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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Gig review: Girlschool and Venom Inc – a terrific celebration of NWOBHM

Kim McAuliffe and Denise Dufort of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British bands Girlschool and Venom Inc headline a splendid celebration of New Wave of British Heavy Metal in Tokyo. What a great Sunday in the name of heavy metal!

Girlschool, Venom Inc, Sabbat, Survive, Hell Freezes Over and The Babes at Club Seata, Kichijoji, Tokyo on 23rd June 2019

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

We all know what Sundays are for. That’s right – to rock. For those about to rock, we salute you! Metal we bleed! Japanese promoter UPP-tone Music decided to celebrate four decades of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) with a Sunday packed with great music from both yesteryear and here and now. With a six-band line-up combining two splendid veteran (but still very relevant) British bands with three Japanese bands and a great new band from Australia, this was a proper Sunday in the name of metal music. NWOBHM was always a very diverse scene with bands with very different sounds and based all over Britain – with London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Sheffield among the more prominently featured cities in the scene. Just like the original NWOBHM scene was rather diverse, so is the music this evening in Tokyo.

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

The Babes

Australian band The Babes kicks off the festivities with a high-energy set of what they call underdog rock. With a great EP already under its belt, the band will soon release its debut full-length album. Three of the band’s four members are siblings and they seem to bring that personal chemistry with them to the stage. Despite this being their first-ever Japan gig, they have the Japanese audience with them from the first song. The band looks pleasantly surprised at already having Japanese fans who even sing along. It is a short 30-minute set but it does the trick. What a way to introduce the band to Japan! The set gets this Sunday off to a great start.

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

Hell Freezes Over

Treble Gainer of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next up is young local thrash/speed metal band Hell Freezes Over. It is great seeing this young band continuing to grow up over the past few years. The foundation of their music is in thrash and speed metal of the 1980s and 90s. They retain the attractive roughness and rawness of, say, early Exodus, and perform their metal with great enthusiasm.

Tom Leaper of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Survive

Nemo of Survive on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive’s frontman Nemo is back in full force following having had to cancel some shows earlier this year due to a serious illness. Seeing Nemo back on stage is nothing short of fabulous. Survive currently one of the best metal bands in Japan is always great. But this evening they are more than great. The highlight of the set is no doubt the terrific “Immortal Warriors” which has now become a band anthem. The band’s new stage clothes and make up bring Behemoth to mind and the visuals add to the overall experience.

Sabbat

Gezol of Sabbat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Sabbat has some obvious Venom-style black metal influences in its music. Sabbat’s sound is very much uncompromising early 1980s old-school heavy metal. Time has stood still in the world of Sabbat and that is not a bad thing. Finishing their set by playing Venom classic “Lady Lust” with Tony Dolan on guest vocals is a very fitting finale.

Venom Inc

Jeff “Mantas” Dunn of Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc is back on stage in Japan for a second time on the ongoing world tour in support of 2017’s album “Avé”. It is, however, the first Japan show with new drummer Jeramie Kling, who adds some proper stability backing up Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan on bass and vocals. They open their set with what has now become a Venom Inc anthem – the terrific “Metal We Bleed”. This evening’s set combines classic Venom songs with newer Venom Inc material. We get four terrific songs from Venom Inc’s “Avé” album: “Forged in Hell”, “Metal We Bleed”, “Time to Die” and “War”. The rest of the set is made up of Venom classics such as “Rip Ride”, “Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)”, “Warhead”, “Don’t Burn the Witch”, “Lady Lust”, “Dead of the Night”, “Witching Hour”, “Black Metal”, “Bloodlust”, “Countess Bathory”, and, of course, “Welcome to Hell”. It’s fantastic. The band came to Japan straight from Hellfest in France without much sleep. They’re tired but when they walk onto the stage, they deliver like it’s nobody’s business. Japan loves them and they give us a show to remember. A new album is in the making and will hopefully be released in the spring of 2020. Can’t wait to hear what this trio of scholars and gentlemen in the name of heavy metal will treat us to on the new album.

