Monday, 14 November 2016

Europe - London Review

1986 must have been a great year for music. I recently saw FM celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album Indiscreet in Nottingham and, exactly two weeks later, I was in London to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Europe's seminal hard rock album The Final Countdown. The Final Countdown is easily Europe's most important, and most defining, album. It contains the band's best known singles, including the legendary title track which literally everyone knows, and was the first album by the band to feature all 5 of the current members of the band. It also established the Swedes as a big-hitter in the American-dominated AOR market, and increased the role that keyboards played in the band's sound after two heavier albums. It is a fan-favourite album for good reason, and it is extremely consistent throughout. It would be a crime if the band did not choose to do something to celebrate this landmark anniversary of their most famous album, so when this tour was announced earlier in the year I snapped up tickets as soon as they went on sale. Europe never disappoint live, and all three of the shows I had seen previously were excellent. This anniversary tour was a shorter one that usual, with only one UK show included, but that made it all the more special and it sold out. The venue of choice was the Roundhouse, a new venue for me that is just north of Camden. I was impressed with the venue for the most part, and it was great to see a band like Europe selling out a good-sized venue like this!

Before Europe hit the stage however, the crowd was treated to a couple of support bands. Up first were fellow Swedes The Electric Boys. Despite being around in some form or another since the late 1980s, this was my first encounter with the band. I knew the name, but had never heard a note of their music before this show in London. Unfortunately, the band did little to impress. Their groovy, bluesy hard rock was very formulaic and they never really seemed to set the audience alight despite there obviously being a few fans in attendance. The majority of the songs they played just were not that memorable at all, and lacked strong melodies or standout riffs. They were only on stage for about half an hour however, so they did not outstay their welcome.

Dare, on the other hand, were very good. I have been a fan of them for a few years now and had never had the chance to see them before, so when they were announced as the main support for this show I was excited. They only had just over half an hour to play with too, so they wasted no time and started with Wings of Fire and We Don't Need a Reason, both from 1991's Blood from Stone. While the sound was never brilliant during their set, the keyboards and backing vocals were far too low in the mix, the band still impressed and made their six song set count. Home was the only new song played, and frontman Darren Wharton sounded at his best vocally here. The band's smooth, atmospheric songs suit his voice better these days, and Vinny Burns (guitar/vocals) played some fabulous guitar leads during this song. The final three songs were all from the band's debut album Out of the Silence. Singles Abandon and Into the Fire all sounded great, although more backing vocals in the mix would have really improved the stadium-sized choruses! The mellower Return the Heart brought a short, but sweet, set to and end. I am glad that I finally got to see Dare live, even if it was really only a taster. Dare toured with Europe in 1989, so this show was almost a little recreation of history! The setlist was:

Wings of Fire
We Don't Need a Reason
Into the Fire
Return the Heart

It was Europe that everyone was here to see however and their two hour set was fantastic - probably the best show of theirs I have seen so far. Europe sets are often dominated by new material, so the real nostalgia fest that this show originally promised to be would have been a strange and novel prospect. Before the complete run through of The Final Countdown however, the band treated us to a complete run through of last year's excellent War of Kings album - two albums for the price of one! Only Europe could make a tour celebrating a classic album's 30th anniversary to not be a total evening of nostalgia, and the format worked well showcasing the band's classic sound and their modern sound. War of Kings was not played in order however, and the show opened with the upbeat and hard rocking Hole in my Pocket. This is raw hard rock song, and frontman Joey Tempest was on fine form from the off posing for the cameras (this show was being filmed for a future DVD release) and spinning his microphone stand around. The early part of this half of the set was dominated by more atmospheric bluesy pieces however that really showcases John Norum's (guitar/vocals) playing. All of the songs have fantastic guitar solos, with the heartfelt Praise You standing out the most. The album is quite varied however, and sees the band tackle a lot of styles. Days of Rock 'n' Roll is almost a throwback to the band's 1980s sound, and features a prominent keyboard riff from Mic Michaeli (keyboards/vocals). His keyboards were high in the mix throughout the evening, which was great. The War of Kings album is dominated by his grinding hammond organ playing, and this helped to give the songs an extra boost live. The non-album bonus track instrumental Vasastan was played too, which became a showcase for Norum with another fantastic bluesy solo. The two songs that ended this half of the show were arguably the best however. The Zeppelin-esque Light it Up has a great riff and some fantastic vocals, before the album's title track crashed in with the Deep Purple-like organ riff and triumphant chorus. This is one of the band's best modern songs, and was a fitting way to end the modern part of the show.

Despite there being a lot of love for the band's more recent work, this show was all about The Final Countdown album however. Despite being the band's most famous album, only the title track, Rock the Night, and Carrie (and to a lesser extent Cherokee) are regulars in the band's live sets. This meant that a lot of songs were played for the first time in a while, with closing track Love Chaser having not been played live since 1987! It was strange hearing The Final Countdown halfway through a Europe concert, but it gave everyone the boost of energy that was needed after the more downbeat War of Kings material. From this point on, the show was a real party, and when the band launched into Rock the Night, full party mode had been activated. The crowd was so loud during this song, and they sung the words back at the band with real gusto as lots of classic pictures of the band from around the time of the album's release were shown on the big screens. While those songs are classics and are always enjoyable live, some of the lesser-known songs stood out more as the evening moved on. Danger on the Track was one of these, and the keyboard-heavy rocker was well-received by the crowd. Cherokee was another highlight, and is one of the album's best songs. The pulsing keyboard riff and the anthemic chorus perfectly sum up Europe's 1980s sound, and by this point the band were cruising. Even the album's weakest song, Time Has Come, sounded better live with a slightly heavier arrangement. I would say however that my overall highlight of the night has to the the penultimate song On the Loose. This song has always been the diamond in the rough on The Final Countdown, and to hear it live was a treat. It is a faster song, and features one of the band's catchiest choruses. The evening came to an end with the aforementioned Love Chaser, another extremely underrated song, and a little coda of The Final Countdown at the very end just to get the crowd to give a huge roar one more time. There was no encore, but there was no way the band could have followed the set they had just played, and this was the perfect way to end the show. The setlist was:

Hole in my Pocket
The Second Day
Praise You
Nothin' to Ya
California 405
Angels (With Broken Hearts)
Days of Rock 'n' Roll
Children of the Mind
Rainbow Bridge
Light it Up
War of Kings
The Final Countdown
Rock the Night
Danger on the Track
Time Has Come
Heart of Stone
On the Loose
Love Chaser/The Final Countdown

Overall, this was a fantastic evening of old and new music from one of the best melodic hard rock bands of the 1980s. The setlist was perfect in retrospect, and I am looking forward to reliving this show when the DVD is released sometime next year. The band are also planning to release a new album next year too, so I look forward to that and the touring that will inevitably go with it.

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