The 2010 Edition of Sweden Rock was largely mired by quirky weather featuring rain, shine, nut-busting cold in the evenings, some more rain and sudden gusts of wind, one of which managed to tear apart one of the mixing towers. Oh, and then some more rain.
Having flown from Finland and hauled our gear into the house we use to rent some 20 kilometers from the Festival, on Thursday we managed to get onto the festival grounds in time to see the up-and-rising trad metal warriors of STEELWING. They put on an energetic, albeit somewhat bland show, of the general atmosphere of been there & done that. Playing tunes out of their debut album, they threw the shapes and sounds of Accept, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest of old, but as an original are originals, the young Swedes surpassed expectations based on their debut platter Lord Of The Wasteland, but the jury is still out to decide if, live-wise, they are the real deal or just another of those ho-hum NWOBHM revivalists that seem to spring from the Swedish ground like mushrooms in rain.
Set: Enter the Wasteland, Headhunter, The Nightwatcher, Point of Singularity The Illusion, Under the Scavenger Sun, Sentinel Hill, Roadkill (Or Be Killed).
Come nine o'clock, the Sweden Stage was overtaken by MICHAEL MONROE, whose solo band burst into blazing renditions of some Hanoi Rocks hits and more, featuring songs from Mike's solo albums, some more punky Demolition 23 stuff three totally new songs and even a cover of Golder Earring's Radar Love, all of which the crowd ate like manna from Heaven. From the beginning to the end of the blond Energizer Bunny's show the pace was hectic, professional and thoroughly entertaining. As always. Michael Monroe truly is the rock vocalist par excellence, copied by many, matched by none and handed out a show, that many times over the next few days' more sub-par performances, I wished to have a re-run of.
Set: Nothin's Alright, Motorvatin', Hammersmith Palais, You're Next, Not Fakin' It, Dysfunctional, Another Night In The Sun, I Wanna Be Loved, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, Love Song, Motorheaded For A Fall, Back To Mystery City, Malibu Beach Nightmare, Dead, Jail or Rock 'n' Roll, Ain't Nothin' To Do, 1970/Radar Love.
The couple of lazy Nazareth songs on the Festival stage that we witnessed had gone down like iron kite, we decided that it wasn't the way to rock the early Thursday, and moved on to see the uplifting AOR tunes of TREAT. Back in the day in the 80s Sweden, Treat got somewhat trampled in the feet of Europe's insurgence, but the truth is that Treat's song material is easily on par with that of Upplands Väsby's finest, Final Countdown or no Final Countdown. Granted, the guys of Treat aren't exactly as pretty as they used to be, but songs being as fresh as ever and the new songs as great, Treat got a relatively good reaction from the crowd. Singer Robert Ernlund even whipped the gang for a bit of singalong for the band's biggest ever hit World of Promises. A good-natured, well executed show and a great pick-me-up for the ones who'd already managed to catch a hangov... a cold the previous day.
Set: The War Is Over, All In, Ready for the Taking, Paper Tiger, Medley: Changes/Rev It Up/Party All Over/Too Wild, We Own The Night, Roar, Soul Survivor, Get You On The Run, Conspiracy, Skies Of Mongolia, World Of Promises.
Next up was the nastiest overlapping of shows of the whole festival, as Canada's hard rock heavyweights Y&T and melodic progressive metallers EVERGREY's special acoustic set were scheduled to be played simultaneously. Hopping between two stages, I managed to catch the best of both worlds, albeit seeing Evergrey for just a couple of songs. The semi-progressive metal of Evergrey, sort of downgraded to rock by its acoustic execution here for sure had its devout followers, as the festival tent was filled to the brim and there was a whole lot of clapping and shaking going on, but what can a man do, Y&T was on the menu too, and because the band is far harder to catch on these parts than the Gothenburgers, with heavy heart I left Evergrey's interesting arrangements to be seen another day.
So, Y&T played some tunes of their new Facebreaker album, some older smashers and, to honor the memory of recently departed Ronnie James Dio, a movingly beautiful cover of Rainbow In The Dark, which fittingly attracted the biggest ovation of the evening. It definitely was a spine-tingling thrill to hear the crowd in almost unanimous singalong and to see thousands and thousands of hands, simultaneously raised to the devil horns, so many times shown by the late master. A thing worth taking note of is that Dave Meniketti's voice defies time. The older the vocalist gets, the better he sounds. Strange, but beautiful.
