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

http://upp-tone-music.com

www.girlschool.co.uk

www.venom-inc.com

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

www.facebook.com/luciferofficial

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

www.facebook.com/avantasia

www.tobiassammet.com

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

www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

www.alcatrazzofficial.com

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

www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial

www.facebook.com/marcomendozajapan

www.marcomendoza.com

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

www.facebook.com/leaveseyesofficial

www.facebook.com/vuurband

www.facebook.com/evpro.asia

Gig review: Europe in Kawasaki | A masterclass in melodic hard rock

Joey Tempest of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Europe gives its Japanese fans a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

Europe at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 27th April 2019

40 years after its foundation in a Stockholm suburb in 1979, rock band Europe is better than ever. I have seen this band live many times since I first saw them perform in their native Sweden in the 1980s. They always deliver. However, this evening is above what I have seen before, not least because they are playing some rarely performed songs. The evening turns into a two-hour masterclass in melodic hard rock.

John Norum of Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

They open with the title track from the latest album, “Walk the Earth” and follow it with “The Siege” from the same album. They are off to a fabulous start and then give us old 80s favourite “Rock the Night” to really get the crowd going. The band is in rude health and they sound fantastic. The rhythm section – consisting of Ian Haugland on drums and bassist John Levén – is reliably rock-solid. Keyboardist Mic Michaeli gets to shine like a Swedish Jon Lord with some elaborate keyboard intros to several of the songs (not least with the splendid intro to “Sign of the Times”). The synth-pop keyboards of the 80s have matured into some proper organ playing. Guitarist John Norum is a quiet man but he communicates through his guitars. His guitar solos are terrific and more varied and emotional than before. We know he can play fast, but with age, it seems he now has realised it is not all about speed. Frontman Joey Tempest remains one of the best in the business. His voice has matured and become a bit huskier. It fits the current version of Europe perfectly. 

The setlist this evening is fabulous. Each of the band’s three evenings at Club Citta, they perform a different setlist. This evening we get some goodies from the band’s self-titled 1983 debut album and the 2004 comeback album “Start from the Dark” in addition to the big hits and some of the newer songs. It’s an evening dedicated to some special songs, some of them deep cuts not often performed by the band. From the debut album, we get to hear “In the Future to Come”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “The King Will Return”, “Paradize Bay” and “Memories”. From the comeback album, we get “Got to Have Faith”, “Start from the Dark”, “Hero”, “Wake Up Call” and “Spirit of the Underdog”. In the 21-song setlist (plus a drum solo) there are also some other goodies, such as “Ninja”, “Carrie” and “Ready or Not”. 

The evening’s musical highlights for me are “Sign of the Times”, “Seven Doors Hotel”, “Start from the Dark” and “Wake Up Call”. The encore is predictable but no less world-class with “Superstitious”, “Cherokee” and, of course, “The Final Countdown”.

Europe, thank you for the lesson in how melodic hard rock should be done. Flawless.

Europe on stage at Club Citta in Kawasaki. Photo: Masayuki Noda

www.facebook.com/europetheband

www.europetheband.com

Gig review: Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel in Tokyo

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Legendary guitar wizard Jake E Lee makes a triumphant return to Tokyo with a show featuring Red Dragon Cartel, Badlands and Ozzy Osbourne songs.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 17th April 2019 

Guitarist Jake E Lee has been loved by Japanese fans since the 1980s when he made a name for himself, first playing with Ozzy Osbourne and then with Badlands. The American guitarist’s Japanese ancestry probably explains part of it, but Japan loves mind-blowingly talented guitar heroes playing rock music.

Jake E Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Returning once again to Japan with his current band, Red Dragon Cartel, Lee has the crowd with him as soon as he walks onto the stage. The evening kicks off with “Wasted”, a great rocker from Red Dragon Cartel’s self-titled debut album from 2014, which is followed by “Havana” and “Punchclown” from the band’s second album, 2018’s “Patina”. The Cartel’s music is very much built on Jake E Lee’s pedigree of playing great blues-based hard rock. Jake not only shows us that his guitar magic is still there. He also shows us some fine dance moves throughout the show. Jake is, of course, the undisputed star. But he manages to shine without ever overdoing it. He’s not overshadowing the songs or his bandmates. The Cartel’s line-up consists of bassist Anthony Esposito (Ace Frehley, Lynch Mob), drummer Phil Varone (Saigon Kick, Skid Row, Vince Neil) and vocalist Darren James Smith (Harem Scarem).

The bulk of the set is made up of songs from the “Patina” album, with the song “Ink and Water” being the highlight. The amount of music in the show from the new album reminds us how good this album is. But there are also other goodies from earlier years: for the Badlands fans, the band offers us “3 Day Funk” and “High Wire” and for the Ozzy Osbourne fans there is “Spiders in the Night”. The band closes the show with the terrific “Feeder”. It is a very fitting end to the show as “Feeder” also has the best guitar solo of the night. It’s quite a finale to a great show.

