Single review: Dambusters “All the Way to Your Heart”

Dambusters. Photo: Lori Bockelken

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

With pedigree from Cactus, Quiet Riot, Dee Snider and Noisy Mama, American band Dambusters play straightforward, but groovy, rock’n’roll. Their first single is out today.

Freddy Villano is one of the nicest guys in American rock and also a rock-solid bassist. Having made a name for himself in the early part of his career with Quiet Riot and Dee Snider’s Widowmaker, more recently he has been releasing music with American Mafia and now with Dambusters. “All the Way to Your Heart”, the band’s first digital single, is an unpolished gem of a song. The production is raw and straightforward, no fancy stuff. And that is a good thing. This kind of music is best served straight-up and raw. Should this be repackaged in some overproduced, fancy and shiny format, it wouldn’t work. Now, as a straightforward rock song performed more or less live in the studio, it sounds great. In Dambusters, Villano has teamed up with guitarist Jimmy Gumina (Noisy Mama), drummer Vic Pullen (Larry Mitchell, Francis Dunnery) and a guest appearance by vocalist Jimmy Kunes (Cactus, Savoy Brown). Having also heard some more yet unreleased songs from the same studio sessions, it is obvious that the Dambusters boys have something interesting going on here. There is pedigree, know-how and also chemistry. This is blues-based hard rock performed by a bunch of seasoned rockers. It’s good stuff.

Dambusters’ single “All the Way to Your Heart” is out today.

Album review: Xentrix “Bury the Pain”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British band Xentrix is back with a new line-up and a terrific album of excellent thrash metal.

British thrash metal band Xentrix may not be known to the masses, but they formed already back in 1985. They are perhaps best known for their tongue-in-cheek thrash metal version of the “Ghostbusters” theme song. But gimmicks aside, it is very evident on their new album “Bury the Pain” that this is a quality thrash metal band. They have both the musical skills and the songs to be real contenders. Xentrix’s music is firmly rooted in old-school thrash metal, but they do not sound dated at all. They have brought the classic thrash metal sound with them to here and now. 

New vocalist Jay Walsh’s voice reminds me a lot about how Dee Snider sounds on his latest album, 2018’s “For the Love of Metal”. The more I listen to Xentrix I realise that the music is also not miles away from the songs on Snider’s album. Just listen to the fantastic song “There Will Be Consequences” and it oozes Dee Snider. It’s as if someone has listened to Snider’s album and decided to do a thrash metal version of it. I don’t know if that is the case, I guess not, but the result is terrific. This is a hard-hitting thrash metal album with terrific guitars, great melodies and a vocalist that does this music justice. Bassist Chris Shires is another newcomer in the band which also includes Kristian Havard on guitar and Dennis Gasser on drums. The hard-hitting “Bleeding Out” is the highlight of the album, but there are also many more great tracks on this terrific album. In fact, there are no weak songs at all. This solid and modern thrash metal album has been produced by Judas Priest’s Andy Sneap. I dig it.

Xentrix’s album “Bury the Pain” will be released on 7th June by Listenable Records. The Japanese edition will be released by Spiritual Beast on 17th July with a bonus track.

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

Interview: Ian Haugland of Europe | “We have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

When Swedish rockers Europe recently returned to Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson caught up backstage with drummer Ian Haugland to talk about working with producer Dave Cobb, life on tour now versus in the 80s, performing deep cuts from the back catalogue, when work on the next album will start and much more.

Swedish rockers Europe – with the band’s most classic line-up consisting of Joey Tempest on vocals, John Norum on guitar, John Levén on bass, Mic Michaeli on keyboards and Ian Haugland on drums – are back in Japan for three special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki. They last performed in Japan in 2015 and during their four-year absence from Japan, Europe has released two new Dave Cobb-produced studio albums that have a more mature classic rock sound.

