Slash and Axl Rose back together in Guns N’ Roses

Slash - Tokyo Feb 2015

By Stefan Nilsson

Earlier today Slash and Axl Rose performed together for the first time since 1993 when the reformed Guns N’ Roses did a club gig at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, California.

From Guns’ classic 80s line-up Axl Rose and Slash were joined by bassist Duff McKagan. The rest of the new line-up of GNR consists of keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer, all long-time members of the band but not original members. They also had a new member in keyboardist Melissa Reese.

Tour dates have been announced for the US, Canada and Mexico. No word yet if the rest of the world will get to experience the GNR reunion.

www.gunsnroses.com / www.facebook.com/gunsnroses

(Slash photographed in Tokyo in 2015 by Stefan Nilsson)

Motörhead’s Lemmy dead at 70

Lemmy

By Stefan Nilsson

Lemmy, Motörhead’s founder and leader and the most iconic rock star in the world, has died earlier today at the age of 70 after a short battle with an extremely aggressive form of cancer.

Having initially made a name for himself with the band Hawkwind, in 1975 Lemmy went on to form Motörhead, the loudest band in the world. In their forty-year career, the band released twenty-three studio albums (the latest, “Bad Magic” was released earlier this year) and many live albums, compilations, EPs and singles. But it was the constant touring that Motörhead was all about. Their impact on heavy metal was fundamental – without Motörhead there would have been no New Wave of British Heavy Metal, no thrash metal, no speed metal.Motorheadselftitled

Over the years I had a few chances to experience Motörhead live, both here in Japan and in Europe. They were always great, always same old Motörhead. However, my biggest memory is from when I once, during my many years of living in London, bumped into Lemmy by the bar at The Goat Tavern, a pub on High Street Kensington. He was dressed up in his usual gear – there never was any difference between Lemmy’s onstage persona and his private life. He didn’t have stage clothes. It goes without saying that he had a busty blonde girl less than half his age on his arm and pint of beer in his hand. As one does when one meets the God of Rock, I nodded in respect and smiled. Lemmy never faked it, he lived his life as a true rock star.

Cheers for the music and leadership, Lemmy. Rock’n’roll will never be the same without you. “We are Motörhead. We play rock’n’roll. Don’t forget us!” There is no risk of that, Lemmy.

www.facebook.com/officialmotorheadwww.imotorhead.com

motorhead%20ladies

Japanese Assault Fest

Enforcer Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Enforcer – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

Japanese Assault Fest, organised by Japanese record label and concert organiser Spiritual Beast, was, as expected, great fun: a mini festival with a bunch of Japanese and international bands putting on a great weekend of heavy metal.

The headlining international acts – Enforcer from Sweden, Diemonds from Canada and Suicidal Angels from Greece – played two days in a row supported by different Japanese bands as opening acts.

Priya Panda of Diemonds - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Priya Panda of Diemonds – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

For Canadian Diemonds, fronted by the fierce Priya Panda, these gigs are their first ever in Japan. Formed in 2006, they released their latest album, “Never Wanna Die”, a few months ago. Following some last-minute delays, the band arrived late in Japan and were almost forced to cancel their gigs. Luckily things got sorted out and the band was fired up and ready to put on a great show for their Japanese fans. This evening Diemonds’ set is crammed full of straightforward, down and dirty hard rock’n’roll with a punk-rock attitude. My kinda thing. Love it. Great stuff.

Japanese Solitude (with Spiritual Beast’s Akira Sugiuchi on vocals) does a solid job of entertaining the audience with their thrash-inspired heavy metal.

Solitude - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Solitude – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Suicidal Angels, Greece’s finest thrash metal band, who also did their first-ever Japan gigs, does a fine job of playing for Japan’s metal heads with their heavy riffs. The Greek boys play a very fast and aggressive set that gets the audience going with a circle pit.

Suicidal Angels - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Suicidal Angels – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The festival’s main act, Enforcer, was back in Japan for a third time. The last time they played the big Loud Park festival in 2013 where they won over many fans. Tonight at Japanese Assault Fest we get Enforcer at their best. They are touring with a stand-in guitarist but that doesn’t show. This is a tight heavy metal band that gives us what we came for: great, straightforward heavy metal of the best kind.