Jake E Lee on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Uriah Heep rocks Roppongi

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British classic hard rock band Uriah Heep was formed in 1969. 50 years later they’re better than ever and on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi performing a terrific show.

Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

Uriah Heep at Billboard Live, Roppongi, Tokyo on 20th March 2019 

With 50 years of gigs and 25 studio albums under their belts, British rockers Uriah Heep are better than ever. Founding guitarist Mick Box still leads the band. The current line-up also features Bernie Shaw on vocals, Phil Lanzon on keyboards, Russell Gilbrook on drums and Davey Rimmer on bass. It’s a terrific version of the band. The trademark Heep sound – classic melodic hard rock with plenty of keyboards and vocal harmonies – is done justice by these fine musicians. This is not least very apparent in the new material.

Mick Box of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

The 70-minute set offers us a terrific blend of classic Heep and some of the band’s newer material. The band’s latest studio album, 2018’s “Living the Dream”, is fantastic. In a short ten-song set we get to hear four songs from the new album: “Grazed by Heaven”, “Take Away My Soul”, “Waters Flowin’” and “Rocks in the Road”. But, of course, we also get some of the band’s classic songs from the 1970s: “Return to Fantasy”, “Rainbow Demon”, “Gypsy” and “Look at Yourself”. Billboard Live is a terrific venue for classic rock bands such as Uriah Heep. Because of the venue’s tiered, multi-level seating, everyone is close to the band and has a great view. 

Mick Box is smiling throughout the whole set. He is still a terrific guitarist and it is obvious he still loves it up on stage. Bernie Shaw has been singing with Heep since 1986 and he is a top frontman and vocalist. The band is tight and they give us some fantastic jamming. “Rocks in the Road” turns into an absolutely amazing jam and “Look at Yourself” is also turned into a world-class jam. A splendid version of “Gypsy” is an obvious highlight in a flawless set. The band finishes with classics “Lady in Black” (with the whole audience singing along) and “Easy Livin’”. With the 50th anniversary reached, it now feels as if this band can now aim for 100 years.

Mick Box and Davey Rimmer of Uriah Heep on stage at Billboard Live in Roppongi. Photo: Yuma Totsuka

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Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Tokyo

Marty Friedman and Stefan Nilsson of Roppongi Rocks after the La Donna show.

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman continues with his series of special, one-off shows in Tokyo for his Japanese fans. It’s such a treat for Marty’s fans to see him up close and personal and performing music that is rarely performed by him in his usual shows.

Marty Friedman at La Donna, Harajuku, Tokyo on 15th March 2019

Having just completed a successful US tour, guitar hero Marty Friedman appears on stage in Tokyo with an almost completely different band where only fierce bassist Kiyoshi (an insanely talented bassist that Marty should always play with) remains. It’s not only the band that is different. The setlist is also vastly different. These special shows in Tokyo, Marty’s adopted home town, are very special to the die-hard Marty fans. At La Donna in Harajuku, the audience is seated at tables and served food and drinks during the performance. Having seen Marty return to his Hawaii, Cacophony and Megadeth heavy metal roots when he guested NWOBHM veterans Raven for two songs the night before (performing Raven classics “Fire Power and Wiped Out”), it is a big contrast to see him now perform calmer music. But that is Marty in a nutshell – he has so many sides to him as an artist and he keeps evolving. Fortunately for us here in Japan, we get to see Marty do things that fans in other parts of the world rarely, if ever, get to experience. For this splendid evening of emotional compositions, a celebration of the arrival of spring, he is backed not only by Kiyoshi on bass and a rhythm guitarist, a drummer and a keyboardist. He also makes great use of a violinist and cellist. This special show is labelled “Brilliant New Era” and Marty describes it as an “orchestral ballad concert”. That sums it up pretty well. He makes his guitar both weep and laugh. Marty’s guitar certainly has a soul and he makes it show the audience its emotions, both its sad and happier moments. The chemistry between him and the other musicians is terrific which allows Marty to focus on his guitar as he knows he has solid backing from the band. 

A couple of the evening’s absolute highlights include a great version of “Tears of an Angel” (with a splendid violin intro) from the 2008 album “Future Addict” and “For a Friend” from 2017’s “Wall of Sound” album. We obviously get to hear both “Yuki No Hana” and “Kaeri Taku Natta Yo”. “Thunder March” from 1988’s “Dragon’s Kiss” album is performed during the encore, but we also get some special deep cuts in this show. Marty is obviously a world-class guitarist, but he is much more than that. He knows how to entertain and charm a Japanese audience with the right mix of terrific music and self-deprecating jokes (all of the talking during the show is done in Japanese). After the show, Marty stays to chat with his fans and signs autographs. He knows what the Japanese fans want and he makes sure they get it. 

The next special Tokyo show with Marty is planned for early July. Date, venue and ticket details to be confirmed. 

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