Gig review: Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa

Majestica on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Combining Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica with Japan’s crossover violinist Ayasa results in a great evening of modern melodic metal in Tokyo.

Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa at Shibuya Stream Hall, Tokyo on 12th January 2020

Ayasa and Nozomu Wakai on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The first of two nights in Shibuya for Symphonic Metallization – Majestica vs. Ayasa is a great, fun and good-natured evening of melodic symphonic metal. This Sunday evening, the Swedish symphonic power metal band Majestica, previously known as ReinXeed, performs its first-ever gig under its new name. Majestica’s main man is vocalist and guitarist Tommy Johansson whose day job is as guitarist in Sabaton. The Sabaton connection no doubt sells a few more tickets to Majestica’s gigs. Personally, I am no fan of Sabaton’s music, but Majestica is very different and much more appealing to me. In Sabaton, Johansson is a guitarist doing his job. In Majestica, he is the main man – he’s the lead singer, the lead guitarist and the main songwriter. Here he gets to shine and be himself.

A sub-genre called symphonic power metal is perhaps not for everyone. It’s melodic, riff-happy, full of energy, fast and soaked in keyboards. Majestica is very good at it. One surprise this evening is that they are performing as a four-piece with no keyboard player on stage. In addition to Johansson, Majestica consists of Chris David on bass and Alex Oriz on guitar. For these Japan gigs, they have recruited drummer Joel Kollberg from Veonity to back them up. Majestica released its terrific studio album “Above the Sky” last year and this evening in Tokyo we get to hear six tracks from the album. They open the show with the title track and also perform “Rising Tide”, “The Way to Redemption”, “The Rat Pack”, “Night Call Girl” and “Alliance Forever”. Additionally, we get to hear the best bits of ReinXeed’s past with songs such as “Welcome to the Theater”, “No Fate”, “Temple of the Crystal Skulls”, “Magic Still Remains” and “We Must Go Faster” as well as a great version of “She’s Gone”, a Steelheart cover.

Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

The evening’s second act is crossover violin player Ayasa backed up by a metal band. They perform a terrific instrumental set which is a big step up from when I last saw Ayasa when she opened for Epica two years ago. Her music is dramatic, at times even bombastic, yet also often dreamy. Japanese guitarist Nozomu Wakai (Destinia, Paul Shortino Band) joins Ayasa and her band on a few songs (including a great version of Destinia’s “Metal Souls”) and shows us why he is a man with a reputation. But Ayasa is the one who shines the brightest. She’s a star in the making and has a chance of taking her music beyond just her domestic Japanese fans. For the encore, Majestica’s Tommy Johansson joins Ayasa and her band to perform the Gary Moore classic “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It’s a fun singalong ending to a great evening.

Majestica and Ayasa on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

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Gig review: Opeth | Two hours of prog-rock perfection in Tokyo

Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Swedish progressive hard-rock band Opeth always do things on its own terms. In Tokyo, Opeth gives us an evening of prog rock, metal and a few songs in Swedish. It’s quirky and beyond great. Sheer brilliance!

Opeth at Zepp Tokyo, Odaiba, Tokyo on 6th December 2019

Musically, Opeth moves in a fabulous world that combines prog rock with hard rock and more. For those not used to this kind of musical melting pot, it might at times sound a bit quirky and unconventional. Perhaps so, but it is also terrific music performed by an exquisite rock band.

The last time Opeth played Japan, they played a shortened set at a festival. This evening at Zepp Tokyo, they play a headline gig with no opening act. The focus is fully on Opeth and nothing else. We get two hours of rock perfection. Since their last Japan visit, they have released a spectacular new album, “In Cauda Venenum”. That album was released in two versions, one in English and one in Swedish. This evening, to my (Swedish) delight, the band plays a few of the songs in their Swedish versions, including the magnificent songs “Hjärtat vet vad handen gör” and “Allting tar slut”. It takes guts, skills and attitude to perform rock in Swedish to a foreign audience. Opeth, obviously, pulls it off in style.