It’s been 40 years since the band was founded in a Stockholm suburb in 1979 and the sound keeps evolving. The early days of rough-around-the-edges hard rock morphed into the more polished melodic metal of the late 80s and early 90s and then, following your reunion, we got mature hard rock and, more recently, grown-up classic rock. Are these musical changes deliberate actions? “No, they are not!” explains Ian Haugland as we sit down backstage at Club Citta shortly before Europe will perform its second show. “It feels as if we’re on a musical journey. We let the music lead us in the right direction. We have never started to produce a new album thinking it should sound in a certain way. It just turns out a certain way. But, of course, we have our roots in the hard rock of the 70s. It’s from somewhere there we get our direction. Then we also get influenced a bit by current temporary favourites, albums that are influencing us a bit extra. But as a foundation, we always somehow have the 70s. I also think that with the last two albums, that we have done with Dave Cobb, the producer, it feels like we have dug out the 70s in us even more.” Nashville-based Dave Cobb has produced a lot of country music, but also rock bands such as Rival Sons. “Yes, that was one of the major reasons we chose him because we liked the Rival Sons albums. We don’t decide any musical direction in advance, it’s the music that takes in whatever direction we end up going.”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

In 2015, when you last toured Japan, you performed a “Wings of Tomorrow” special. This time you’re doing three different special gigs, each focused on different Europe albums. Where did this idea come from? “It was probably a request by Club Citta that we should do three nights with different themes, to focus a bit more on different albums. It’s fun. It gives us the chance to revisit music that we perhaps haven’t played in a long time or never. I think it is quite exciting. Some of the songs I feel like: Oh shit! This song is really adolescent if you know what I mean. Whereas other songs I feel have aged better somehow. We get a great overview of our own musical journey. Oftentimes, you’re too busy with here and now when you are composing and touring. This is actually really exciting.” 

This evening you are focusing on the debut album “Europe” from 1983 and the reunion album “Start from the Dark” from 2004. How have you chosen the songs you play from these albums? “In these two cases, it has really been more about what we want to play, what we think are the best songs. With ‘Start from the Dark’, that’s an album we played many songs from on the first tour after its release. But after that most of those songs have dropped off. We chose a few that we haven’t played earlier and a few we did play on the ‘Start from the Dark’ tour. From the first album, we’ve thought about the fact that Japan was the first country, outside Sweden, that discovered Europe. Here in Japan, it’s always been… They have loved ‘In the Future to Come’ and ‘Seven Doors Hotel’ and ‘The King Will Return’ and those songs. Thus, we thought we should treat the fans to those songs that we know that they like. That’s how it is.”

Last time you were here, you had recorded but not yet released the “War of Kings” album, which meant you didn’t play any songs from it. Now you’re back after having released “Walk the Earth”, but not doing the usual “Walk the Earth” shows. Thus, the Japanese fans have kind of lost out on your last two album tours. Have you faced any disappointed Japanese fans because of this? “No! I think that the Japanese fans are the most grateful in the whole world when we come here to perform. They are really grateful just because we come back here. It’s really fantastic. We’ve been to Japan… I am not sure if we’ve been here after every album, but in principle, we’ve been here after every album since ‘Final Countdown’. They’ve been with us since the first album. The Japanese have always been loyal to Europe. It’s fantastic! I think it is incredible, especially as it is an isolated territory on the other side of the Earth from Sweden. And there’s still interest here. I think that’s terrific!” 

It’s now 40 years since the band was formed. Do you feel it is different touring now compared to how it was in the second half of the 80s? “In the 80s, everything happened so damn quickly with ‘Final Countdown’. When it took off with a bang, it became a rocket ride, so to speak. We didn’t have time to reflect on anything, really. It was so unbelievably intensive right then. But then when we reunited the band at the beginning of the 2000s, we decided that it always had to be the love for the music and the inspiration for the music that should steer the band somehow. We didn’t want to milk it by just going out and playing old hits. Thus, we’ve always been careful to ensure that we all feel good, that we don’t tour too much and especially now as a few of the boys are on their second round of having kids with more or less small kids at home. You have to find a balance between tour life and family life in order for it all to work. I think we have a pretty good balance. Personally, I think we perhaps could tour a bit more, but then I don’t have any small kids anymore.”