Set: Black Tiger, On With The Show, Lonely Side of Town, Rainbow in the Dark Meanstreak, Shine On, I Believe In You, Open Fire, Eyes Of A Stranger, I'm Coming Home, Dirty Girl, Rescue Me, Forever.
Because RATT had to cancel their performance, instead of onstage debauchery we had to settle for some Scandinavian hard rocking in the form of Denmark's PRETTY MAIDS. I'm not one to complain here. Anyway, the Danes threw a professional and mildly entertaining, meat and potatoes kind of show. Highlighted by old anthems Red, Hot & Heavy, fight song Back To Back and Future World, the set's intensity hit a sudden low with two successive ballads, Please Don't Leave Me and Love Games. In addition of the ballads being a bit of a bummer, the stage was also clearly too big for the band. As solid as Pretty Maids musically was, one could not avoid thinking that Pretty Maids are still around just to dodge having to get day jobs, and for them, a club stage would be more like it. Another day at the office for the Danes, executed to a tee with ironclad routine, but nothing to behold.
After missing the show of the fastest rising metal band in Europe, military power metal warriors SABATON, for reasons that in hindsight defy common sense, we took course toward the Festival stage, where the blood merchants of SLAYER thrashed the festival grounds. The stage bathed in glorious red and the band ripped through an musically exhilarating set, but there really wasn't much of an energy to see onstage. Thrash metal's elder statesmen mangled the audience with some of their most murderous homicide hymns, but vocalist Tom Araya, whose long-ailing back was surgically fixed just a while ago, pretty much just stood there, devoid of headbanging or other usual stage activities of his. Slayer was, like always, musically tight, but this time yet poor when it some to the performance itself. The blood red stage saved the day, though.
Set: World Painted Blood, Hate Worldwide, Cult, Disciple, War Ensemble, Expendable Youth, Jihad, Beauty Through Order, Seasons in the Abyss, Hell Awaits, Mandatory Suicide, Chemical Warfare, Raining Blood, Aggressive Perfector, South of Heaven, Silent Scream, Angel of Death.
As night was making its way to Sölvesborg, we stood amazed before the stage of one JORN LANDE. Having made his mark in Masterplan and Avantasia, the Norwegian with the fish finger mustache is one of the vocal gods of our time but boy, is the man's stage presence amiss! The vocalist makes faces like he has some severe issues, and as some of his solo material isn't all too great, the audience clearly was wondering what's wrong in the picture here. A solid band, a spectacular voice plus a goofy stage does not a good rock show make, would Yoda say. Also the fact that the band included lengthy drum and guitar solos into the set, was a miscalculation of horrendous magnitude. Moreover, the night was turning really cold, so the shivering people were wet, irritated and very short on patience. Suffice to say that with all of its deficiencies and boosted by chilly coldness that really got on peoples' nerves, Jorn's show was not to be counted as one of the festival's highlights.
Set: Road of the Cross, Shadow People, Below, We Brought The Angels Down, Stormcrow, Spirit Black, The Inner Road, Man of the Dark, Blacksong, Tungur Knivur, Rock and Roll Angel, Soul of the Wind, Are You Ready, War of The World/Man On The Silver Mountain.
Then it was the time of the second day's headliner AEROSMITH. It could be that the veterans don't really get along with each other but man, can they pull off a great rock 'n roll show! The band has a string of smash hits, unparalleled by pretty much everyone, and playing to their strengths with huge, huge ballads and bluesy, rootsy glam rock 'n roll, they whipped the audience into frenzy even though the weather was slowly starting to resemble that of Anchorage's. In February. Inside of a dead polar bear's butt. Well known songs and a Steven Tyler's truckload of charisma took care of business and gave us all a warm, fuzzy feeling – which wasn't equally apparent between the band members as it was in the crowd. One highlight of the show was the guitar solo duel of Joe Perry, the real life version and Joe Perry, the Guitar Hero video game version. This time the authentic half of the Toxic Twins won, as the battle ended with the video game character committing a suicide of the exploding kind. Yet it still stays a mystery to me, where does Liv Tyler's angelic looks come from, given that her father looks like what he does...