Enforcer - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Enforcer – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

On stage Enforcer reminds me visually a lot of Evil Invaders. Musically there is a difference – Evil Invaders is more speed metal whereas Enforcer is good old heavy metal. Enforcer’s music is fast and heavy but also very, very catchy. Enforcer’s band leader Olof Wikstrand wears a WASP t-shirt on stage for this gig. It all makes sense. He also somewhat looks like Chris Holmes did back in his WASP days. Enforcer is musically related to the best bits of 80s heavy metal. Not the AOR rubbish stuff, I am talking about the quality stuff – ranging from the best of British heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Motorhead, to Americans WASP – with a focus on the faster side of classic heavy metal.

Enforcer - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Enforcer – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

This evening we get a 75-minute set with all the best bits of what Enforcer is all about. It’s about a hardworking band on stage who love what they do. And the audience loves it. It’s an energetic heavy metal show. We get a fantastic KISS cover (“I Stole Your Love”) and, of course, Misfits‘ “I Turned Into a Martian”. But most of all we get a big chunk of music from the band’s latest album, “From Beyond” (including the magnificent “From Beyond” and “Undying Evil”), as well as the best of their earlier work. As an encore we get both “Evil Attacker” and “Take Me Out of This Nightmare” before they finish a terrific gig with “Midnight Vice”. Tokyo conquered – again.

Enforcer - Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Enforcer – Photo: Stefan Nilsson

A big thank you to the Spiritual Beast team for bringing some great bands to Japan and for showcasing Japanese bands. In the audience at Japanese Assault Fest there are plenty of well-known faces from local Japanese heavy metal bands. People socialise and hang out in the bar area sharing drinks with the members of the bands between the gigs. I look forward to more Japanese Assault Fests.

www.spiritual-beast.com www.facebook.com/spiritualbeast

Dregen is back with a new Backyard Babies album and tour

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

After a five-year break, Backyard Babies are back. They have a new album out and touring the world yet again. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson caught up with guitarist and singer Dregen backstage at the Loud Park festival in Japan.

In March 2010 Backyard Babies finished off their 20th anniversary tour with a few gigs in Japan and then they went on an extended break. Now they’re back in full force. A new album is out and a summer tour of European festivals has been completed. While in Japan for a few days, their schedule is full: they’re playing the major Loud Park festival, they’re doing a signing session for fans, they’re recording a new music video for the track “Bloody Tears” and there’s a lot of promotional work. “It never gets busier than in Japan. They really cram things into the schedule. I don’t even have a second off,” says Dregen as we meet backstage at Saitama Super Arena where the Loud Park festival takes place.

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

With Backyard Babies now back together after a five-year break, is it “same old” and “business as usual” or do you feel it’s different this time? “The great thing with this band is that it actually is ‘same old’. The break we had was a musical break. To make great music it is really important to put in a 100% effort. But sometimes you need to make it 101% to make it work. We were really exhausted before the break,” explains Dregen.

During the break the band members got the time to work on various musical projects. Dregen toured both as a member of Michael Monroe’s band and as a solo artist. He also released a great solo album and wrote an autobiography. In addition to musical projects, the members had time to pay attention to their private lives. “A lot of everyday stuff came into our lives, things that we had avoided or didn’t have time for as we were constantly out on tour. We are somewhat late bloomers – when we were 35 or 40 years old we bought houses and apartments, became parents, got married, a lot of that kind of stuff,” says Dregen.

Backyard Babies performing in Tokyo, Nov 2008. Photo: Stefan NIlsson

Backyard Babies performing in Tokyo, Nov 2008. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

In 2014 Dregen played some solo gigs in Japan which kept some Backyard Babies fans satisfied while waiting for the band to reunite. “We are extremely eager” says Dregen about the band playing together again. “It’s so much fun playing with Backyard Babies again. We’ve started talking about the next album and that kind of stuff, the future. At the same time, my solo thing wasn’t like ‘been there, done that, won’t do it again.’ I’m hooked. I think we’re in a great position now with Backyard Babies as some kind of mothership. I think I’ll do another solo album at some stage. I like to do both. As a singer you are sort of married to the mic, you have to stand there. As a guitarist I have more freedom to move around,” explains Dregen his different roles as a solo artist and as a guitarist in a band.

Backyard Babies have toured Japan many times and Dregen has also toured here with Michael Monroe and as a solo artist. Japan is special to him. “It might be unfair to other countries, but Japan is somehow the only place where, when I land at Narita airport, I get that first-time feeling with butterflies in my stomach. I think it is great to go to Hamburg to play and Madrid too, But I’ve been there so many times. Japan is very special to Backyard. In all other countries, including the US, we first came there and played for 25 people and a dog. Then we came back and played for 50 people and you build up an audience from the ground. But in Japan, already when we came here for the first time in 1998, the gigs were sold out. The only country where Backyard has had instant success. I only have great memories from Japan,” says Dregen with a big smile.

