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November 13, 2016

Europe 30 Years @ The Roundhouse

While 2016 has seen the British public vote for Brexit, exactly 30 years ago they were taking Europe to their hearts. Not Eurocrats in Brussels or parliamentarians in Strasbourg, but five fresh-faced Swedes with luxuriant long hair and toothy smiles who took rock music right to the top of the charts.

I remember hearing ‘The Final Countdown’ on the Friday Rock Show, and it presented such a stark contrast with the thrash that clogged up Tommy Vance’s programme at that time that I rushed to HMV that weekend to spend my student money on the cassette album, not knowing at that time that it was already their third release.

No-one though could have expected that, within weeks, the memorable title track would soar to No 1 in the Top 40, with Bon Jovi breaking through the charts at the same time, nor that to this day the parping keyboard intro and space travel lyrics make it one of the most easily identifiable and imitated songs of our time.

 

Europe’s time as pop flavour of the month was short, despite a couple of fine follow-up albums, then after a long period away they have reinvented their sound and re-established rock credibility over the past decade. Nevertheless their breakthrough album was such a historic moment that, for one night only, they celebrated its 30th anniversary with this special one-off show.

As a result the Roundhouse boasted a sold out crowd, considerably larger than for London dates on their normal tours. There were also two support bands who had threatened to follow Europe into the big time at the turn of the nineties, both reformed and revitalised but playing tantalisingly short sets.

Fellow Swedes Electric Boys began proceedings, and after a  dull first number in ‘Spaced Out’ and some sound issues during ‘Groovus Maximus’, found their mojo with the psychedelic-tinged ‘Mary In The Mystery World’ which got a few people singing along. ‘Electrified’ and ‘Captain Of My Soul’ had guitarist Franco Santunione laying down some great grooves over which charismatic bandleader Conny Bloom added his solo

After Conny donned a sitar to tease the crowd with a snatch of Status Quo’s ‘Whatever You Want’, came the inevitable closer in ‘All Lips n Hips’ where the band jammed out to revive memories of days of 1990 when this type of funky rock was everywhere.

There was historical symmetry in Dare’s appearance as they had supported Europe on 1989’s Out Of This World tour, a gig I regret missing to this day. After their more recent dabbles with a folkier gaelic sound, it was symbolic that they opened with a pair from their unfairly neglected, harder rocking second album ‘Blood From Stone’.

 

Vinny Burns’ shredding guitar was right to the forefront and Darren Wharton, barely changed in his shades and curly hair, worked the crowd and was in good voice. However I am sure he mixed the words up to opener ‘Wings Of Fire’ and during the Thin Lizzy-esque (or should we now say Black Star Riders?) ‘We Don’t Need A Reason’ he adopted the tactic of not bothering to sing the chorus but waving the mike at a crowd – with only a minority familiar with the material, and the backing vocals buried in the mix, it left a huge void in the song.

‘Home’, which successfully merged the AOR style of their classic ‘Out Of The Silence’ debut with their celtic leanings, confirmed that new album ‘Sacred Ground’ marks  a return to form, though I took the claims that it was No 1 in four countries with a pinch of salt.

Inevitably though it was the debut album classics that got the best reception though ‘Abandon’ was noticeably heavier and on ‘Into The Fire’ Darren again adopted the annoying habit of holding the mic out to the crowd at the chorus before they closed with the arm-waving, celtic-themed ‘Return The Heart’.

 

I enjoyed the return of one of my favourite bands but it felt a little forced at times and judgement must be reserved for a headline set in front of their own fans in more relaxed surroundings.

As anticipation grew, Europe’s arrival was heralded by a ‘Final Countdown’ movie trailer parody on the giant screens: however there was a sting in the tail, when it ended with the words ‘but first presenting ‘War of Kings’. Opening with one of the few reasonably catchy songs in ‘Hole In My Pocket’,  it was swiftly apparent that they were going to play their latest album in its entirety, and when Joey Tempest confirmed this after a couple of songs we were going to endure one of the longest pieces of foreplay in histor

 

I felt bad for thinking this, as normally I champion classic acts that look forward as well as back to try and avoid becoming pure nostalgia acts. It was also a demonstration of just what an accomplished (if rather static) bunch of musicians they are, a fact which new Europe gig goers always remark on.