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

Girlschool

Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Seeing Girlschool for the first time, my expectations are high. This is a legendary British band with a reputation for putting on great shows. This evening the band by far exceeds my expectations. They are on fire this as they open their set with “Demolition Boys” and, of course, “C’mon Let’s Go”. They have a great catalogue of songs: classic songs from the late 70s and early 80s, but also fabulous newer songs such as “Take It Like a Band” and “Guilty as Sin”. Returning bassist Tracey Lamb adds some great groove to the band. She also sings lead on “Watch Your Step” which gives lead vocalist and guitarist Kim McAuliffe a bit of a breather. In addition to McAuliffe, the band’s co-founder Denise Dufort is still behind the drum kit. Rounding out the current line-up is the “new girl”, lead guitarist Jackie Chambers, who’s now been a member for twenty years.

Jackie Chambers of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band chemistry is great and there are plenty of self-deprecating jokes and comments in the show. The banter never stops. It is part of the charm of this terrific band. When they play “Bomber” (a Motörhead classic that Girlschool recorded for the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” split EP with Motörhead in 1981), Tony Dolan appears on guest vocals. After a terrific Girlschool set (what a great live band!), they are joined on stage by Venom Inc and the two bands perform a playful version of ZZ Top’s “Tush” to close a very enjoyable evening.

Venom Inc and Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Concert promoter UPP-tone Music is really turning into a great niche promoter in Japan with fab shows with bands like Raven, Oliver Dawson Saxon and Anvil. They put on fabulous metal shows which (unlike the sterile shows that are often put on by the big corporations) all have a great community feeling to them with artists and fans hanging out together before, during and after the shows. I hope UPP-tone will continue to put on these great metal shows for many years to come.

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

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Gig review: Lucifer | “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” on stage in Tokyo

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Lucifer, one of the best rock bands in Sweden right now, returned to Japan with a close to flawless rock show of the best kind.

Lucifer at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 10th June 2019

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

It’s a rainy Monday evening in Tokyo. But it’s OK as Lucifer from Sweden is here to entertain us with a terrific rock show. To call Lucifer a Swedish band is a bit of a stretch. The band formed in Berlin, Germany in 2014 with no Swedish members. From those early days of Lucifer, only German lead singer Johanna Sadonis remains. The band is nowadays based in Sweden and three of the five members are Swedes: Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, Entombed, MC5) on drums, Linus Björklund (Vojd) and Martin Nordin (Dead Lord) on guitars – and some awesome coordinated stage moves. The current line-up also features Austrian bassist Alexander Mayr.

Lucifer’s music is doomy, at times dreamy and always very good. Backstage after the show, Nicke Andersson describes Lucifer’s music to me as “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” and that is a fitting description. Lucifer’s song material is strong, very strong. Initially, Sadonis wrote songs with legendary Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings. Gaz was an original member of Lucifer who made his mark on the first album and the first few tours. Nowadays, Sadonis writes the songs together with her husband Nicke Andersson, who joined the band in 2017 after Gaz had departed.

Nicke Andersson of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

This evening at Club Quattro in Shibuya we get a tremendous 19-song set. We get all the nine songs from the band’s most recent album, 2018’s “Lucifer II”, including the Rolling Stones cover “Dancing with Mr D”. From the band’s 2015 debut album, we get treated to five terrific tracks: “Abracadabra”, “Izrael”, “Morning Star”, “Purple Pyramid” and “Anubis”. We get a few more covers: “Snowblind” (Black Sabbath), “Bomber” (Motörhead) and, a husband-and-wife duet by Nicke and Johanna, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” (ZZ Top). We also get an absolutely fantastic version of “Take Me Away (Together as One”) from KISS legend Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album. It’s a fitting song choice as Johanna Sadonis, like Paul Stanley, is a complete entertainer that commands attention. She has a terrific voice that gets to shine on all songs. But she’s not just a voice, she has a stage presence and charisma second to none. She has the whole package and is a dominating force on stage that leads her band from the front.

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

There seems to be nonstop energy on stage throughout the show. This is a band that doesn’t stop – they are here to perform and will do so no matter what. The show’s highlights for me include the smashing tracks “Dreamer”, “California Son” and “Purple Pyramid”. A brand new and yet unreleased song, the splendid “Ghosts”, shows us that the band already has started to create some great new material for the band’s third album which is expected to be released in the spring of 2020. This is one fine evening of exquisite rock delivered almost flawlessly by a terrific band. Swedish or not, this is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and best bands in Sweden.

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia – a three-hour melodic metal extravaganza

Tobias Sammet and Ronnie Atkins on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia gives Tokyo a three-hour melodic metal extravaganza with some serious star power.