Now Dregen is considering taking his relationship with Japan to the next level. “I actually have some plans. This is just inside my head so far, but I am considering to come here for a longer period sometime and perhaps even record some music here in Japan. There are almost no Westerners who have done that,” explains Dregen.

Dregen in Tokyo, March 2010. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Dregen in Tokyo, March 2010. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Dregen rarely stands still when his on stage and he is seldom away from the stage for any longer period of time. Sometimes he plays small local clubs in his native Sweden and sometimes he’s on a mega stage like the one he’s performing on this day in Tokyo. “I think these big shows are fantastic but I also like the smaller stages. For me, a stage is a stage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local gig in rural Sweden or if it’s Saitama Super Arena. The stage is there to be performed on!” declares Dregen. “This is the last gig on these gigantic stages. We’ve been out playing festivals with lots of big audiences. Now I am ready to go and play the clubs again. Then I’ll get tired of that and start wanting to do summer festivals again.”

With Backyard Babies reunited again, a new album out (“Four by Four”) and some touring happening, what’s next? “We’ve got a European tour during November and then we kick off a Scandinavian tour in January-February. We will do Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. Then in the spring it is not impossible we’ll come back here to Japan for a club tour. And South America and the US. Then we’ve got festivals again. The last gigs we’ll do with Backyard Babies for the ‘Four by Four’ album will be festivals in 2016. I think one will have to travel to Scandinavia to see us perform. We’re not going to go all over Europe again. It will probably be smaller festivals. Then we will start working on new music and I’m thinking about another solo album. We’ve got a lot of things to do,” says Dregen. “I don’t know if it is some kind of midlife crisis, but I’m really excited about doing new music!”

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Dregen in Tokyo, Oct 2015. Photo: Stefan Nilsson

A few hours after our interview, Dregen performs with Backyard Babies on the main stage at the Loud Park festival, a gig they kick off with “Thirteen of Nothing” from the new album “Four by Four”.

 

Backyard Babies – band members

Nicke Borg – vocals, guitar

Dregen – guitar, vocals

Johan Blomquist – bass

Peder Carlsson – drums

 

Studio albums

Diesel & Power (1994)

Total 13 (1998)

Making Enemies Is Good (2001)

Stockholm Syndrome (2003)

People Like People Like People Like Us (2006)

Backyard Babies (2008)

Four by Four (2015)

www.dregen.se / www.facebook.com/dregenofficial

www.backyardbabies.com / www.facebook.com/backyardbabies

Hotter than hell: the H.E.A.T is on in Tokyo

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo
Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

By Stefan Nilsson

As Swedish melodic rockers H.E.A.T returned to Japan for the first time in six years, they gave their Japanese fans an almost two-hour long set of smoking melodic hard rock in Shibuya on 17th September.

As I enter the venue I immediately spot a few Europe band shirts in the audience – which makes a lot of sense as the two bands are not just from the same town, there are more than a few hints of Europe in H.E.A.T’s music. As could be heard on H.E.A.T’s recent “Live in London” album, H.E.A.T is a band that is a lot rockier and heavier live than in the studio.

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo
Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

This evening in Tokyo, when the band plays to a packed club in Shibuya, marks the final gig on their “Touring Down the Walls” tour that has kept the band on the road since they released their latest album “Tearing Down the Walls” in April 2014.

The band kicks off the Tokyo gig with a smoking “Point of No Return” followed by “A Shot at Redemption”. The crowd loves it and the band loves the crowd loving them. It quickly turns into a love fest and great rock party with an energetic band that gets more energy from a crowd who adores them.

H.E.A.T has great songs and they’re a tight band. But more than anything else, the have a great singer and front man. Vocalist Erik Grönwall has a great, rather unique voice with a distinctive rough edge that gives H.E.A.T a rockier tone than they had in the early years prior to Grönwall joining the band in 2010. Grönwall is not only a great vocalist, he’s also a born front man and his enthusiasm seems to rub off on the rest of the band. Together they seem to have a lot of fun on stage. Apart from a few slower songs in the set, the band keeps rocking out on the stage like there is no tomorrow. Grönwall’s only 27 years old and wasn’t even born when Joey Tempest and the boys in Europe released “The Final Countdown” in 1986. But, oh boy, he’s one of the best front men to have emerged on the Nordic rock scene in many years.

