The first band on the bill for 2015´s Väsby Rock Festival that I did not really want to miss was Sweden’s own veteran hard rockers 220 Volt. The band started out as a heavily NWOBHM inspired outfit and as time passed by they grew slightly more melodic and more “commercial” in their approach. This was a positive development in my eyes and culminated in the most successful album Eye to Eye, released in 1988 and produced by Max Norman. I caught them in March 2015 when they played a town nearby my home. That was the first gig I attended in almost 30 years having seen them way back in 1987. They put on a great performance for the small crowd so now I was eager to see what they could do this time around. The band has of course been through some major changes since the late 1980´s with original guitarist Thomas Drevin returning to the fold and replacing Peter Olander. Bass player Mikael Krusenberg is no longer with the band and did not play on the new album although he did take part in the reunion in the early 2000’s. On tour, the bass has been handled by Peter Hallström. The biggest impact on the band’s sound and appearance is still the change in the frontman department. “New” frontman and lead singer is the former Lion´s Share and Sorcerer shouter Andi Engberg who stepped in for Joakim Lundström who is currently pursuing other musical interests. And I forgot. they all have a little less hair…
Drummer Peter Hermansson takes his place behind the drums and the air is filled with anticipation. There is a fairly large crowd in front of the stage at this early hour of the day. On this day, they start with the strongest track from the new album “Walking in Starlight” which I recognize immediately when the intro starts pouring out of the speakers. It’s a heavy melodic rocker with a nice riff and a very strong chorus. Guitarist Mats Karlsson seems to be in a good mood bouncing up and down running around with his guitar painted with the local county’s flag. On this day he is also sporting a cap turned backwards and the sunglasses to go with that. With only an hours worth of playing time, they quickly continue with “The Harder They Come” which is, of course, the opening track on Eye to Eye. They seem to be a little tighter as a unit than compared to last time I saw them and Andi does not have to glance that often on the teleprinter.
Just like last time Andi says they are going to take us on a journey through time and start way back in the humble beginnings and move forward to today. I would call it sort of zig-zagging through time which would be a better description – heading back an forth all the time. Well, they don´t go all the way back as they kick into “Power Games” – the title track of the 2nd album released in 1984 and the last album with Thomas before he left the band. It has a section of crowd singing as well and Andi does his best to get the crowd on their feet. What really makes 220 Volt such a great band is the direct and hard hitting melodies, the heavy chugging guitars and the catchy riffs and all this complemented with some powerhouse vocals. On this day, you get most of that as well and they seem to wake up an unexpecting and lazy crowd that just got there. After that treat, it is time for the second song off Walking in Starlight which is “Broken Promises”, a nice little tune and Engberg does a great job. I have to admit he does a good job with the old material as well with one exception (more on that later). They continue with a medley of songs from the first self-titled album with “Child of the Night”/”Woman in White”/”Lonely Nights” before playing what is my personal favourite song and what got me into them in the first place; “Beat of a Heart” off Eye to Eye. Just before that, they experience some bass problems. When the song kicks off my fist comes up in the air and knowing the lyrics by heart it is easy to sing along to. It gets a nice roar from the crowd when they finish off the song and a great vocal from Engberg on that one as things are starting to heat up.
They guys take us back to the future again with “Burning Heart” which is another melodic hard rocker from their recent Walking in Starlight album. The crowd seems a bit more reserved, probably not as familiar with the new material as of yet. They continue with the title track off Eye to Eye which is in my opinion actually one of the weaker tracks on that album but still a great song. Then it is time for the big surprise and it is of the nicer kind. “High Heels” which is a single B-side off the Mind Over Muscle album (1985). Great to hear a new track in the setlist and also something from the underrated Mind Over Muscle album! This and “Beat of a Heart” are definitely the highlights of the gig for me.
Andi introduces the next song as one of the most successful songs and a single back in the day. He is talking about “Love is All You Need” which got its fair amount of airing on MTV back in the late 1980´s. This is also the weakest point in the performance as Andi takes down the vocals one octave and it lacks the falsetto vocals it has in its original form. I guess they feel they have to play the song but to me it could be exchanged for another song, for example, the second ballad on Eye to Eye (“Still in Love”) or even better “Loraine” which was the first hit single for the band from Young and Wild (1987). They finish in fine style with “Firefall” which was a concert opener back in the day but I now I know it is a great closer as well. According to the bands facebook page, the gig was cut short due to lack of time. Three songs were therefore not played; “System Overload”, “I´m on Fire” and “One Good Reason”.
All in all, they put on a fine performance and the band seems a bit tighter and more comfortable on stage compared to when I caught them last time. A little bit strange is that the organizers of the festival put a fairly “big” band on so early and it is visibly very clear that 220 Volt had a significantly larger audience than the three bands that were to follow. I still have issues with “Love is All You Need” but this was a blast from the past and the band deserves an 8.5 geeks out of 10 for a great performance. There is a progression forward and I just hope more fans of hard rock/metal would discover them. I know these guys haven´t had much promotion in North America so if you don´t know them it´s worth checking them out. Well done boys – thumbs up! Maybe it is time to record a live DVD for fans to enjoy that cannot make the trip?