The band walks on stage to a backing tape of “Livets trädgård” before they kick off the gig with an exquisite version of “Svekets prins” from the latest album. The band is technically impeccable and this evening they are in a good mood. That, combined with a treasure trove of fantastic songs, make this a very good evening. They also have a world-class light show that makes this a total experience. Opeth’s lead vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt is sort of the Bob Dylan of Swedish rock. He plays music on his own terms. Trends and expectations don’t come into it. His unwillingness to compromise is one of the reasons why this band is so outstanding and why they never disappoint. The rhythm section is rock steady and consists of bassist Martin Méndez and drummer Martin Axenrot (Bloodbath, Witchery, Nifelheim). Keyboardist Joakim Svalberg played with Yngwie Malmsteen before he joined Opeth in 2011 and he is a great fit with his key wizardry. Led guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (Talisman, Arch Enemy, Southpaw, Krux, Tiamat, John Norum) always manages to exceed my high expectations. He knows how to add a heavy metal guitar solo to a prog-rock song, but he is equally good at playing the slower and more emotional parts of Opeth’s music.

At the Tokyo show, we get to hear older favourites “The Leper Affinity” and “Hope Leaves” as well as more recent songs “Lotus Eater”, “Nepenthe” and “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”. The highlight of the evening for me is the terrific “Moon Above, Sun Below” from the 2014 album “Pale Communion”. The encore is absolute world-class with modern classic “Sorceress” and the unbeatable “Deliverance”. Simply sheer brilliance. Rock perfection!

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

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Gig review: KISS brings a farewell extravaganza to Tokyo Dome

KISS on stage at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

American rockers KISS say farewell with a spectacular final Tokyo show as part of their End of the Road World Tour. Great music combined with a terrific show.

KISS at Tokyo Dome on 11th December 2019

The KISS members are in fine form. Having been forced to cancel the Australian tour due to frontman Paul Stanley being sick, backstage before the Tokyo show, Stanley and fellow band members Gene Simmons (bass and vocals), Eric Singer (drums and vocals) and Tommy Thayer (lead guitar) seem very eager to get back on stage to prove that they still got it. And, yes, they most definitely do. What a show!

Roppongi Rocks boss Stefan Nilsson with KISS backstage at Tokyo Dome before the show.

KISS opens the show with three classic songs from the 1970s: “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout It Out Loud” and “Deuce”. The huge audience at Tokyo Dome loves every bit of it. The show is over-the-top with lights, pyro, smoke, confetti, oversized balloons, fire breathing, blood spitting and band members ziplining over the audience and being lifted up and down, in and out, throughout the show.

The setlist is somewhat predictable but outstanding. We get a few songs from the 80s – “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine”, from the rather heavy 1982 studio album “Creatures of the Night”, as well as “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire” and “Crazy Crazy Nights” from the band’s no make-up period. There’s also a sample of later material in the form of “Say Yeah” and “Psycho Circus”. But the majority of the evening is unsurprisingly dedicated to the band’s heyday of the 1970s and classic songs such as “Cold Gin”, “God of Thunder”, “100,000 Years”, “Let Me Go, Rock’n’Roll”, “Calling Dr Love”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”. KISS is a machine. This is a massive production which has been planned carefully. But there’s still room for playfulness, such as the guitar jamming during “Lick It Up” and Eric Singer’s comical but excellent drum solo. Paul Stanley, as he’s done on some previous Japan gigs over the years, gives us a little solo performance of Kyu Sakamoto’s 1960s hit “Ue o Muite Aruko”.

Tommy Thayer on stage with KISS at Tokyo Dome. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Band leaders Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have been leading KISS from the front since 1973 and they still have the energy, talent and drive to deliver a world-class show. Their current bandmates Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer both add greatly to the band’s vocal abilities, more so than any previous line-up of the band. Singer sings lead on two songs, “Black Diamond” (one of the evening’s highlights) and “Beth”, and both Singer and Thayer are contributing background vocals throughout the show.

