Sweden Rock Festival
6-8 June 2003
Angra, Kamelot, A.C.T., Sonata Arctica, Jethro Tull, Queensr˙che, Motörhead, Whitesnake
First band of the day was Brazil's finest power metallers - a band I'd heard a lot of good reports about and was quite keen to see. Sadly, on this performance, I won't be making the effort again. The songs were pretty lifeless and there was nowhere near enough energy on the stage. The vocalist Edu Falaschi was very samey in his high-pitched wailing and other than the diehard fans at the front, they didn't seem to get much more than polite applause from the crowd. They opened with Nova Era, and finished off with the crowd pleaser Carry On. In between, the best bit was the drum solo where the whole band joined together to bash the hell out of some traditional Brazilian drums - not very metal but at least it gave a bit of variety. Disappointing.
In sharp contrast Kamelot were in a different league altogether. With their superb Knights of Arabia and Kharma albums they produced two of the finest progressive power metal albums ever. And in former Conception vocalist Khan they have one of the best set of lungs in the business. Where Angra were one dimensional, Kamelot can pack a range of moods, styles and melodies into every track. My friend Chris doesn't normally go for metal bands but even he was impressed by the quality of their songs and performance.
Their new album Epica has not worked for me in the same way and as its predecessors and as this set relied heavily on it, the show didn't come close to the knockout gigs I witnessed on their last two tours. Even so Kamelot are way ahead of most of their rivals and getting a great reception here today, they finally seem to be receiving the sort of attention they deserve. Any chance of a date in the UK?
Advised by his doctor not to sing Herman Saming apparently came very close to pulling out of this show. However the band decided that this was too good a chance to miss and I'm very glad that they went ahead and played.
Their current album The Last Epic received a ringing endorsement from no less than four DPRP reviewers recently and has apparently been doing good business across Europe. I saw these Swedes at The Progpower Europe Festival last year and while enjoyable they were missing that certain x-factor to get me really excited. However, clearly their recent European tour in support of Saga has allowed the band to really sharpen up their live act. The whole band were more animated - especially Herman who put in a stomping performance. The music had far more dynamics - especially the guitars of Ola Andersson which were far more prominent, lending an almost ProgMetal strength to the sound. The x factor was certainly there - on this performance it was almost like a different band.
The running order for today had given me the option of seeing half the A.C.T. set, before moving to see the whole of the Sonata Arctica set on the opposite stage. However having enjoyed the first half so much, I decided to stay. Mr Landlord was cheeky, Take it Easy thrived on its pop sensibilties while Manipulator really rocked out.
By now, I had also been joined by the larger than life and very drunk Tony - apparently his father runs the shop in Herman's home village and he is one of Herman's best friends. This was the first time he had seen them play live and at least three times in every song he leant over to shout in my ear that they were brilliant. Well Tony, if you're reading this, you may have been totally drunk but you were totally right - A.C.T. kicked serious ass!
(As a side note - the band will play a headline set at the Classic Rock Society in Rotherham, UK on October 4th - tickets are apparently selling fast)
I did eventually make it to the Sweden Stage just in time to see Sonata Arctica launch into a singalong version of The Ritual. Their recent live in Japan album was my first introduction to these symphonic power metallers from Finland. Enjoyable as the album was, seeing them in the flesh was far better. They put on an excellent show with lots of movement and interaction with a crowd that was lapping it all up. I like the way the keyboardist has a strap-on set of keys which adds another element of movement on stage and featured some superb duelling between him and the guitarists. They also had a great sound.
Tony Kakko's voice came across much better than on the live album where it did sound a bit strained at times. The highlight was a spine-tingling version of Full Moon with another great singalong chorus. Overall, this was a great selection of songs, including three from their new album, Winterhearts Guild, the band were clearly enjoying themselves and so were the audience - nuff said!
My fifth band of the day and it was still only 4.30pm! I've seen Ian Anderson and his troop on many occasions over the years and I must say they are much better on the outdoor stage. Anderson in particular seems much more relaxed and gung ho when he's surrounded by fresh air and with a big crowd standing before him.
The set today was very surprising, taking a high percentage from their early days including many songs I'd never seen them play live before. We had Nothing's Easy, With You There To Help Me, Boris Dancing and Hunting Girl - described by Anderson as 'a song about women with whips!'. He even brought out the blues harmonica for a track from a benefit album at the beginning of their career in '69. There were also two tracks from the forthcoming solo albums by Anderson and by guitarist Martin Barre along with the thought-provoking lyrics of One Night in Budapest. Opener Living in the Past and the closing pair of Aqualung and Locomotive Breath were the only real 'classics'.
