The summer of 2019… and the return of SAUNA OPEN AIR! We thought it was all over for this festival, when it ran into financial trouble in 2013, but now the name has been resurrected in full, following a couple of ”Sauna Classics”, small-scale festivals that took place in 2018 and 2017.
Due to other commitments, the RockUnited team only managed to see the last three acts of Friday’s line-up: Santa Cruz, Amorphis and W.A.S.P. I guess many other people had similar problems, since the turnout on Friday was nowhere near as good as on Saturday. And to be honest, one could hardly expect to fill the area with mostly domestic acts and W.A.S.P., who are regular visitors in Finland.
Although we didn't see D.A.D., our former writer Petri Kautto saw their gig and said that it had been good. The band had played some less familiar songs, but the hits like "Sleeping My Day Away" had been well received.
SANTA CRUZ is a band that we’ve seen a few times before, starting with the support slot at Cinderella gig in 2011. They made a good impression on me then, and I predicted good things for them. Indeed they went from strength to strength, even abroad. A couple of years ago everything collapsed, when the rest of the guys quit the band in the middle of their U.S. Tour.
As it happens, Archie apparently owns the name, and earlier this year he introduced the new Santa Cruz, featuring three young guys replacing the original cast of characters. Following the Cruz tradition, they go by the names of Pav Cruz (guitar), Ero Cruz (bass) and Toxy Cruz (drums).
The first thing I noticed when the band started to play was the superb sound. The techicians really knew how to do their jobs, as the sound was balanced and crystal clear. The sound remained excellent throughout the festival. As for the band, they started with lots of energy and the first release from the new line-up, ”Changing of Seasons”. I though it sounded better live than the recorded version, and I was optimistic about the rest of the set. Unfortunately the first half of the set contained mostly new songs, and I must say that they didn't make me too anxious to hear the forthcoming "Katharsis" album. The new songs included "Bang Bang", a truly hideous nu-metalish rap-crossover whatever song, a U2/Bon Jovi-esque arena song "Into The War" and "True Believer", which sounded like Nickelback at their worst. The ballad "I Want You To Mean It" was probably the best one of them. They didn't play their controversial latest single "Tell Me Why", which was quite intriguing. Despite being a familiar-sounding, at least it would have been somewhat catchy.
The crowd started to warm up a little when the band started to play their old hits, but somehow it was too late. The gig was the worst SC gig I've seen, and not a success by any standards, judging by the crowd reaction. I guess I'm not a "true believer" as one of the new song suggests... but I don't like the direction where the band is going.
AMORPHIS were the next band. They are a regular visitor at Finnish festivals, and I've seen them at least three times. I've never really gotten into their music, but this time they surprised me with a solid performance. I enjoyed their dark tones and melancholic melodies, and while I'm not a fan of growling, I was very impressed by versatility of vocalist Tomi Joutsen. Within seconds, he can change his delivery from a monstrous growl into melodic clean vocal. He's also the one that provides the showmanship, the rest of the guys are mostly stuck to their designated places on stage.
I'm not really familiar with the band's songs, but I liked most of them. The ones from the new album "Queen Of Time" sounded good, as well as the closing track "House Of Sleep", which was a big crowd favourite. I must check out this band's catalogue!
W.A.S.P. have played a LOT of shows in Finland. Since 2004, they've been here almost every year. They have strong, loyal following here and guitarist Doug Blair actually lives in Finland, so it's not that strange at all. Their headlining set at Sauna proved that they can still draw a reasonably big crowd.
The W.A.S.P. setlist offered no surprises. Well, a bit of a surprise was that after only 7 songs, Blackie Lawless just said "Thank You" and the band left the stage. The crowd was puzzled, but started chanting and eventually the band came back and played a couple of songs from "The Crimson Idol", only to exit again. After a few minutes, they came back and played their two biggest hits, "Wild Child" and "I Wanna Be Somebody". So, alltogether 11 songs (including two medleys) and maybe 70 minutes, of which the band was offstage for almost 10 minutes... Not unusual for the band though.