Paul Stanley, Yoshiki and Tommy Thayer on stage during the encore. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

KISS first played in Tokyo in 1977 and have played quite a few shows in Japan since then. For this last-ever show in Tokyo, the band obviously has a surprise ready for the Japanese fans. For the encore, Japanese artist Yoshiki of X Japan fame is brought on to the delight of the fans. First, he plays the piano when Eric Singer sings “Beth” and then he takes over Singer’s drum kit for “Rock and Roll All Nite”. The show is more than two hours long and it is a great way for the band to say farewell to its Tokyo fans. Yes, KISS is a circus, an over-the-top extravaganza. But they also have great songs and performance skills to back that up. The complete package is outstanding. 46 years into the band’s career, KISS is still going strong, very strong. The world tour will continue until July 2021 when the final show will take place in New York City. Catch the tour if you can. It’s a rock show you don’t want to miss before the band retires.

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Gig review: Marty Friedman in Yokohama

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marty Friedman, quite possibly the best guitarist in the world, always has a few tricks up his sleeve when he’s performing. He always delivers and he always pushes the limit. What a guy! What an artist!

Marty Friedman at Motion Blue in Yokohama on 26th November 2019

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But I still am. Surprised and in awe of a master artist. There is nothing that Marty Friedman can’t do with his guitar. Every time I see him perform he comes up with something new. This evening in Yokohama, in a beautiful venue inside the Red Brick Warehouse down by the water, Marty Friedman manages to give us plenty of emotional ballads but he also gives us some full-on metal and, most surprisingly, Argentine tango. And he pulls it off like the world-class guitarist and artist that he is. Having made his name as a heavy metal guitarist with Cacophony and Megadeth, since relocating to Japan, Marty has been active in a wide variety of musical styles, both as a solo artist and as part of various projects. In recent years, Marty has put on some very special intimate gigs for Japanese fans with setlists that vary quite a lot from what he plays when he’s on tour in other parts of the world. The entire show is instrumental (it’s billed as an orchestral concert) with Marty and his guitars at the centre of it all. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars and manages to give us a great and very varied show. The audience largely consists of diehard Marty fans who know every song and every note.

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

He opens the evening with the beautiful song “Lovesorrow”, from his 2003 album “Music for Speeding”, followed by his splendid cover of Yutaka Ozaki’s “I Love You”. One of most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, the song “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”, gets an outing here and it is one of the highlights of the evening for me. Another one is when Marty treats us to some Argentine tango with the song “Adios Nonino”. Different, but very good. Marty isn’t afraid of taking his skills and his guitars into for him new territories. He also gets closer to his metal roots with some serious heaviness on the exquisite “Whiteworm” from his 2017 solo album “Wall of Sound”, before he ends the evening with “Dragon Mistress” and, of course, “Thunder March”.

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Throughout the show Marty is using hilarious self-deprecating comments between the songs – all of it delivered in Japanese. He also picks out an audience member who gets to come up on stage and play a song with Marty and his terrific band. While Marty frequently rotates members of his backing band, he is always backed up by world-class musicians. This evening in Yokohama, he has a backing band consisting of drums, rhythm guitar, keyboards, cello and violin, all of them played by ridiculously good musicians. For me, bassist Toshiki Oomomo is the standout performer and a rock-solid bassist. He’s a very different bassist from Kiyoshi (Marty’s regular bassist), but he’s equally good. In addition to occasionally playing with Marty’s solo band, he has played with Marty in the fab metal band Metal Clone X and he also played on several tracks on Marty’s “Inferno” album.

What a night! What a band! What a collection of songs! Ladies and gentlemen – Marty Friedman! What a privilege it is to experience him in concert up close and personal.

Marty Friedman will tour Australia in December with shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra. Get your tickets here: www.overdrivetouring.com/marty

Marty Friedman on stage in Yokohama. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Candlemass opens the door to doom in Tokyo

Drummer Jan Lindh and bassist Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Sweden’s Candlemass opens the door to doom for the Japanese fans with a flawless heavy metal show in Tokyo.