Set: Love in an Elevator, Back in the Saddle, Walkin' the Dog, Falling in Love (is Hard on the Knees), Livin' on the Edge, Jaded, Kings And Queens, Cryin', Lord Of The Thighs, Stop Messin' Around, I Don't Want To Miss a Thing, Sweet Emotion, Baby, Please Don't Go, Draw the Line, Dream On, Walk This Way, Toys in the Attic.
The grounds already soaked by the nightly rain torrents, the festival stage was corked by MSG, who were completely in the wrong environment. Gary Barden s hoarse vocals were barely audible past the first two rows of the audience and much of the show revolved around Michael Schenker's guitar heroics. Not a lot of people had braved to fight the ongoing rain and applause was sparse which all added more to the blah-factor of the show, even though the band played through most of their non-McAuley era hits. MSG wasn't much to see, not much to hear either, but having heard Schenker, it's quite apparent where Yngwie Malmsteen has copied his chops from. A treat for the fans, no doubt, but watered down (literally) for the rest of us.
Set: Armed And Ready, Cry For The Nations, Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, Ready To Rock, I Want You, Into The Arena, Lost Horizons, Rock My Nights Away, On And On, Lights Out, Attack of The Mad Axeman, Rock Bottom, Doctor Doctor.
Another unfortunate scheduling gaffe were the simultaneous slots for L.A.'s Steel Panther and Brit pomp rock veterans Magnum. As much as yours truly loves Magnum, this wasn't even hard to decide and let me tell you, there are no regrets with the choice I made.
One of Sweden Rock's definite highlights were Tinseltown's own STEEL PANTHER a hair metal spectacle/stand-up comedy mash-up, who are the shoo-ins to be the funniest ever band in hard rock. Their onstage antics and lewd jokes would be enough to have you pee in your pants with laughter, but they're armed with some pretty cracking songs to boot! The band is way more that funny, they're also musically tight as a mosquito's butt on a constipation day and they capped their thoroughly hilarious show with a scorching rendition of Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart, that the Crue can only dream to touch.
I'm not going to give you any spoilers here, but knowing that the band even changes their jokes from show to show, all the ego-maniacal make-up breaks, mind-bogglingly bone-headed blonde bassist, super-size ladies underwear in all the wrong places on stage and unending barrage of R-rated jokes are a riot worth the price of admission, no matter what the price of admission might be! Steel Panther even might throw the same show, but every time you see it, so much happens onstage that you'll catch new stuff everywhere you look. One can only hope to see the unheralded clowns and the tightest band in hair metal on a club show, where they get to launch their complete arsenal of glam metal madness on yer sorry behind! After the treatment you will smell like sushi! The best show of the whole festival, hands down.
Set: Eyes of a Panther, Asian Hooker, Fat Girl (That She Blows), The Shocker I Want It That Way, Community Property, Turn out the Lights, Girl from Oklahoma, Eatin' Ain't Cheatin', Hell's on Fire, Death to all but Metal, Party All Day (Fuck All Night), Kickstart My Heart.
Because the deliberate hair metal parody of Steel Panther was bordering on Earth-shattering as an experience, all the sorrier it made my first chance witness of one of my old faves, CINDERELLA. From the start of the set it was obvious that no one in Cinderella, with the possible exception of bass player Eric Brittingham, has fun on stage anymore. Tom Keifer's voice was shot, out of tune and the man didn't give a shit. Guitarist Jeff LaBar kept changing guitars like it was the instrument's fault, that the show more or less went to hell. It wasn't. It was the band, way past their expiration date, who were to blame.
Once kicking major ass, songs like Shake Me, Somebody Save Me or Push Push didn't have the electricity to light a fuse, so a string of punk slogans went through my mind when watching the Philadelphians: No fun. No feelings. No future. Almost choked to tears with the notion of how the mighty have fallen, I truly wished I hadn't witnessed the blood-curdlingly bad performance of a band I used to love. Having my expectations through the roof before the gig, I had them come down like a Turkish apartment building.
Set: Second Wind, Push Push, Somebody Save Me, The Last Mile, Night Songs, Bad Seamstress Blues/Falling Apart At The Seams, Heartbreak Station, Coming Home, Shelter Me, Nobody's Fool, Gypsy Road, Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone), Shake Me.