You joined Europe in 1984 when the band had already achieved a bit of fame and success. Was it an obvious yes from you when the offer came? “Yes! I had reached a point where I had to consider giving up this big rock’n’roll dream. I was working at Arlanda airport, driving some truck or whatever it was. I sat there that summer and thought: I probably have to reconsider. Music can perhaps not be my number one. Perhaps I have to grow up and become more responsible, like a normal person. Just a week or so later I got the phone call with the offer. Nothing else could have been better than this! Europe was the first and, at that point, the only band that had this kind of success in Sweden. Yes! Let’s go!”

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How does Europe record its albums nowadays? Do you record together in a proper studio or do each record your own bits and pieces in home studios? “We’ve been through different phases. In the 80s, then Joey did most of it in his home studio with drum machines and added guitars, just to create a demo. A song was more or less ready back then when we recorded ‘Final Countdown’ and ‘Out of This World’. Now, during the 2000s, it is more been a case of sending demos between us where keyboards, bass and some digital drums get added. But that has only been in order to do demos. Since we started to work with Dave Cobb, we no longer do demos in that way at all. He doesn’t want to work with demos. When we were going to start recording ‘War of Kings’, we asked him where we should send the demos. ‘No, let’s listen to those when I arrive later’, right when we will record the album. We had never experienced that before. We were like: Oh! He doesn’t want to hear the songs? Then when we were in the studio to start recording the album, he said: ‘OK, guys! What songs do you have?’ Then we played him a song that he was listening to on an iPhone, just to get an overview of the song structure. He didn’t care about all the details. He wanted to take the song apart and then put it together again from scratch. We realised that there was no point in coming in with ready song structures. It was better to come with a riff or just a rough sketch and then take it from there. At first, we were not used to working like that and even a bit afraid to do so. We thought: how is this going to turn out? We knew we only had so much time in the studio to get things done, what if it doesn’t work? We were a bit afraid of the unknown in a very Swedish way! We recorded ‘War of Kings’ in a brand-new studio in Stockholm. We were the first band to record there. That was a bit of risk-taking as we didn’t at all know how the studio sounded. There was nothing to listen to that had been recorded there. That was a big question mark, but it all worked out fine with Dave. He’s such a cool guy that it was easy to start working with him and integrating him with the band and the creative process. It turned out really great. Then when we did ‘Walk the Earth’, we just brought some riffs and stuff, because we knew we could do it. We went with real self-confidence into Abbey Road Studios. We worked on the songs more or less from scratch in the studio. It was really exciting. A creative and good way to work. Not being overconfident, but you know you have a good riff but that you need to be on the top of your game to get it done. If we will work with Dave again, then we will continue on the same path. We will see what happens.”

European summer festivals are up next for the band. And then a South American tour in the autumn. “Then we will probably start focusing more on ‘song fragments’ for the next album. The plan is that we will start recording the next album at the beginning of next year sometime. The wheel keeps turning.”

When Ian Haugland is not touring with Europe, he and keyboardist Mic Michaeli are working together as radio DJs in Stockholm at the Rockklassiker radio station. “I started already in 2000 to broadcast radio there. Thus, it’s been almost 20 years already! Mic joined about a year ago. We have started hosting a show together. It’s a lot of fun!” says Haugland before it’s time for the drummer to stretch and get ready for the evening’s Europe show.

Ian Haugland of Europe backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Album review: The Rods “Brotherhood of Metal”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

American band The Rods, fronted by former Elf guitarist David “Rock” Feinstein, is back with a new studio album filled with classic metal.