Candlemass at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 13th November 2019

Johan Längqvist and Lars Johansson of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It’s 29 years since I saw Swedish doom metal masters Candlemass live for the first time when they were playing at a metal festival in an ice hockey arena in Sweden. I already liked their early albums but seeing them up on stage took the love for this band to another level. Having then, many years later, witnessed their first-ever Japan gig in 2016, my expectations on the band’s second Japan visit are sky high and they don’t disappoint. The setlist this evening in Tokyo is flawless. It’s sheer doom awesomeness from start to finish. The first half of the set consists of songs from the albums “Nightfall”, “Tales of Creation”, “Ancient Dreams” and the latest album “The Door to Doom”. The second half is all dedicated to Candlemass’ 1986 debut album “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”. In the “Epicus” section, we get to hear “A Sorcerer’s Pledge”, “Demon’s Gate”, “Crystal Ball”, “Under the Oak” and “Solitude”. Magnificent!

Leif Edling of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The current line-up of the band combines its most classic line-up from the late-80s/early 90s – Leif Edling on bass, Mats “Mappe” Björkman on rhythm guitar, Lars Johansson on lead guitar and Jan Lindh on drums – with the return of original vocalist Johan Längqvist. Längqvist departed the band following the release of the debut album and stayed away from the limelight until his return to the band last year. His voice is splendid and live in concert he commands the doom troops from centre stage. The only question on my mind is: what has he been doing for the 32 years he was away from the band? Whatever he’s been up to, his voice is in terrific shape.

Mats “Mappe” Björkman of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

It is difficult to pick out highlights in such a terrific show, but let’s try: The opening with “The Well of Souls” from “Nightfall” is world-class. The live version of “Astorolus – The Great Octopus” from “The Door to Doom” is magnificent, not least because of Lars Johansson’s exquisite guitar playing. The heaviness of “Bewitched” shakes the whole venue and, of course, ending the show with “Solitude” is how it should be done.

Epicus Doomicus Fantasticus!

Johan Längqvist of Candlemass on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Crazy Lixx in Tokyo – Swedish melodic hard rock is alive and well

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Swedish melodic hard rockers Crazy Lixx finally made it to Japan, they crushed it. Their signature mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal is part of a proud Swedish tradition that the Japanese fans love.

Crazy Lixx at Club Quattro, Shibuya on 25th September 2019 

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Japan’s love for melodic hard rock from Sweden goes back to 1983 when they discovered Joey Tempest and Europe. Since then, a long row of Swedish bands have sold a lot of records and toured in Japan. Crazy Lixx, founded in 2002, has had a following in Japan since they released their debut album in 2007. But they never toured Japan until now. The advantage of them making having their first Japan gigs with six studio albums below their belts is that we get a killer setlist. It’s all hits and no fillers. We get a big serving of the best songs from the band’s latest album, “Forever Wild”, which was released earlier this year, as well as all the earlier hits from the band’s career. It’s quite a treasure trove of rock’n’roll. Crazy Lixx’s signature sound is a terrific mix of melodic yet riff-happy metal with dashes of AOR, glam, sleaze and, yes, hair metal. It boils down to feelgood party rock.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

They open the show with the terrific song “Wicked” from the “Forever Wild” album and follow it with “Blame It on Love”. The crowd is with them from the second they walk on stage. We get a long set and some of the highlights include “Hell Raising Women”, “Lock Up Your Daughter”, “Children of the Cross”, “XIII” and “21 Til I Die”.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Founding members Danny Rexon (vocals) and Joel Cirera (drums) form the backbone of the band together with bassist Jens Sjöholm (who joined the band in 2012). The newest additions to the band, guitarists Jens Lundgren (formerly of Bai Bang) and Chrisse Olsson (Dirty Passion), both fit in very well. There’s chemistry between them and they add something to the band that was perhaps missing in the past. Now there seems to be more unity in the band that shines through in the music.

Crazy Lixx on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Yuki Kuroyanagi

Vocalist Danny Rexon gives the rest of the band a break when he brings out an acoustic guitar and gives us a solo performance of the songs “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “Make Ends Meet”. The scaled-down versions are beautiful and show that Rexon is more than just a standard rock singer. Here he shows us he has some serious emotional quality to his vocals that are not always obvious in the more fast and loud songs.