Geoff Tate and Miro Rodenberg on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia at Akasaka Blitz, Tokyo on Thursday 9th May 2019 

With Avantasia, German musician Tobias Sammet has created a wonderful magical world. Obviously, I knew the Avantasia albums were great, but experiencing this live on stage for the first time, I am just in awe. Avantasia has no fewer than 13 artists on stage during their Tokyo show. I don’t know how Edguy’s Tobias Sammet manages to get this all together. But, somehow, he does and we should all thank him for it. He is a world-class songwriter and performer. The Avantasia show is incredible. One notable thing about Avantasia is that, despite all the veteran rock stars on stage, none of them gets to sing any of their past classics. They only perform Avantasia songs (well, there is the Avantasia version of the “Flashdance” movie soundtrack “Maniac”). With Avantasia, Tobias Sammet has created a wonderful fantasy world of rock opera-meets-metal musical. Musically, it is a dramatic mix of power metal, melodic rock and West End musical.

Eric Martin on stage with Avantasia in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

In addition to Sammet himself, who kicks off the show with the terrific song “Ghost in the Moon”, we get splendid vocal performances by Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids, Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan), Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrÿche), Eric Martin (Mr. Big) and Bob Catley (Magnum). Geoff Tate sounds absolutely fantastic like it’s still 1988. Him performing “Alchemy” is one of the absolute highlights of the show. Another peak during the evening is “Twisted Mind”, Tate’s duet with Eric Martin. At 71 years old, Bob Catley is the elder statesman in Avantasia. His voice is still beautiful and he rocks out on stage, clearly loving to perform in front of his fans. Among all the big star names on stage, there is a lesser known name that is no less a terrific singer and performer: Adrienne Cowan. She has a terrific voice and she also has the stage moves to go with her vocal talents. For most of the show, she’s in the background, but on songs such as “Book of Shallows”, “Moonglow” and “Farewell” she gets to step into the limelight and shine like the terrific lead singer she is. Back-up vocalist Herbie Langhans also steps up to perform some of the lead vocals on “Shelter from the Rain”. But Avantasia is not all about the fabulous voices. Tobias Sammet also has a rock-solid band of musicians: drummer Felix Bohnke, bassist André Neygenfind, guitarists Sascha Paeth and Oliver Hartmann and keyboardist Miro Rodenberg.

It’s one thing to put together a concept album. Taking all these ingredients and making it work as one band performing a show on stage isn’t easy, but Tobias Sammet pulls it off. It’s been 20 years since Sammet started this magical journey. I hope he will keep Avantasia going for many years to come. 

Avantasia on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Takumi Nakajima

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Gig review: Graham Bonnet brings an exquisite new version of Alcatrazz to Japan

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Alcatrazz at Tsutaya O-East, Shibuya, Tokyo on 28th May 2019 

Graham Bonnet brings an exquisite new version of Alcatrazz to Japan and shows us all that he’s still got it. Blimey! What a great evening of world-class rock’n’roll.

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

Graham Bonnet, one of the best and most legendary voices in the history of rock, has always had a loyal audience here in Japan, even when things have been a bit quiet elsewhere. But in recent years he has a had somewhat of a career upswing and he has been a very frequent visitor to Japan with Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, Michael Schenker Fest, Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz. This week he’s back touring Japan with a reformed line-up of his classic band Alcatrazz. 

The 2019 version of Alcatrazz is splendid. Anchored by Mark Benquechea on drums and Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass, there is a rock-solid foundation. Original member Jimmy Waldo is using his keyboard wizardry to create magic and Joe Stump quickly proves that he is a worthy lead guitarist (a band position previously filled by people like Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai). The band’s live performance is world-class and topped by Graham Bonnet himself. His characteristic voice – which has been the voice of not only Alcatrazz but also bands such as Rainbow, Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri and Blackthorne – is still there, 51 years after he had his first hit single. He still has his voice intact and he’s also an entertainer that gives us his all on stage.

Joe Stump on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

This evening in Tokyo, the band performs almost the entire Alcatrazz debut album “No Parole from Rock’n’Roll” from 1983. They kick off with a high-energy version of the splendid “Too Young to Die…Too Drunk to Live”. Then we get “General Hospital”, “Jet to Jet”, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, “Island in the Sun”, “Kree Nakoorie”, “Big Foot”, “Starcarr Lane” and “Suffer Me”. They only leave out the Yngwie Malmsteen instrumental “Incubus”.