Another one of my old faves, BILLY IDOL was due. The rain had once again started showering the festival site, but still all we needed to perk up was a burning hot show from the old pop-rock Adonis. But what did we get? Some hits, yes, but performed with the passion and energy of a dead unemployment office teller. For some reason unbeknownst to us, Mr. Idol had also decided to feature largely unknown songs from the catalog of his long gone punk unit Generation X and moreover, some dodgy covers from the Doors and Eddie Cochran. Being far from the last survivor of the 1st generation of British punk, as I has pictured the man to be, Billy Idol had no f*** you -attitude, no edge, no charisma and sorrily generally resembled a thoroughly bored elderly lady telling the same bedtime story to the same annoying five year old for the umpteenth time. Billy Idol's bland and audience-deprecating rip-off of a show was a Ready, Steady, No-go. A huge, huge let-down.
Set: Ready Steady Go, Dancing With Myself, Love Is Strange, Scream, White Wedding, Cool Operator, Prodigal Blues, Bitter Pill, Twenty Flight Rock, To Be a Lover, Eyes Without A Face, Kings And Queens Of The Underground, Don't Shoot The Messenger, Kiss Me Deadly, King Rocker, Running With the Boss Sound, Rebel Yell, L.A. Woman
So the pieces were there, to be picked up by GARY MOORE who had promised to play an all metal show for the first time in... well, since the Precambrian era when he still was all the rage among guitarists. Moore stayed true to his promise for about five songs, after which it was all out blues again, but the little we heard of hard rock in the form of Over The Hills and far Away, Thunder Rising and Out In The Fields, it was all worth it and practically saved the day after the Cinderella and Billy Idol belly ups. Not that Moore's blues was bad, far from it, I enjoy it as much as the next guy and Moore clearly enjoys it even more, but having come advertised as somewhat of heavier show than usual, the gig show wasn't all it was made out to be. Keyboarder Neil Carter had fun with the heavier songs, which was nice to see. Gary Moore's guitar playing is as orgasmic as ever, as proved by his numerous twitchy facial expressions and some of the reactions of the, uh, more excited and somewhat “veteran” female fans in the audience.
Set: Over the Hills and Far Away, Thunder Rising, Military Man, Days Of Heroes, Where Are You Now, So Far Away, Empty Rooms, Old Wild One, Blood of Emeralds, Out in the Fields, Still Got the Blues, Walking By Myself, Parisienne Walkways.
Can you imagine a better way to kick off a rock festival's final day than the ponderous, deep and dexterous tunes of prog metal geniuses FATES WARNING? Well, probably YOU could, but then again, you're probably not between forty and death, and not completely sold on progressive metal, so thank you, drive through. The goddess of weather clearly had it in for us and she pretty much threw everything she had at us in the form of rain, shine, some more rain and the gust of wind that tore the canvasses and railings off one of the mixing towers, but none of that mattered, as Fates Warning rocked my world. Celebrating the 20 years since the release of their finest body of work, the Parallels album, the band played through the entire prog metal cornerstone and a couple of their biggest cult hits to boot. There isn't much of show to see with Fates Warning, but the musicianship is impeccable and Ray Alder's lingering vocals are the stuff chills are made of Thank you Sweden Rock for Fates Warning and up yours, Esther, the Goddess Of Weather with the leaky butt!
Set: Leave the Past Behind, Life In Still Water, Eye to Eye, The Eleventh Hour, Point of View, We Only Say Goodbye, Don't Follow Me, Face the Fear, One, A Pleasant Shade of Gray Part 3, Another Perfect Day, Through Different Eyes, Monument.
Ah, the by now probably infamous busted-up mixing tower. It belonged to the stage where Michael Kiske was scheduled to end his 17 year hiatus from performing live. Because of the aforementioned forces of nature -related force majeure, the UNISONIC show was delayed by an hour, and once it commenced, I kind of wondered why Kiske even bothered. The man tried to hide under a beanie, a hoodie and a biker jacket, and sung his hands deep in his pockets. He sang well, no doubt about it, hitting all the high notes like in his heyday with Helloween, but how can it be explained that a performer steps onstage and tries to hide in there? Great frontmen are made of killer instincts and charisma, and there was none of either going on here. It was maddeningly obvious that still after 17 years Kiske doesn't feel at home on stage. Another question could be thrown to the band about what is it with all this Unisonic stuff, when a landslide majority of the songs have been recorded under the moniker of Place Vendome... explain, please?