The band closes a terrific night of melodic hard rock with “Never Die (Forever Wild)”. Crazy Lixx is a band whose members don’t take themselves too seriously, but they are a great band who play excellent melodic hard rock very well.

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Review: Evoken Fest with Alestorm, Grave Digger, Bloodbound, Epidemia and Victorius

Patrik Selleby of Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

What a splendid night in the name of metal we got at Evoken Fest. Three power metal bands, an old-school true German metal band and a bunch of good-fun Scottish rockers proved to be a great mix of music that kept the audience entertained.

Evoken Fest with Alestorm, Grave Digger, Bloodbound, Epidemia and Victorius at Duo Music Exchange, Shibuya, Tokyo on 30th August 2019 

Victorius

Victorius on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German power metal band Victorius open this evening of Evoken Fest with a great set. Their take on European-style power metal is good and it works well to get this party going. Their latest album, 2018’s “Dinosaur Warfare – Legend of the Power Saurus”, is European power metal in a nutshell: tongue-in-cheek fantasy/folklore/fairytale themes delivered by a great bunch of musicians.

Epidemia

Epidemia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Ever since I saw the splendid Russian band Kruiz perform on Swedish TV in the mid-80s, there is something exotic and appealing about Russian heavy metal bands. You just gotta love that combination of trying to look like a cross of Manowar and Judas Priest, straightforward and melodic metal and lyrics sung in Russian. Epidemia is a great power metal band with good musicians and songs. But it is vocalist Evgeny Egorov that makes them stand out from the pack. What a voice and stage presence! Brilliant stuff! I want to see and hear more of this terrific band.

Bloodbound

Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Their set is only seven songs plus an intro, but the members of Swedish power metal band Bloodbound make the most of it. It is power metal at its best. Plenty of guitar riffing, keyboard soundscapes and melodic metal songs. Vocalist Patrik Selleby is terrific. He has a voice made to sing this kind of material and he also knows how to put on a show. His dragon mask and horn make him stand out as much visually as his voice does musically. But behind him, there is also a terrific band of musicians and songwriters led by co-founders Fredrik Bergh on keyboards and lead guitarist Tomas Olsson. They open strongly with “Battle in the Sky”, manage to squeeze in favourites such as “In the Name of Metal” and “Dragons are Forever” before they finish a flawless set with the splendid “Nosferatu”, a song that would not be out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Bloodbound was founded in 2004 and the band has since released eight studio albums, most recently “Rise of the Dragon Empire” earlier this year. But this is their very first Japan visit. Hopefully, we will see them return for some headline gigs with a full-length show.

Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Grave Digger

Grave Digger on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German heavy metal veterans Grave Digger are still going. Original frontman Chris Boltendahl’s long hair has turned white with age, but his voice is as good as it ever was. The current line-up of the band is terrific, where especially lead guitarist Axel Ritt stands out. Germany has a proud metal tradition and while less known to the masses than bands such as Accept, Scorpions and Helloween, quality-wise Grave Digger is right there in the leading pack. They put on a great heavy metal show at Evoken Fest. We get straightforward proper heavy metal and the band proves that there is clearly still a present and a future for this veteran band, something evident in the band’s setlist which this evening only contains one song from the 1980s, “Heavy Metal Breakdown”.

Alestorm

Alestorm on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Evoken Fest headliners Alestorm are different from most things out there. Despite all the gimmicks with a giant inflatable duck, kilts, sandals and all the other crazy stuff this band wears and does, they are great musicians with great songs. They are entertainers and they’re great at what they do. Between songs, we get crude and boozy jokes and colourful comments by frontman Christopher Bowes. They entertain us with their very own brand of melodic metal with folk metal touches. Jokey kind of bands are perhaps not my thing (it really isn’t), but these jolly men are very good and they certainly know how to entertain a crowd. Their tour shirts say “We came to drink your beer” and that sums it up quite nicely.