They're a perfect mid-afternoon festival act and its actually Anderson's in-between-song banter that makes a Tull show essential viewing. The best quip came in introducing I Don't Wanna be a Fat Man. 'That's what it used to be called,' he told the crowd. 'But in today's politically correct world, we have had to change the lyrics to 'I don't mind being a rather clinically obese individual.'
Their set also provided the best image of the festival. The man next to me in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt, with long hair, beard and studs everywhere, had been standing solemnly through most of the set. But when the first chords of Aqualung came forth, he started dancing like a mad man. 'I love that song!' he said afterwards. Jethro Tull - a band that makes you smile.
The Seattle Godfathers of ProgMetal have rarely been a band that's made me smile - more a band to give me a severe case of neckache! There's been plenty of coverage and debate about the various personnel changes of late and in recent years their albums have made the band a popular target for critical sniping. All I need to say, is that their performance today was superb.
There have also been a lot of negative comments about Geoff Tate's voice. Well I had the privilege to be in the front row when they laid waste to The Town and Country Club in London on the famous debut Operation Mindcrime tour and I was at the front again this time. He may have lost his hair but in my humble opinion, Tate's voice was even more impressive this time around. Indeed he spent most of the time striding up and down, crouching, sitting and leaning into the crowd from the platform that came out from the stage to within a few feet of those squeezed into the front row. Clearly feeding off the charged atmosphere from what was a very frenzied bunch of fans - nay fanatics - in front of him. This was not a performer going through the motions - you could see from the glint in his eyes, that the hunger, the passion, is still there.
It was a strange choice to start off with a track from the new, and as then unreleased, album Tribe. I also don't get the attraction of still playing NM156 and Screaming in Digital. NM156 is a complex track that's always sounded messy live and to have Tate go behind the keyboards on only the second track totally looses the opening momentum. Screaming.. is okay live - or it would have been if the microphone hadn't kept cutting out. But if you're only gonna play a track from each of the first two albums, then there's surely much better live material on offer - how about London or Surgical Strike from Rage.. or the sublime Take Hold of the Flame or the title track from The Warning? And whatever happened to Queen of the Ryche?
However after a slightly shaky start, they hit the groove with a very intense I am I, followed by the grandiosity of Empire. Needle Lies (the best ProgThrash track ever written!) raised the temperature at the front to a fever pitch, which was maintained through Damage and a very manic version of Breakdown. Even Sacred Ground sounded good. Then with the opening segments of I Remember Now all hell broke loose in the front few rows as everyone knew it was nirvana time - a 25 minute compilation from Operation: Mindcrime that ended with a fantastic Eyes Of A Stranger.
You may or may not like their current material but there's no doubt that on this form, Queensryche still has the potential to be a phenomenal live act. Worth the price of the festival ticket alone.
The only thing I like about Motorhead is that you only have to listen to the first song and you've pretty much heard the whole set. Lemmy's a rock icon for sure, but I just can't fathom the appeal. But hey, if it's your kinda brew then you know what you're gonna get with a Motorhead show. I heard the first song and decided to catch up on some sleep!
Similarly, you know exactly what's gonna be served up if you go and see Whitesnake - it's just that there's a bit more variety to the menu and its served with a lot more of the trimmings. A bit like seeing Saxon, you can pretty much pick the set list beforehand and know that you're gonna have a pretty good time. There will be a drum solo, guitar solo and probably even a short bass solo. There will be one or probably two crowd singalongs and Coverdale will spend a lot of time holding the microphone to his groin and will introduce most tracks with 'Here's a song for ya'.
Cashing in on their 25th anniversary, Whitesnake circa 2003 is very much the version that brought us the likes of Slip Of The Tongue and 1987. The Coverdale Backing Band now comes in the shape of Doug Aldridge, Reb Beach, Marco Mendoza, Tim Drury and Tommy Aldridge. Together it is a very explosive package and it would certainly be interesting to see what they come up with if every they go into a studio together.
Coverdale moved and sang with a lot of confidence. The voice is still one of the strongest in rock but it has now totally lost that unique blues vibe that so characterised the band's sound in the earlier days. Even the older songs were done in a very 80's hard rock fashion. Nothing wrong with that, but it perhaps would have been nice if, just for a couple of songs mid set - perhaps Ain't No Love or Here I Go Again - if they eased off the pedal and slowed it down a bit to the original style. But hey, this is a money making exercise (no new songs here!) and the crowds get what sells best.
Anyway, headliners they were and a headline show they put on and we went back in the dark, very happy with our day's entertainment.
Waltz with Mother Nature
Take it easy
All photos by Andy Read for DPRP © 2003.