For what it's worth, Blackie didn't spend much time talking to the crowd, and there were no guitar or drum solos, so when the band was on stage, they weren't wasting time. Doug Blair and bassist Mike Duda were very energetic and entertaining, while Blackie relied on looking mysterious and larger than life. His stage persona reminds me of a more serious Gene Simmons...
With the two big W.A.S.P. hits the Friday ended on a high note. It had been an okay day, everything had worked fine and we had a good time. But the big guns were saved for Saturday, and headed to our temporary home to get a good night's sleep.
Despite the weather forecasts predicting a kind of a boring weather, we got a nice Summer Saturday. A few clouds, but mostly sunshine and no rain at all. The first band of the day was ONE DESIRE, a group we've seen several times during the last couple of years. Their set at Sauna was a short one, only 6 songs, but enjoyable nevertheless. Even though there were no new songs in the setlist, at least the running order of the songs had been changed: they didn't play their biggest hit "Hurt" straight away.
Frontman Andre Linman's trademark awkward banter is beginning to be an essential part of an OD gig, and sure enough, he threw a few golden nuggets our way. Some say that he should just shut up and play, but I say "keep talking, it's entertaining"!
I have a bit of a Deja Vu feeling writing this, but I can't wait to see the band with a few new killer tracks from the next album added to the setlist...
Summer and BROTHER FIRETRIBE are an unbeatable combination, and many of their albums have provided the soundtrack to our previous summers. This summer there's no new album to promote, so the band had chosen songs from all of their albums quite evenly. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen was absent, but the band had found a good stand-in axeman in Roope Riihijärvi. He's a bit younger than the rest of the band, and vocalist Pekka didn't let him forget that - "This song is so old that Roope wasn't even born when it was released"... and no, he's not that young!
The band's set got a good start with "Help Is On The Way", but the pedestrian "Indelible Heroes" wasn't one of my favourites. The mega-anthem "I Am Rock" worked, but it was followed by yet another mid tempo/semiballadic song "Shock". Our photographer Mira does love it, but I would have liked to hear something more uptempo. Well, the rest of the set was just what the doctor ordered, uptempo Summertime AOR with massive hooks. We even got an golden oldie that hasn't been in the setlist for ages, the first album's "Valerie". And "I'm On Fire", "For Better Or For Worse" and "Heart Full Of Fire"... doesn't get much better than that.
Vocalist Pekka Heino is not only a fine singer, but also a superb entertainer when it comes to in-between song banter. Apparently sunshine is in the band's rider, but a couple of random clouds made him think that bassist Jason had traded it for vodka...
After this double shot of AOR, we were treated to the WTF moment of the festival, SKINDRED. This UK-based band stood out like sore thumb among the more melodic acts of Saturday. They played some kind of a crossover Ska-Rap-Reggae-Metal type of music, that frankly didn't interest me in the slightest. The vocalist does get the award for the most METALLIC outfit of the day - he had hundreds of studs in his jacket and even in his sunglasses. Some of the other guys had a peculiar look as well, at least there was a guitarist who looked like an amish preacher...
Although the band played to a visibly thinned crowd compared to that of the previous band, they did have their own fans, as some people have mentioned them as their favourites of the festival. Good for them. And good for us, we had a chance to go and get some dinner.
It does make me wonder, when a band has a limited time to play their material, why do they want to spend several minutes of that to first playing an AC/DC track over the P.A., then a typical pompous intro tape? To me that's just waste of time, but to each their own.
The surprise act of the weekend for me was BATTLE BEAST. I've liked the band and seen them in their previous incarnations, but I wasn't prepared to be blown away by them. And that's what they did, they played the best gig of the whole festival for me. There was never a dull moment during their show, and we got to see a whole range of emotions and motions - tears, fire, metal aerobics and sing-along anthems. Vocalist Noora Louhimo simply ruled the stage, but interestingly, she didn't overshadow the other guys in the band.