Beth-Ami Heavenstone and Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The second half of the show is a collection of some of the best bits of Bonnet’s long career where we get to hear Rainbow songs “All Night Long” and “Since You Been Gone”, Bonnet’s solo hit “Night Games”, MSG’s “Rock You to the Ground”, “Stand in Line” and “Leviathan” by Impellitteri, “We Won’t Be Forgotten” by Blackthorne and Graham Bonnet Band’s “Long Island Tea”. It shows how varied and terrific Bonnet’s back catalogue is.

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The encore consists of Graham Bonnet Band’s “Into the Night”, Rainbow classic “Lost in Hollywood” and Impellitteri’s “Goodnight and Goodbye”. It’s a great finish to a splendid evening which left no one in the audience unhappy. 

This was a world-class rock’n’roll show by a living legend who still delivers and who has a band to match his greatness. Alcatrazz will be back on stage in Tokyo on Friday with a different setlist, one more focused on the Rainbow album “Down to Earth”. Following the four-date Japan tour, the band will tour Australia and then Europe. There are also plans for recording a new Alcatrazz studio album. Log live Graham Bonnet!

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Marco Mendoza “Viva La Rock” Japan Tour

Marco Mendoza on stage at Shinsekai, Tokyo on 18th May 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

The former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza returned to Japan as a solo artist and wowed his Japanese fans with a couple of terrific shows. Viva La Rock!

Marco Mendoza at Club Edge, Roppongi, Tokyo on 17th May 2019 and Shinsekai, Nishiazabu, Tokyo on 18th May 2019

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge, Roppongi, Tokyo on 17th May 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marco Mendoza has made a name for himself in the music industry, playing bass with artists such as Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Blue Murder, Ted Nugent, Neal Schon, Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia, The Dead Daisies and many more. He has toured Japan many times, but this is the very first time he is performing in Japan as a solo artist. And what an introduction to the solo artist Marco Mendoza these Japanese shows were!

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge, Roppongi, Tokyo on 17th May 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Mendoza, draped in a colourful feather boa, performs these shows with a splendid rock trio set-up: himself on lead vocals and bass, Conrado Pesinato (Out Of The Woods, ex-Graham Bonnet Band, Alcatrazz, Hardly Dangerous) on guitar and Kyle Hughes (Bumblefoot) on drums. English drummer Kyle Hughes has been touring internationally with Mendoza for the past year, but these Tokyo shows are the first-ever performances with Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato as part of the trio. It works a treat. While it is the first time for Hughes to perform in Japan, Pesinato has already toured Japan a couple of times in the past with Graham Bonnet Band and Alcatrazz. 

Marco Mendoza and his trio on stage at Shinsekai, Tokyo on 18th May 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

During this Japan visit, Mendoza and his trio perform two terrific and intimate club gigs in Tokyo. They open both shows with the classic Cream song “Sunshine of Your Love”. The focus of the shows is on Mendoza’s solo material, not least from his most recent solo album, “Viva La Rock”, which was released in 2018. From this album, we get to hear “Sweetest Emotions”, “Hey Baby”, “Rocket Man” and the splendid title track. From Mendoza’s debut solo album, 2007’s “Live For Tomorrow”, we get “Look Out for the Boys” and “Your Touch”. But there are also other goodies in the setlist. The Thin Lizzy fans get to hear “Chinatown” and “Jailbreak” (with Hughes taking over lead vocals from Mendoza on the second song), while fans of The Dead Daisies get to hear that band’s best song, “Mexico”. We also get Neal Schon’s “Hole in My Pocket” and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”. On the second night, Mendoza also gives us a beautiful and emotional version of the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child”. The shows are a well-balanced mix of Mendoza material, classics from some of the artists he’s played with and some of his own favourites. Both shows finish on a high with great versions of “Viva La Rock”. Mendoza is a world-class entertainer and audience participation is a big part of his shows. During both shows he several times leaves the stage in order to play his bass from the audience. He knows what the fans want and he makes sure they get it. These shows left all people present wanting more from Mendoza and his trio. We hope to see more of the terrific solo artist Marco Mendoza here in Japan. Viva La Rock!

