you and “Living On A Chain Gang” is a pearl that’s too often forgotten – and on this night it sounded as ballsy as ever.
“Ghost” from 2003’s Thickskin is a throwaway and that shows by the crowd’s reaction. Few knows the song and even though it’s not a crap song nobody really cares. Besides, the tune takes up important song space where a classic could – and should -have been played. The same with the Ramones cover “Psycho Therapy”, sung by bassist Rachel Bolan. It’s a kick-ass tune, sure, but there are so many better Skid Row tunes they could have played. Playing on the festival’s first day as a headliner is premium for a band like Skid Row. Only half of the festival area is open and only three of the smaller stages are working which means a bigger crowd on those and Skid Row drew a huge crowd. To hear said crowd sing along to the ballad hit “I Remember You” sent shivers down my spine – goosebumps deluxe. And Theart nailed the tune perfectly. Which brought us to “Money Business” and the crowd went bananas before they ended the show with the furious “Makin’ A Mess”.
First out as an encore is “We Are The Damned” from the Rise Of The Damnation Army: United World Rebellion (Chapter Two). It’s a really good song and style-wise it’s more in par with the classic Skid Row sound than the the two first “newer” Skid Row releases. It works fine live but I still would have wanted a classic instead. The dark, heavy and somewhat eerie ballad “In A Darkened Room” follows and even though playing a ballad as an encore seems like an odd idea, it works really well. As an ending we get, of course, “Youth Gone Wild”, Skid Row’s trademark song and biggest classic of all. Do I have to point out that the punters went total ape over it? Well, they did. And then goodbye.
This was easily the best Skid Row gig I have witnessed since Bach bid his farewell. How did Theart manage then? I have to say that even though it will probably always feel strange to see them without Bach, the guy did a brilliant job. Voice-wise, he’s sometimes scarily like Bach and at times when I closed my eyes, I thought it was Bach there on stage. He’s also a great frontman, way more interesting to watch than Solinger was. That said, Bach will always be missed and if the boys could put their differences aside, Skid Row would headline the whole festival. And speaking of missing members, mid-show Theart tells us that Snake Sabo couldn’t “make it in time” and had been temporarily replaced by the guitarist from Gene Simmons’ solo band, who are now Ace Frehley’s solo band. Trouble in paradise again? When I walked home from the concert I started talking Skid Row singers with my brother and with Dynazty in fresh memory, both of us almost at the same time stated that Nils Molin would be a perfect fit. That said, Skid Row anno 2019 seems to have found a new spark and with Theart as a singer, maybe the band will reach greatness once more.