Bloodbound on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Danko Jones at Crowbar in Sydney

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Canadian rocker Danko Jones made a triumphant return to Australia with his trio. Every song in the setlist is a hit. One of the greatest live rock shows this year. Punky rock’n’roll at its best.

Danko Jones, Black Heart Breakers and Screaming Eagle at Crowbar, Sydney, Australia on 7th September 2019 

Crowbar is a great music venue in the Sydney suburb Leichhardt. It is focused on serving beer and putting on heavy metal and hard rock performances. The Metallica and AC/DC pinball machines in the bar area set the tone for what kind of place this is. Local promoter Silverback Touring has become an important part of the Australian live scene as they keep bringing great international rock acts down under.

This evening, talented local Aussie bands Screaming Eagle and Black Heart Breakers did a great job of warming up the beer-fuelled Sydney audience at the Crowbar. The venue slowly filled up and by the time the evening’s headline act Danko Jones walked on stage, the place was packed. It’s been fifteen years since Danko’s last headline tour in Australia. The wait was worth it. We got a proper lesson on how a rock show should be done.

Danko Jones and his trio – consisting of John Calabrese on bass, Rich Knox on drums and Danko Jones himself on guitar and vocals – were dressed all in black. They performed in front of a backdrop with just the Danko Jones logo. Visually there’s nothing fancy here, but bloody ‘ell, they did put on one helluva sweaty and fabulous rock show! Every song is a hit. I don’t think Danko is capable of writing bad songs. At least there are none in the live show. They opened the show with the splendid “I Gotta Rock” from 2017’s “Wild Cat” album. The bulk of the show was focused on newer material, including songs from Danko’s latest album, “A Rock Supreme”, which was released earlier this year. This evening most songs were played back-to-back. There was non-stop energy from the band. They were sweating buckets, but they never tired. They just kept going. On the few occasions when Danko spoke between songs, it was mainly a humorous and self-deprecating monologue. He looked rather aggressive and spoke angrily, but behind all that, he’s a great artist who feeds off the love and admiration of his audience. He’s in a band and he loves it as he sings in the autobiographical tune “I’m in a Band”. Other highlights in what turned into a flawless rock show, included “First Date”, “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Burn in Hell”. The show had everything I had hoped for. I couldn’t possibly have put together a better setlist than what the band delivered this evening. At the end of the night, this had turned into one of the best shows I have seen this year. This is punky rock’n’roll at its best. Now let’s get working on bringing Danko Jones back to Japan. It’s been way too long since this explosive Canadian trio played in Japan.

Danko Jones on stage in Sydney. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Shibuya

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman and his guitars, a smashing Japanese backing band, a near-flawless setlist and a Rock Fujiyama reunion. Not bad for a Friday night in Shibuya.

Marty Friedman at Living Room Café & Dining, Shibuya, Tokyo on 5th July 2019

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Billed as “Guitar Spirit of Unagi Night”, guitarist Marty Friedman once again offered his fans in Tokyo, his adopted home town, a very special evening in an intimate venue. At the end of the evening, this show has turned into the best Marty Friedman gig I have ever seen.

Rock Fujiyama reunion with Rolly, Kenny Guy and Marty Friedman. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening kicks off in an easygoing fashion with a half-hour Rock Fujiyama reunion. Rock Fujiyama was a TV Tokyo show broadcast in 2006-2007. The show’s hosts included Marty Friedman, Rolly and Kenny Guy and this evening the three men reunite for some storytelling, casual jamming of rock tunes such as “Hound Dog” and “Summer of 69” and plenty of banter. It’s a laidback and very fitting start to a great evening.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