If you're familiar with the band's history, you might know that the band's first three albums were solely written by Anton Kabanen, now in Beast In Black. The band has released two albums without him, and all of the songs in the setlist were from those "new-era Battle Beast" albums. And yes, the band can put together a very solid and versatile show without the old songs. They still have some power metallic tracks like "The Golden Horde", but they also have hook-driven hard rock hits, dramatic epics and one full-on AOR song "Endless Summer", that wouldn't sound out of place in a Brother Firetribe setlist. The ballad "I Wish" was a particularly moving moment, as it was dedicated to someone close to Noora who had passed away recently. The emotions got the best of her in the end, but as she said, "Isn't music supposed to be emotional?" Yes indeed, never mind the eyelashes that got swept away!
SONATA ARCTICA have been a "hit or miss" band for me. I've seen several gigs by them, and sometimes they've been good, sometimes fairly boring. I've got to say that while their set at Sauna had its' moments, it didn't leave a lasting impression. Apart from vocalist Tony Kakko, the band was fairly stagnant on stage and I don't know... something was seriously missing. Maybe it was the songs, I can't remember anything about "Closer To An Animal", "The Day" or "Life". The ballad "Tallulah" was good, as was the early hit "Full Moon"... and the pyros were impressive.
EUROPE have played a lot of shows in Finland over the last few years. Not quite as many as W.A.S.P., but they've been here almost every year since their comeback. Just like W.A.S.P., they also have a strong following here, and they were one of the most popular acts of the festival.
The band is still touring in support of their latest album, "Walk The Earth" (2017), but the setlist featured only two songs from it. Wisely the band chose more familiar songs for this festival audience, including four from the classic "Final Countdown" album and three from "Out Of This World". A couple of even older tracks got an airing, "Wasted Time" and "Scream Of Anger" from the band's second album "Wings Of Tomorrow". Those were played in 2014 too, when the band was headlining South Park Festival in Tampere. Back then the setlist was heavy on songs from their then-current album "Bag Of Bones", but these days those have been dropped.
Naturally the band doesn't sound or look like they did in the eighties, some keys maybe have been dropped and the poodle hair cuts cropped, but the band can still deliver. Joey Tempest's vocals don't soar like they used to, but he puts a lot of effort into his performance and he's still one of the more charismatic frontmen out there. The mike stand is still being twirled and the shapes are being thrown. John Norum's guitar playing is still fluid and his solos are melodic and beautiful.
Highlights of the set for me were "Sign Of The Times", "Wasted Time", "Cherokee" and of course "The Final Countdown". I may have heard it a million times but it's still one of the songs that has shaped my musical taste.
"Here's a song for ya" is the catch phrase of WHITESNAKE's leader David Coverdale. In Sauna he had quite a few songs for ya, which he performed surprisingly well. A lot has been written about him not being able to cut it anymore, but I think he did quite okay. He's 67 years old after all, and considering that, he's still very fit and oozes charisma. Granted, some of the higher notes sounded very screechy or weren't reached, but at least he was doing it without any artificial assistance, as far I could tell. The other guys in the band sang their hearts out too, especially keyboard player Michele Luppi who's known as ah world class singer in his own right.
The Whitesnake setlist was a good "greatest hits + a few from the new one" type of a thing, with the songs from their zillion-selling "1987" being the biggest crowdpleasers. Then again, all of the songs were received warmly, even the new ones seemed familiar to the crowd. The MTV video hits from "Slip Of The Tongue" weren't in the set, and no songs from the previous few albums (Doug Alrich-era) either. My personal favourites included "Love Ain't No Stranger", "Bad Boys" and "Here I Go Again". Tommy Aldridge's drum solo was entertaining, the Joel Hoekstra vs. Reb Beach guitar duel wasn't too bad either.
The 14-song set was followed by an encore, a nod to Coverdale's past in Deep Purple: "Burn". This rock classic was a suitable closing number, the crowd was on fire... pun intended.
Our photos of Whitesnake are shot from the crowd. The band had special photo passes to photograph them, and the info how to apply for them was sent to us via email a couple of hours before the show. Unfortunately I didn't check my mail during the last few hours, and we missed this opportunity.
14000 people visited the festival during the two days, which I think was a really good turnout. On Saturday the site was quite crowded actually, but people were in a good mood and enjoyed the music, there were no troublemakers among the crowd. I believe the success of this "comeback" promises good things for next year, and hopefully there's another Sauna heated up!
Words by Kimmo Toivonen
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