This was a highly anticipated moment for me, the highlight of this great festival. Expectations were sky high. I was finally going to see one of my favourite bands from my childhood, King Kobra. The band that created the power ballad ”Dancing with Desire” during which this 13-year-old boy got the chance to dance and hug the beautiful girls at school. King Kobra provided the perfect opportunity for some cuddling. The band that wrote and released such hard rock anthems as “Hunger”, “Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)”, “Ready to Strike” and “Attention”.
The debut album is solid as a rock and admittedly one of the strongest albums ever to be put out in 1985. I loved the more AOR oriented follow up called Thrill of a Lifetime which put off the fans wanting a more hard rock approach. I even enjoyed the revised lineup that put out III. Ok, I know that Mark (Marcie) Free is no longer with them and the problems between Mark (Marcie) and Carmine have been voiced publicly many times so let´s not dwell on that. I think Paul Shortino is a great fit and I love the work he did with both Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt. I would even say that I enjoy very much the reunion albums with Paul Shortino as lead vocalist. They present a return to form and they are very underestimated in my opinion. And behind the drums, Carmine Appice, one of the toughest battery men in the business! Everything was geared up for an almost Godlike experience.
How disappointed I was! Firstly, when the intro to opening track ”Ready to Strike” faded out and the guys entered the stage, I noticed that Mick Sweda was not here! Instead, they have brought an unknown youngster with them on guitar. What? Here they have the chance of a lifetime to play in front of thousands of fans that have been longing for this moment and Mick Sweda stays home? I don´t know why and I don´t think I wanna know! Disappointment flows over me and it does not get better as the gig unfolds. Paul Shortino has never been a great entertainer but here he seems nailed to the floor and does not move around at all. He has never been a wild guy on stage but this is ridiculous. Johnny Rod is a great showman but the first half of the gig he shouts at the sound guy on the side of the stage, shaking his head and gestures that this invisible man is an idiot. From the front of the stage, I have a hard time hearing Paul‘s vocals at all. I cannot say if his vocals are great or not because I only hear them as a faint singing in the background.
After the start with this classic tune, they move on to more recent material with ”Tear Down the walls” from their self-titled album released in 2011. The unbalanced sound continues to plague the gig and the reaction to his ”newer” song from the crowd is weak. I guess many of the attendees are only familiar with their older classic material. I can completely understand why the band would want to showcase some later songs that Paul sings on but they are a little heavy on new material as I will discover soon. They continue on in this fashion belting out ”Knock ém Dead” from their most recent album II (2013).
Johnny Rod continues on in a madman-like style on the stage and I don´t think I have seen an over-prepped guy on stage since Chris “Godzilla” Doliber broke two bass guitars (and his wrist) during the Madam X gig two years ago. With his angry looks and hatred towards the sound guy you get the feeling that anything can happen! Is he going to break the bass and walk off stage? That doesn´t happen luckily….
King Kobra return to their successful debut album with “Shadowrider” which receives a warmer welcome although the sound mix continues to be terrible and the band seems unrehearsed and untight. It doesn´t sound good, to be honest. Paul excuses himself saying it is really cold and that he is from Las Vegas and is not used to this kind of cold. I don´t know if it is a faint attempt to explain why he seems frozen on stage but it doesn´t work at all. The band kicks into ”Live Forever” which is another more ”modern” tune from their self-titled comeback album. Johnny Rod slams the microphone stand to the floor for the second time using his bass in frustration. They don´t seem to be having any fun and it transfers to the crowd. The most impressive guy on the stage is guitarist David Michael Phillips who delivers some solid rhythm guitar riffs and the odd solo but he and Carmine Appice cannot save this gig whatever they try. It heads straight into the wall.
Johnny Rod walks up in front of the stage and fires off a bass solo that transfers into ”Wild Child” with Rod handling the lead vocal duties. An unnecessary ingredient at a King Kobra gig!These guys have so many great songs and we simply do not need this…
Hands come up in the air when they kick off the ”big hit” from the first album. I am of course talking of ”Hunger” and this is the best song of the performance. Even I lift my fist in the air and sing along to this classic tune. When it fades we are treated with a guitar solo that evolves into the Dio tribute that is part of “Heaven and Hell”. I understand that the great and late Ronnie James Dio was important to Paul Shortino. Dio even let him live in his house during the early stages of his career. In this moment it only seems misplaced just like ”Wild Child”.
The crowd gets smaller and smaller and the completely new song ”Monsters and Heroes” cannot change that fact. The lyrics are made up mainly of song titles by Dio. It did sound like a good song to my ears and maybe we could get that on a future CD? However, it is followed by a horrible version of the classic cut ”Iron Eagle”. Time for Carmine to bash those drums and then they throw themselves into ”Raise Your Hands to Rock” which sounds fairly good considering the chaos that seems to prevail. An unlikely closer in the modern track ”Turn Up the Good Times” follows from the self-titled CD (2011). I am stunned not to get ”Dancing with Desire”, ”Tough Guys” or ”Piece of the Rock”. These are all song that should not be overlooked at this stage! The great III album is left completely untouched.
Those of us who are still there call them back for an encore. It takes a long time and my guess is that Mr. Appice does not want to come out again. We get the very odd pick ”Running Wild” from 2013´s II as the sole encore.
I don´t know where to start! The band does not look like ”a band”. Johnny Rod with his leather and Harley Davidson T-shirt looks more like a dirty rocker. David Michael Phillips with his suit looks more like an algebra teacher or wall street financial salesman. In the midst of them, you have Paul Shortino with his shirt and suit. The five of them are all dressed in different ways. Are they even in the same band?
This might honestly be my second worst concert experience of all times! It hurts really bad that it is one of my favourite bands of all times that deliver this blow. It is not as bad as the Baton Rouge performance at Firefest 2015 but it is close. I am not counting a gig by Warrior Soul frontman Cory Clarke which was so bad I had to leave after two songs.
Up next; the setlist. With only five of the 15 songs taken from the first two classic albums the guy who made this decision should be fired right away! The emphasis should have been on the first three classic 80´s albums with a couple of new songs fit in. I really think the two new discs with Shortino are really good, although not on par with the first three, and it is reasonable that a couple of songs would have been played from them. It should have been the other way around with 10 cuts from the first three and maybe 5 from the new discs.
Thirdly, and most upsetting: the band sound terrible – unrehearsed and they are all over the place. Johnny Rod is a great showman but plays like he wants with one hand, the guitar on his back or over his head. The sound guy could have been doing a better job. It is almost impossible to hear the vocals from where I was standing at the very front fence. It does not help Paul saying they had only rehearsed for three days before flying over to Europe. That is simply not a good enough explanation!
The fourth big mistake was to leave Mick Sweda at home. With this high profile gig at one of the biggest European festivals, this must be an idiot decision. Whatever he was doing instead being on the Sweden Rock Stage it cannot be so important that he should stay at home.
Finally the inclusion of the cover songs at the expense of great old King Kobra tunes. What the heck? There are plenty of songs to choose from! One cover as an encore would have been alright but this – no. Both inclusions are a non-fit and something that should have stayed in the rehearsal room… I will rate the performance as three geeks out of ten and this could have been done so much better. That is the worst thing I think when reflection upon the gig at Sweden Rock Festival.
All in all, it is THE disappointment of the festival and I leave wondering if they could ever fight back from this? Who will book them in the future? No one if they don´t get their act together. This, sadly, might have been the last we will ever see of this once great band.