After a brief interval, Marty returns to the stage with his terrific Japanese backing band. Marty opens the set with “Devil Take Tomorrow” followed by “For a Friend”. The setlist is close to flawless. We get emotional Marty, we get funny Marty, we get rocking Marty and – most of all – we get ridiculously talented Marty. He is no doubt one of the best and most original guitarists in the world right now. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a ballad or rocking out, whether he’s playing an acoustic guitar (as he does on a splendid version of “Midnight in Paris”) or shredding away on an electric guitar. He’s still top dog, king of the hill, leader of the pack. His all-Japanese backing band consists of world-class musicians with not least bassist Kiyoshi showing us why she’s one of the best in the business. New drummer Senri Kawaguchi looks rather innocent but she’s a beast behind the drums.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show is basically instrumental and the focus is more on ballads and calmer songs, although we do get some heavier music as well. Combining Marty’s guitar with a string section consisting of a cellist and a violinist creates magical music. There is so much beautiful emotion in many of the songs performed this evening. The absolute highlight of the evening for me is an exquisite and explosive version of “Whiteworm” from the 2017 album “Wall of Sound” where not only Marty but all the band members get to shine. Another standout moment is a perfect version of “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”. Music doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. Other terrific moments include “Lovesorrow”, “Tears of an Angel”, “I Love You”, “Undertow”, “Yuki no Hana” and “Thunder March”. We also get to hear the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song” and “Romance no Kamisama”. Among all the good stuff from Marty’s extensive solo catalogue, Rolly makes a reappearance at the end of the show to perform his recent glam-rock single “Eejanaika”. Marty and the band then close a fabulous show with Marty’s version of Sayuri Ishikawa’s classic enka song “Amagi Goe”.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The sold-out venue, a music, art and dining space in the middle of Shibuya, is excellent for this type of show. People come early and have a bite to eat and a few drinks before the show kicks off. The audience is seated and everyone present is up close and personal with Marty and the band. After the show, Marty joins his fans and spends a long time chatting and signing autographs. Marty knows how to treat his fans well. 

Marty Friedman never disappoints me on stage, but this evening goes beyond that. This is the best show I’ve seen with him. So far…

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Thunder marks 30th anniversary by showing Japan how British rock is done properly

Danny Bowes of Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British rockers Thunder celebrate three decades of rock with special Sit Down/Stand Up shows in Japan showcasing great songs, a great band and the exquisite voice of Danny Bowes.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 9th June 2019

Thunder has over the past three decades matured into one of the best-ever classic rock bands from England. I have seen them live numerous times, first in England 22 years ago and then multiple times here in Japan. This band always delivers. They seem incapable of having an off night. This Sunday evening in Kawasaki the band is as solid as ever with a rhythm section consisting of Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews and vocalist Danny Bowes. On this Japan visit, they have brought along keyboardist Sam Tanner who adds some flair with a great overlay of keyboard wizardry. The Japan shows are divided into two sets – first, a sit down semi-acoustic set which, after a brief interval, is followed by a full-on rock set. Thunder excels at both. 

During the Sit Down set we get treated to “Serpentine”, “River of Pain”, “Bigger Than Both of Us”, “Future Train”, “Blown Away”, “Girl’s Going Out of Her Head”, “A Better Man”, “Empty City” and “Stand Up”. It’s a great collection of bluesy, grown-up songs. It’s a nice and efficient way of getting this evening off to a lovely start. The scaled-back versions of the songs really show us how good the songs are and how good the band is.

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

When the band returns to stage for the Stand Up set, they are ready to rock. Luke Morley is sporting a Flying V-style guitar to show us that now it is indeed time to stand up. They kick off the second half with “Loser” and follow it with “Higher Ground”. This is how proper British rock is done. Danny Bowes is one of the absolute best British voices of rock. Every time he starts singing, I am in awe. That voice, that feeling he has in his voice, is a very rare talent. During a fantastic evening of Thunder music, the absolute highlight for me is “Love Walked In”. But there are many more great moments this evening, including “River of Pain”, “Resurrection Day”, “Black Water” and “Backstreet Symphony”. Basically, there are no dips in this terrific 22-song show. We get some rarely performed songs such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “On the Radio”. They finish a fab evening with an encore consisting of a playful version of Wild Cherry’s classic “Play That Funky Music” and, of course, “Dirty Love”. They may have been around for 30 years, but I hope this band will be with us for many years to come. 

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

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