Set: Cross The Line, I'll Be Gone, Set Me Free, Souls Alive, Sign Of The Times, Streets of Fire, The Setting Sun, My Guardian Angel, Kids of the Century, A Little Time/Victim of Changes.
Then it was the scheduled time to entertain the fans of metal so bad it's good all over. I'm not sure if the bands in question here really have all the Moomin-trolls in their respective Moomin-valleys, but Raven (photos above, the first two ones) and Anvil are, in my opinion, more of a comic relief of the festival than noteworthy bands, so we'll move on without further ado or my increasingly abysmal jokes So, W.A.S.P. it is.
What can be said of W.A.S.P. (photos above, the last two) that hasn't been said before? Not much, as Blackie Lawless and his ever-changing horde of cohorts pretty much always plays the songs it has played before. This time, however the tens of thousands of Sweden Rock participants were treated with something special. The ancient fan faves The Torture Never Stops and Wild Child were exhumed to have their live comebacks after 25 or so years and the majority of the set concentrated on the material of the 2 fist W.A.S.P. albums, the only exceptions being two Crimson Idol songs and 2 from their latest album Babylon. It may be that Blackie no longer with his newly found Christian beliefs won't utter the words anymore, but in Sölvesborg W.A.S.P. was an Animal, and f***ed us like a beast and deserved an honorable mention as the silver medalist of Sweden Rock of 2010.
Set: On Your Knees, The Torture Never Stops, L.O.V.E. Machine, Wild Child, The Last Command, Crazy, Hellion, Widowmaker, Sleeping (In The Fire), Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue), Babylon's Burning, The Idol, I Wanna Be Somebody, Blind In Texas.
The festival was capped in the freezing cold by GUNS 'N' ROSES, who stayed true to their form and started the show 52 minutes behind the scheduled time People seem to think that Axl is just being a prick, making the crowd wait for himself at every show, but I've noticed that there is a definite method to the man's madness. At least in Norway, Finland and Sweden Rock, the band stepped onstage EXACTLY 52 minutes late each time. So, it's not like Mr. Rose lives up to his infamous reputation or follows his whims, he apparently just lives on a time zone of his own, where the clocks are, well, 52 minutes behind ours.
The Gunners show was what it nowadays is, a totally entertaining arena rock experience with pompous arrangements, three showy guitarists, flashy drummer and the ever-snarling, yet a bit chubby Alx Rose. Good for what it is, but with all the wrong guys in the band and far removed from the lethal rock 'n roll animalism the band used to be armed with on its better days. Having seen enough in 15 minutes, we decided to cut our participation to the show short and dodged the imminent rush hour, after the 30 or so thousand of people vacate the festival grounds. So, by the time most of the audience were shivering in the nut-freezing cold of Sölvesborg and listening the last songs of Axl & Co., we were snugly back at our rented premises, getting ready to fly home the next day.
All in all, despite of the atrocious weather and some shows almost not worth mentioning, Sweden Rock was, again, a lot of fun. The organization did a good job cutting down the number of people let in to the festival, thus making the grounds a little bit more spacey and free to roam. There were no annoying queues to anyplace, save for to the cafe kiosks during the most torrential rains and cold nightfalls, but then again, all that comes back to the weather, which I believe I might have mentioned, was a nightmare.
Musically there was, again, a lot to choose from and everyone can tailor their Sweden Rock experience to whatever they want to. It probably would be possible to write a hundred different versions of this festival report, depending on what kind of rock you're most into. To each his own is the idea here, and this was how a metalhead saw what came down at Sweden Rock 2010. This year is already billed with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Overkill, The Haunted and Agent Steel for the metallers, and for the more laid back, Jason & The Scorchers, Dan Reed Band and Styx, so it's pretty much a given that, come (hopefully a warmer) summer of 2011, we'll be back in the village of Norje in Sölvesborg – rain or shine.