It’s not often we can say we went to Europe over the weekend, but we did Friday. And we made it home by midnight.
That’s because Europe came to us.
We’re talking about Swedish hard rock quintet Europe, of course—not their namesake continent.
The group landed at House of Blues Cleveland April 25th for a gloriously loud trip through its thirty-year catalog of hair metal hits, R&B-based rockers, FM ballads, and post-millennial fist-pumpers. While the guys (dressed predominantly in black) leaned on material from their new UDR Records album War of Kings, they made plenty of room for the familiar tracks of old, delivering each with the energy and enthusiasm of their younger selves.
Frankly, we were impressed.
It’s not that we expected powerhouse singer Joey Tempest and company to have lost their vigor or taken the stage with depleted musical powers diminished by years of struggling through the quicksand of ‘90s grunge and ‘00s bubblegum pop. But we were pleasantly surprised by just how vital they sounded, how tightly they played—and how rockingly relevant (decidedly un-hackneyed) the new tunes came off.
Greeting the ¾ full club with two such cuts—“War of Kings” and “Hole in My Pocket”—the boys blasted into the ether, taking their general admission minions with them. Tempest let loose with the theatrics straightaway, kicking, preening, and twirling a custom white mic stand like an airplane propeller. And when he didn’t feel like lugging the stand around, he removed the microphone and roamed, flipping the device in his palm like a hot potato.
We wondered how Tempest would recover and regain his cool if his dropped the thing, but that moment never came.
Unlike many of their ‘80s contemporaries, Europe still boasts most of its original / longtime members, including guitarist John Norum, who absolutely scorched on his Gibson Les Paul. Like many casual fans, we’re admittedly guilty of thinking keyboards when we think Europe, and indeed most of the band’s heyday hits feature extensive synth work. But Friday’s show reminded us just how formidable a string-shredder Norum was—and is.
Europe’s sturdy engine room is still maintained by drummer Ian Haugland and bassist John Leven. Bald, tattooed, and sunglassed throughout the main set, Haugland crushed on his kit as Leven threaded his downbeats with high-tensile bass lines on his Fender four-string. Meanwhile, keyboard whiz Mic Michaeli (also in shades) presided over his Nord synths to Haugland’s right, behind Leven. Fittingly, a white knight chess piece rested on one of Michaeli’s keyboard stands—a constant visual reminder of the band’s current project (if the War of Kings chessboard backdrop wasn’t enough).
“Last Look at Eden” brought listeners back to the similarly-named 2009 album, but “Rock the Night” dialed back the clock to 1986. From there, it was a catch-as-catch can of classics and newbies: “Ready or Not” and “Superstitious” drew from 1988’s Out of This World, while “The Second Day” gave ticketholders another reason to purchase Kings if they hadn’t already.
Tempest said the track was a favorite of That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk.
1986 Super-ballad “Carrie” placated females in attendance (but got everyone singing along). Tempest played it safe by keeping his voice in a middling register, deferring the song’s signature high harmonies to Haugland and Michaeli. “Wasted Time” and “No Stone Unturned” cranked the tempo and volume up again, setting Tempest racing left to right across the stage with his heels kicking and hair flitting. Sometimes he dangled his mic stand over the folks standing down front, giving the concertgoers a chance to chime in.
At one point Joey even thrust his mouthpiece in front of one of HOB’s yellow-shirted security guards. Said bouncer declined piping in, smiling diplomatically. Tempest couldn’t have known that the club employee in question (Matt Sorg) moonlights as a guitarist—not singer—in popular metal band Ringworm. But credit the charismatic vocalist for wanting to involve literally everyone in his hard rock hit parade.
Tempest strummed a Les on a couple numbers but left the brunt of the guitar work to Norum. At one juncture in his rampant wandering, Tempest descended onto the barricade divider separating band from fans and high-fived a few lucky ticketholders, metaphysically transcending the gap between rock star and his admirers. From our vantage in the balcony, it looked as if Joey wasn’t sure how he’d get back onstage, but he made what could’ve been a clumsy climb appear classy—even rehearsed—by parking himself beneath Norum and lounging momentarily while the guitarist wailed.
“Praise You,” “Firebox,” and “Let the Good Times Roll” were late-set sizzlers. Kings manifesto “Days of Rock and Roll” spoke to Europe’s career trajectory, and how they and other bands of their ilk refuse to silently ride off into the sunset and yield rock’s spoils to younger acts.
The encore provided the payoff for those in attendance who’d waited 90-plus minutes for smash single “The Final Countdown.” Triggered—and then performed manually—by Michaeli, the cosmic keyboard riff brought the balcony bum-sitters to their feet (and raised a few arm-hairs, too). Known for its use as a sports arena rally soundbite at close-call basketball games, the apocalyptic space anthem hasn’t lost any of its dramatic appeal or tongue-in-cheek camp and was thus a logical, natural finale.
Akron three-piece Devilstrip opened with a half hour of meat-and-potatoes hard rock that paid homage to hard-charging trios of yore like Cream, Rush, and T-Rex.
Clad in a custom garage mechanic-style work shirt, goateed singer / guitarist Marc Wasmund headed up the charge on “Go,” “Not What You Need,” and the new “Snakebite” as bassist Graig Lindgren and drummer Jimmy Gray conjured rhythmic thunder.
The group’s debut full-length, Rise, is available on itunes or at CDbaby.com.
Wasmund wedged a snippet of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” into the proceedings, enlivening the early-arrivers, but original tunes “Kill the Headlights” and “To the Enemy” were strong enough of their own to add to the ranks of Devilstrip disciples. “She Said” was another highlight.
“Sometimes the best inspiration comes from the worst situations,” prefaced Wasmund.
The band has been competing for a slot at the Rock on the Range music festival in Columbus next month. If they keep playing like they did Friday night at HOB, they should fare well.
Their next gig is May 2nd at Musica in Akron.