Marco Mendoza on stage at Shinsekai, Tokyo on 18th May 2019. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Metal Female Voices Fest Japan with Leaves’ Eyes and VUUR

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

By Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks 

Headlined by European bands Leaves’ Eyes and VUUR, the first Japanese edition of Metal Female Voices Fest was a success.

Metal Female Voices Fest Japan with Leaves’ Eyes and Vuur at Shinjuku Blaze, Tokyo on 21st April 2019

Anneke van Giersbergen of VUUR on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

VUUR

When Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen finally makes it to Japan for the very first time in her career, she brings her amazing band VUUR to co-headline the first edition of Metal Female Voices Fest Japan, organised by Japanese promoter Evoken de Valhall Production. The first VUUR album, “In This Moment We Are Free – Cities”, released in 2017, was inspired by cities that have made a mark on Anneke’s life. The song chosen for opening VUUR’s set is “Rotterdam”. Although Anneke has been involved with many bands and projects over the years, she is best known as lead vocalist for The Gathering. That band’s song “On Most Surfaces” continues the show before it is time for “Berlin”, a heavy progressive song, with great guitars performed by Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens. The Gentle Storm is another project which van Giersbergen and several other VUUR members have been involved with. “The Storm”, a song from that project, is also performed by VUUR during the current tour. During the song “London”, van Giersbergen gets down on her knees with her phone to film her fans and their spontaneous reactions while still singing, and when “Helsinki” is performed, her band gets to shine. Not least the amazing Johan van Stratum, the former Stream of Passion bassist, who catches all the attention with his powerful performance. It is not that easy to find a bassist with such quality. To close the short, yet awesome and fulfilling show, van Giersbergen chooses a classic The Gathering song called “Strange Machines”, which makes the audience go crazy not only for its heaviness but also for the strong performance of the singer. Anneke van Giersbergen is definitely one of a kind. She has influenced many artists during her career and caught the hearts of many persons who have had the chance to see her live. Apart from the technical quality of the whole band, it is undeniable the power of the passion and energy van Giersbergen puts into every word she sings that makes her show a spectacle for the ears, the eyes and the heart.

Anneke van Giersbergen of VUUR on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Leaves’ Eyes

As the festival’s co-headliner Leaves’ Eyes starts their show, we are met with what looks like four Japanese Vikings stepping onto the stage during the intro to “Sign of the Dragonhead”, the title song from their latest album which was released in 2018. What we immediately see is a band full of energy, giving their all to an audience as enthusiastic as the band. The first highlight is the performance of German musician Alexander Krull, the mastermind behind Leaves’ Eyes and the one responsible for the aggressive vocals and keyboards. The beautiful Finnish vocalist Elina Siirala has a sweet yet powerful classical voice. When Siirala joined Leaves’ Eyes in 2016, I was fearing that the band’s music would not be as great as before. But already with the first few notes, she proves to me and everyone else that I was terribly wrong. They continue the show with the fantastic “Across the Sea”, one of the band’s best-ever songs. Turning some years back in time, the songs “Take the Devil in Me” and “My Destiny”, both from the 2009 album “Njord”, offer us a couple of more amazing vocal performances by Siirala.

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

Balancing the set with old and new songs, the most amazing moment is during “Farewell Proud Men” from their second album “Vinland Saga” from 2005. Here, Krull leaves the stage and everything is about Siirala giving a new face and voice to the songs from the band’s early days. Her classical voice combined with the heavy guitars of Thorsten Bauer gives the audience one of the most enchanting performances I have ever seen. It is now time to light the “Fires in the North” and all the attention goes to the drums of Joris Nijenhuis while the rest of the band march and guide the audience to the beating of the song. With “Riders on the Wind” there is undeniable chemistry within the whole band, especially between the singers. Siirala and Krull’s voices fit so perfectly together. It is amazing to see how Siirala’s voice seemingly grows on stage, sometimes reminding me of the force and power of Angela Gossow. Unfortunately, everything has to come to an end, but they could not do it better than with “Edge of Steel”. For the encore, the Vikings are back on stage, this time with their leader Krull, dressed up properly to perform “Blazing Waters”. It took 15 years for Leaves’ Eyes to finally perform in Japan, but after such an amazing show, with great response and a visible satisfaction of the band, we will probably see them in Japan again soon.

Elina Siirala of Leaves’ Eyes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Caroline Misokane, Roppongi Rocks

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