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

H.E.A.T on stage in Tokyo
Photo: Hiroyuki Yoshihama

He made himself a name as a solo artist prior to joining H.E.A.T five years ago. That Grönwall should join an established band when he was already successful on his own wasn’t an obvious choice. Neither was it an obvious move for H.E.A.T to recruit a well-known solo artist as its new singer. But that unholy union has really paid off for both the band and the vocalist. They make each other much better and as a result the world gets better rock music. Now let’s hope that they will bring some of this energy into the studio and that we will get to experience the same rockier H.E.A.T on the next studio album.

Set list – H.E.A.T – Tsutaya O-West, Shibuya, Tokyo – 17th September 2015

  1. Point of No Return
  2. A Shot at Redemption
  3. Better Off Alone
  4. Heartbreaker
  5. It’s All About Tonight
  6. Inferno
  7. The Wreckoning
  8. Tearing Down the Walls
  9. Mannequin Show
  10. Late Night Lady
  11. Beg Beg Beg
  12. All the Nights
  13. Downtown
  14. Enemy in Me
  15. Emergency

Encore:

  1. Breaking the Silence
  2. There for You
  3. 1,000 Miles
  4. Living on the Run
  5. Laughing at Tomorrow
  6. Johnny B. Goode

 

H.E.A.T – band members

Erik Grönwall – vocals

Eric Rivers – guitars

Jona Tee – keyboards

Jimmy Jay – bass

Crash – drums

www.heatsweden.com / www.facebook.com/heatsweden

Loudness celebrating 30th anniversary of “Thunder in the East”

Akira Takasaki of Loudness Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Akira Takasaki of Loudness
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

By Stefan Nilsson

Japanese rockers Loudness have been rocking for well over three decades and this year it is thirty years since their Max Norman-produced international breakthrough album “Thunder in the East” hit the record stores (that’s where we bought music back in the 80s). Loudness celebrates its iconic album with a special 30th anniversary tour across Japan and the US.

As their sold-out Japan tour hit Tokyo on Monday 7th September, the band is in a great mood and puts on a terrific show for their fans.

It is guitar god Akira Takasaki and vocalist Minoru Niihara who get most attention when it comes to Loudness. But the band has four members and the rhythm section – bassist Masayoshi Yamashita and drummer Masayuki “Ampan” Suzuki – is this evening as tight as ever and their groove is what gives Loudness the rock-solid foundation upon which the artists Takasaki and Niihara paint the Loudness picture. Niihara’s unique rock voice is still intact after all these years while Takasaki makes love to his guitars on stage and creates musical magic in the process.

Minoru Niihara of Loudness Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Minoru Niihara of Loudness
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

The first part of the evening consists of the band playing the “Thunder in the East” album in its entirety, from the opening with “Crazy Nights” straight through to “Never Change Your Mind”. It is great to see that this album, unlike many other rock albums from the 80s, hasn’t aged badly and still stands as a great rock album. It is quite fascinating to be at gig where the entire audience not only knows all the songs but they also know in which order they will be played. Loudness makes this a fun experience by putting on wigs and stage clothes with animal prints in bright colours in order to take us all back to how heavy metal looked in 1985.

Following a short break, during which the audience gets treated to a documentary of the band’s early years leading up to their international breakthrough, the band jumps back on stage. In the second part of the evening’s gig we get a best-of set which kicks off with “In the Mirror” and closes with one of the band’s most classic songs, “S.D.I.” The second part mainly consists of old favourites but we also get “Mortality” and “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the band’s latest studio album which was released last year.

This is a night built on nostalgia and Loudness’ loyal fans love it. But Loudness is not just a nostalgia act. They are a better band now than they were back in the 80s. They always deliver a great show with both old favourites and new great material. This evening they did just that and gave the fans some 80s nostalgia as well. Great band, top stuff, loads of fun.

Akira Takasaki of Loudness Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Akira Takasaki of Loudness
Photo: Stefan Nilsson

Set list – Loudness – Thunder in the East 30th Anniversary Tour – Shibuya Public Hall, Tokyo, Japan, 7th September 2015

Part 1: “Thunder in the East” set

  1. Crazy Nights
  2. Like Hell
  3. Heavy Chains
  4. Get Away
  5. We Could Be Together
  6. Run For Your Life
  7. Clockwork Toy
  8. No Way Out
  9. The Lines Are Down
  10. Never Change Your Mind

Part 2:

  1. In the Mirror
  2. Crazy Doctor
  3. Shadows of War (Ashes in the Sky)
  4. Dream Fantasy
  5. In My Dreams
  6. The Sun Will Rise Again
  7. Mortality
  8. S.D.I.

http://loudnessjp.com