It’s just that the music was, whisper it quietly, rather boring, as the album relies on a retro vibe (the fact it shares Rival Sons’ producer is a tell tale fact) and there is an absence of the obvious hooks and melodies with which the original Europe made their name.

The likes of ‘Nothin To Ya’ and ‘California 405’ were dull workouts, and it was only ‘Days of Rock n Roll’ (Joey adding second guitar) that got the front row bouncing to ensure they ended on the live DVD, though even then the catchiness came from the riff rather than a memorable chorus.

 

The songs were also rather one-paced with only a couple of changes of tempo in the slow song ‘Angels With Broken Hearts’ and instrumental ‘Vasastan’ showcasing John Norum’s talent. The title track got one of the better reactions, though perhaps this was with relief that a very long hour, which had tested the patience of the more casual or eighties Europe fan, was drawing to a close.

So when it gave way to a tape of the iconic parping keyboard intro to the ‘Final Countdown’ , the releasing effect on the crowd was analogous to Mr Creosote being fed one wafer-thin mint too many. Suddenly people were jumping around and singing as if it was the finale to a New Years Eve party, while ‘Rock the Night’ if anything got an even wilder reception as a great live track, with Joey in his element working the crowd and leading a mid section singalong.

 

‘Carrie’, which I thought was rather cheesy at the time, came over superbly live as a model power ballad, though attention was distracted by a montage of shots of the band and their fans back in the day – Joey’s wry comment that ‘we don’t look embarrassing at all’ showing that his years as a London resident have honed the British tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.

Europe suffered from one of the pacing perils of choosing to play a ‘classic‘ album in sequence, namely that very often it is the opening tracks that were the biggest singles. There was therefore a danger for the casual fan that the rest becomes an anti-climax.

That was not the case for me, as I had unfinished business. I had heard most if not all of the songs  played live on the original tour in early 1987, but it was a dreadful experience, surrounded by screaming, teddy bear-throwing teenyboppers who within months had moved on to Bros and other such bands du jour.

 

Moreover, by that time John Norum had been bailed out, to be replaced by Kee Marcello, so this was my first chance to hear him replicate – pretty faithfull y- his great solos on the original album.

‘Danger On the Track’- with a great mid-song sequence where Mic Michaeli’s keyboard and organ solos are followed by one from John – and ‘Ninja’ were both reminders that Europe were the natural eighties successors to the great melodic hard rock bands I was weaned on like Rainbow and UFO.

‘Cherokee’, again with guitar and keyboard blending in perfect harmony, had the crowd punching the air before a closing quartet of numbers that it was great to hear again for the first time in ages. If the chorus of ‘Time Has Come’ was a tad weak after Joey’s emotionally sung verses, that of ’Heart Of Stone’ made up for it, while not for the first time the exquisite melody and tone in John’s solo reminded me so much of Michael Schenker.

 

He seemed to enjoy rocking out on the heavier riffs of ‘On The Loose’ before ‘Love Chaser’ which came over as an amalgam of great moments from many of the other songs, and I had forgotten how good it was.

As it segued into a brief reprise of ‘The Final Countdown’ to give the crowd one last opportunity to bounce up and down, I reflected on the current dominance of Scandinavia in the melodic rock scene and the debt the likes of HEAT, Eclipse, Brother Firetribe and The Poodles owe to Europe for being the first to blaze this trail worldwide.

With Joey confirming they were writing a new album, Europe’s long association with the UK – at least in a musical sense – is set to continue. However after this unusual evening, I found myself thinking along the lines of another Swede who made his name in England, Sven Goran Eriksson. He might have summarised the evening with his catchphrase ‘first half not so good, second half good’.

Review by Andy Nathan

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