Thursday, August 20, 2015

DVD Review: Europe – Live at Sweden Rock: 30th Anniversary Show

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Europe – Live at Sweden Rock: 30th Anniversary Show
Directed by Patric Ullaeus
Hell and Back AB / Revolver Films / MVD Visual
145 minutes, 2013

There is no one who can argue with the fact that Sweden’s hair metal band from the 1980s, Europe, is one of the A-Listers of the genre. They’ve sold tens of millions of nine albums across the world, influenced other bands, and stayed true to themselves. Even after a period of breaking up, they reformed and have been going strong for years.

Of course – and rightfully so – the five members celebrated their 30th Anniversary in their home Scandihoovian country of Sweden on November 5, 2013, with 30,000 (boy, there are a lot of the number 3 in this sentence) die-hard Swede fans who welcome their homeboys – er – home.

At first, I had given this DVD to someone else to review because, well, this is not my genre. I’m punk, so I like it loud and fast, I also like it short and sweet. The guy gave it back to me saying that while he enjoyed it, he didn’t feel like he could contribute anything. I respect that, so I put down my precious Ramones and picked up the DVD. And with Raymond J. Johnson Jr. stuck in my head, you should know that this concert is also available on this DVD, a 2-CD set, Blu-Ray, and digital VoD elsewhere.

Euro-hair metal is somewhat different than North American hair metal. Most of the ones from here, such as Poison and, well, most of them, were pretty interchangeable; of course, some may say that about the Ramones, but I soldier on. They were glam, silly, and superfluous (boy I can see a lot of hate mail may be heading this way). The Euro-bands, though, were more…serious? Well, fiercer, anyway. They meant that shit. And it seems the more north you get, the more intense the bands were. I mean, Sweden is arguably the locus of the rise of döds metall, or death metal.

Back in the 1980s, though, these kinds of bands were still into harmonies (fierce harmonies), which is what attracted fans to them from North America, Central Europe, Japan and beyond. With Joey Tempest (hey, wait, is that his real name?) out front it doesn’t surprise me that the band has such a loyal following. His singing is strong, on key, and a bit stereotypical (that vibrato every few lines, for example), but his energy level is powerful, even after all these years.  With all the air guitaring next to actual guitarist, and flashing extremely white and straight teeth and ample employment of the “excruciated-reaction” face during the solos (actually, he bears a striking resemblance to Del Shannon, but I digress…), the impression is that the band gets along and is having fun performing, and that transfers to the viewer. And the energy level is matched by the audience, which also propels the band.

Going into the virtuosity of the musicianship seems unnecessarily. Of course these guys know how to play phenomenally, and each rightfully gets their chance to show off often, though the main focus is on guitar and the drum. You don’t get to this level and this many decades without being able to wield your axe or whatever instrument you’re pounding on. The drum solo with Ian Haugland is him playing alone of the stage to a tape of The William Tell Overture.

As I said, the energy level is high and rarely dips, except when it’s meant to, such as the three-song section starting with the ballad “Drink and a Smile,” where the band sits on chairs and they all play acoustics. You don’t see much of the audience at first until this section, where you see multiple people singing along with “Open Your Heart” (including some dude stuck in the wrong decade wearing a long green wig and a too small red cowboy hat).

And how does the show fair from this side of the television? The flashing white or red LED laser lights can get tiresome, but what really stood out for me was the average of 2-5 second edits (with rare exceptions, those usually being long shots of the whole stage), sometimes feeling almost like a live action flip-book. And with a stage as huge as this one, the motion of the edits makes it hard to follow the “story” of what’s happening. What I mean by that is if you cannot see more than two or four bars being played, it makes it harder to get into the musical moment; just too harsh. Why even bother with HD?

There are two rock guitar gods guests that join the band for a song each in the third act. First there’s Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham, who takes lead on TL’s “Jailbreak,” and then Michael Schenker naturally joins for a UFO cover of “Lights Out,” each giving a new flavor to the band as each has their own style of rockin’ out.  In the latter case, both Schenker and Norum play similar Flying V guitars.

With harmonic songs and anthemic numbers like “Superstitious,” “Rock the Night,” and of course, their biggest hits “The Final Countdown” (which is used weekdays a theme for an afternoon talk radio program in Saskatoon), show them at their strongest, the audience rises to the occasion. There are also some songs they rarely play out, such as “Paradize Bay.”

Extras include a Set List, a nearly 6-minute Behind the Scenes (most of which is whatever, though two parts of Norum playing solo backstage with Schenker and with Gorham are cool, especially Norum’s expression of joy), an interesting 18-minute backstage interview with the entire band after the set about the show and their history (amazing they even have any voices left!), a 13-minute montage of still images (including screenshots), and a couple of audio choices (stereo or surroundsound). Included with the DVD is a nice 16-page color glossy mini-booklet with pictures and some text.

But the question of if this made me into a convert? No, but it was a fun ride for while, even though at the hour and a half point I started to skip along on occasion. Now to go listen some other four guys talk about beating on a brat.

Joey Tempest: vox / occasional guitar and bongos
John Norum: guitar / back-up vox
Mic Michaeli: keyboards / back-up vox
John Leven: bass
Ian Haugland: drums / back-up vox

Set List:
Riches to Rags
Not supposed to Sing the Blues
Scream of Anger
No Stone Unturned
New Love in Town
In the Future to Come
Paradize Bay
Girl from Lebanon
Prisoners in Paradise
Always the Pretenders
Drink and Smile
Open Your Heart
Love is Not the Enemy
Sign of the Times
Start from the Dark
Wings of Tomorrow
Jailbreak (including Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham)
Seven Doors Hotel
The Beast
Let the Good Times Rock
Lights Out (including UFO / Scorpions / MSG’s Michael Schenker)
Rock the Night
Last Look at Eden
The Final Countdown


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