Vocalist and guitarist David “Rock” Feinstein, a former member of Elf and cousin of Elf bandmate Ronnie James Dio, formed The Rods in 1980 with drummer Carl Canedy. Bassist Garry Bordonaro joined soon thereafter. Initially active in the 1980s, the band reunited in 2008 and has since been touring on and off. The Rods has also been recording new music since the reunion. The new “Brotherhood of Metal” album is the follow-up to 2011’s “Vengeance”. The new album opens with the anthem-like title track “Brotherhood of Metal” which no doubt will be a live favourite. The Rods’ music is firmly based in the classic metal of the 1980s. With song titles such as “Everybody’s Rockin’”, “Louder Than Loud”, “Tyrant King”, “Party All Night”, “Tonight We Ride”, “Hell on Earth” and “Evil in Me”, it is obvious that The Rods is a band that follows a well-established metal tradition when it comes to both music and lyrics. Although there is nothing revolutionary about The Rods’ music, many of their songs are easily recognisable as The Rods. Somehow they have managed to establish somewhat of a signature sound which is not just built on Feinstein’s voice. “The Devil Made Me Do It” is my favourite track on the album, a song that I also think will be great live. The song combines great rock with fantastic guitars and a shout-along chorus. Feelgood metal!  Overall this album is filled with good and fun classic metal music. Many of the album’s eleven songs will fit in nicely in the band’s live set. I hope they will make room for them among their classic songs from their 1980s albums. 

The Rods’ album “Brotherhood of Metal” will be released on 7th June via SPV/Steamhammer.

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

Preview: サンダー/ Thunder to mark 30th anniversary with special shows in Japan

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Thunder will combine acoustic and electric sets to celebrate 30 years of rock at two special shows at Club Citta in Kawasaki in June. Thunder always deliver!

サンダー、結成30周年記念特別公演、日本初の2セット・ショー! Sit DownアコースティックとStand Upエレクトリックの盛りだくさん豪華2部構成! 6/8(土),9(日) CLUB CITTA’/川崎

On 8th and 9th June, British rockers Thunder will once again rock Club Citta in Kawasaki to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the band’s formation. I first saw Thunder perform in 1997 and all these years later they are still one of the best British rock bands out there. Japanese fans have been lucky enough to see Thunder tour Japan several times, most recently at Club Citta in January 2018. Formed in 1989, the band released its debut album “Backstreet Symphony” in 1990. Thunder, a reliable rock band that always delivers, is a rock-solid and tight band with one of Britain’s best-ever vocalists. The band line-up is still Danny Bowes (vocals), Luke Morley (guitars/keyboards), Ben Matthews (guitars/keyboards), Chris Childs (bass) and former Magnum drummer Harry James.

1990年にアルバム『バックストリート・シンフォニー』でデビュー。 ルークのプロデュース能力と作詞作曲能力、ダニーの哀愁のある歌声と最終決定するセンス、個々の演奏能力とコーラスワークで人気を博している英国のグループ。特に詞とタイトルは、言葉の組み合わせが絶妙でリアリティ溢れる特色がある。 バンドのメンバー: ダニー・ボウズ (Vo), ルーク・モーリー (G), ベン・マシューズ (G), クリス・チャイルズ (B), ハリー・ジェイムズ (Ds).

The Club Citta shows will be two special shows called Sit Down/Stand Up. The “Sit Down” part is an acoustic set which is followed by a short interval and then a “Stand Up” set when the band will plug in their guitars and switch on the electricity. The setlists will be slightly different on the two days.

2019 6/8(),9() CLUB CITTA’/川崎
OPEN 17:00 / START 18:00
前売り 【全席指定】¥9,000(税込)

チケット/ Get your tickets here:

ハロー、ハロー、~、私達はThunder です。イエス、そうです。 どれほど6月に来日できるのを、私達が楽しみにしているのか、クイックメッセージを贈りたいと思います。 とてもスペシャルなショーを2つ、皆さんのために演奏します。私達にとっては30周年記念になります。 そのショーはとても違ったタイプのショーになるのですよね?とっても違います、とっても違いますよ。どんな感じに違うの? まず、1セットはアコースティックで、もう1セットはジャンプ&ダウンのエレクトリックなショーになります。 すばらしいです!そして、ミュージック(曲)、は毎晩(何曲か)変えますので、2公演とも来る価値あり、だよ。そうですよね? イエース。サンキュー。うれしいですね。 シー・ユー・スーン。サンキュー・ベリーマッチ。バーイ!

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

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


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