|EUROPE "Louder than Motörhead" shock!|
First off, let's get one thing straight -
EUROPE are not a pop band, they never have been and, if bass player John
Levén has anything to do with it, they never will be! "Look," he says, banging an index finger into the hotel sofa.
"When we recorded this album (of course, he's referring to
"The Final Countdown) everyone thought EUROPE was some kind of
dinosaur Heavy Metal band like Deep Purple or something. But now, just
because we've started to have hits, those same people are now saying
that EUROPE are just a pop group! Well, that's crazy! When you see us
play, you won't believe how heavy this band is... actually, we make Deep
Purple sound like pop stars! Ha-ha-ha-ha!"
The funny thing is, he's not kidding! Ten seconds into the dramatic synth start of "The Final Countdown", live at the Manchester Apollo, I had to strap myself to one of the theatre's magnificent Corinthian pillars, pull on a lead-lined balaclava and cover my eyes with double-thick glare-proof spectacles! Mind you, I wasn't the only one suffering nervous shock as several little girls in bobby sox and knitted jumpers screamed blue murder... But not at Joey "Parrot Face" Tempest's high speed hipsway, but at the truly illlin' PA volume! Lordy, this was loud! Louder in fact that Motörhead, Anthrax or brain damage specialists AC/DC... from the first wail of synth to the final pound of drum, there was no retreat unless, of course, you scurried beneath the chewing gum-splattered industrial carpet.
This hard rock groove is largely down to the striking style of Kee Marcello's berserk-gone-wild guitar solos. Each one was delivered with all the rage and range of a devastating combination of Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker. All twirls and curls and rather a lot of headbanging. On the other hand you've got the sweet, succulent torment and striking sex style of singer Joey Tempest. A brilliant frontman, JT weaves a web of distinction wherever he goes. His impressive range and use of that familiar warbly vibrato style sucks you right in. It really doesn't take much suss to stop the obvious similarity to David Coverdale - microphone thrusting, hair tossing and sausage dangling!
The rest of the band, less distracted than the audience by Joey's centrestage antics, operate as an incredibly tight unit with bassist John Levén and drummer Ian Haugland making the most of an honest 12 bar shuffle. Kicking the beat into the face of anyone keen enough to take a peek, they work in the ageless tradition of say, Cozy Powell and Neil Murray - bass swung low, chipping out a dull thud straight onto the skins of a gigantic drum kit. Neat stuff and very much the proof of their Metal conviction. Meanwhile, stage left on a separate riser, is keyboard man "Mad" Mic Michaeli, he of the unrelenting synth touches (including those glorious parps!) Ultimately I suppose you could argue that it's Michaeli's digits, alongside Tempest's vox, that really made EUROPE's sound so distinctive and special... he hits a powerful swell on most songs and often slips in a veritable swagbag of counter melody to Marcello's exhilarating guitar solos.
Better than Bon Jovi by far, EUROPE's main aim in concert appears not so much to tease but to please... and in the crushing gymslip world of (mixed up) teen dreams that's a very tall order indeed.... Thankfully EUROPE's belief in the notion that they are a Heavy Metal band, not wimping out to the screaming girls in the front row, meant that the show turned out to be one of the best I've seen in a long while. The only drawback as far as I could detect was in the band's somewhat uninspired choice of set material. Alright, so I admit yer average EUROPE fan probably hasn't heard their two previous albums before "The Final Countdown", but it isn't that justification in itself to play songs from those records in order to make people aware that they exist? I've always had the firm belief that their "Wings of Tomorrow" album is a bona fide pomp rock classic and I'd love to have heard that mega splendor of keyboard-filled cuts like "Stormwind" or even "Wings of Tomorrow" itself.
Having said that, I was surprised to find that cuts aired from "The Final Countdown" LP (in fact, nearly all the album was performed) came across twice as hard 'n' heavy as the vinyl versions. Even the vulnerable tracks were overhauled, dismantled and worked into threatening new shapes. Familiar (and, let's face it, clichéd) melodic structures were torn apart by the strain of Marcello's determined guitar distortions and Ian Haugland's battering drums. The tappable hum of "Danger on the Track", for instance, was transformed into something quite demonic (almost like Dio) by Marcello's howling feedback. "Ninja" was pummeled into a senseless wreck. "On the Loose" and "Time Has Come" were brawling, insolent and totally out of order. Even the lovely ballad "Carrie", which started out as a moment of poised reflection, was fitted out with a raging guitar coda, worthy of Malmsteen getting to grips with something rather deranged. Both "The Final Countdown" and the current chart cruncher "Rock the Night" came over as majestic as you could imagine - thunderous romps and full of pomp, flash pots exploding and fretboard atrocities galore. Music of this caliber is dangerously powerful, utterly overwhelming! But the real corker turned out be "Cherokee", a song built on a staggering riff and cute hookline.
The concert ended curiously. Three encores was fine by my standards but to end with a reprise of "The Final Countdown" was stretching matters a little too thin. The entire audience lapped it up, except the toady journalist from "Sounds", who looked conspicuously baffled, and the venue was only cleared by several canisters of tear gas... er, well, that's a lie actually! "Crikey wot a corker!" said the man from "The Sun" after the show. Funny thing is, he was dead right for a change...