The first day of the Stockholm Rocks Summerfest brought some surprises. Together with two friends, I board the commuter train headed for day 2. It travels from the hotel that should have provided a great view of the Väsby Rock Festival (unfortunately the festival went belly up in April) to be there in time for Erik Grönwall of H.E.A.T. to kick off the second day. There are definitely more people here at the start of the second day of Stockholm Rocks Summerfest as compared to the first. I speak briefly to Johan Nylén of Planet AOR and Rockweekend Festival at the entrance.
As scheduled Erik enters the stage at 5.45 p.m. and with him he has his fellow band mate from H.E.A.T., Jona Tee. This is a strictly acoustic setup with two acoustic guitars and it provides a cosy atmosphere right from the start. The guys start off with H.E.A.T anthem “Living on the Run” and the crowd response is entirely positive. They continue on with more H.E.A.T. stuff “Falling Down” at which point Erik´s adrenaline levels have risen too high for him to sit down and he puts the guitar aside, stands up and starts headbanging. After they finish the song Erik tell us Jona had said this would happen when they were sitting down planning the show. It only took one and a half song for Erik to lose the guitar and start walking around the stage headbanging in his usual manner.
Erik started his career as a contestant in the Swedish talent competition, Idol, and the song he sang that brought him to the finals was his own version of the Skid Row classic “18 and Life” so when he announces “This is the song that started it all” the crowd knows what to expect! This is definitely my highlight of Erik´s gig where he really shines vocally. Erik and Jona seem to enjoy the Address the Nation album because they continue with the third cut from that album with “Better Off Alone”. It is a track that suits the acoustic setting very well and gets a big roar from the crowd when they finish. Erik reveals that H.E.A.T. are currently in the studio recording their new album and that this acoustic show represents a nice break from studio work.
Well, time to visit the latest album, Tearin´ Down the Walls, and they blast into the title track. The crowd is now eating out of Erik´s hands. The place is far from being sold out but it is a decent crowd rocking out to the acoustic show by this point. Another favourite of mine this evening, and a surprise, as it has been removed form the H.E.A.T. setlist the last couple of years is the Eurovision Song Contest entry “1000 Miles”. Surprising also since the song was originally sung by Kenny Leckremo. Anyway, Jona and Erik present an excellent version of the song and my fist is in the air! It definitely got me singing along to the chorus. Great one guys!
Erik informs us that he had a short solo career before he joined H.E.A.T. and released a solo album. According to himself the solo career “sucked”. Since the show was announced as Erik Grönwall he feels he should play at least one song from his solo album. It features one track written by Joey Tempest of Europe fame and this is the track we get tonight – “Take Me On”. When they finish Erik states that their time is up but he says “fuck it” and they blast into “Highway to Hell” (AC/DC cover). This was a great start to the second day and exceeded my expectations.
I move back to sort out my camera and wait for Swedish melodic rockers Reach to enter the stage. This is a band with only one album under their belt and an album that made it into my top ten of 2015 so my expectations are pretty high. I also saw them play an excellent gig at last year´s Väsby Rock Festival. It will be hard to beat. A lot has happened in the band in one year. After releasing a successful first album and touring both in Sweden and in the UK vocalist Alex Waghorn and bass player David Jones left the band to pursue other musical directions. Guitarist and vocalist Ludvig Turner stepped up to take over the lead vocals. I know he is a great lead vocalist and he also was very successful in the Swedish talent show Idol. New in the band is bass player Robert Majd (ex-Captain Black Beard) making the band a power trio and not a quartet anymore.
Reach hit the stage with their album opener “You Called My Name” and I am impressed by Robert Majd‘s stage presence. Ludvig Turner looks a little uneasy being the front man and at some points his guitar playing affects the vocals in a negative way. His voice sounds great though and there is hardly any talking between the songs which is sort of a good thing when time is limited. However, it also affects the interaction between the band and crowd. Don´t get me wrong, I am not a fan of frontmen talking for ages about nothing, but a little interaction and talking would be nice. They go on with the heavy rocker “Reach Out” and it is easy to catch drummer Marcus Johansson who shows off and provides nice fills. It´s not always that you zoom in on the drummer but this is very much the case with Marcus.
This is the first gig as a trio and that might explain why Ludvig appears nervous and uneasy. Better not talk then and they directly plunge into “Looking for Love” which is another hard rocking anthem from the debut album which sounds good. When they kick off “Someone Like You” I don´t recognize the song at first, and I could have done without the screaming vocals on the chorus. After this song, the guys play an excellent cover of Gary Moore´s “Murder in the Skies”. He sends his blessings to Gary as the guys finish “Murder in the Skies”. They even dare to play a song “written just a couple of days ago where the lyrics have not been completely finished”. “We´re getting there” as Ludvig says. He also says he recognizes friends from all over the world and choose to do all crowd interacting (not much though) in English which is a wise decision I think. I cannot hear the title of the new track but it sounds like it could have been called “Without a Warning” or something like that. Reach leave us with the best song off the album and also the best song for tonight in “Tell Me”.
All in all, I am a little disappointed and the band does not reach the high expectations I had but this is the first gig with the “new” band. Ludvig‘s voice is great and is on par with Alex´s but he seems a bit like Bambi on ice and uneasy now being the complete focal point onstage. In my mind playing guitar at the same time affects the vocals from time to time. I know a lot of friends and critics that I talk to afterwards think this was an improvement from earlier gigs, and earlier versions of the band but I don´t agree with that. New bassman Robert Majd has a great stage personality and was a positive surprise for me, though. Markus and Robert definitely stole the show on this particular evening.
Time then for the odd booking with the german veteran metaller Iron Savior who played an important part in the second European wave of Power Metal and it´s resurgence in Europe in the late1990´s. Whereas most bands tend to play melodic hard rock and sometimes bordering on AOR, Iron Savior is a completely different story. You can clearly see that with most of the crowd moving backwards to the bar area and a smaller portion still standing in front at the gates. They also get the smallest crowd and this is probably because they are too heavy for most of the festival attendees. I am a fan of this classic German heavy metal band that has been around since 1997. They play typical German power metal with lots of double bass drumming, melodic and clean singing with strong melodies and, of course, sing along chorus lines. This was also the most anticipated act for me and they deliver a show that is OK but not great.
First of all, they seem to have some problems with the drums (Sören Teckenburg from Paragon) is filling in for the absent Thomas Nack. The band does not seem to agree on how to start up the songs which gives strange pauses between a couple of songs or maybe the time to rehearse the songs has been limited. There is only newer songs played throughout the gig and leaning heavily towards the new outing Titancraft. They enter the stage and start off with “Way of the Blade” from the new album which is an uptempo metal opus in the typical Iron Savior brand and continue on with “Starlight” from 2011’s The Landing. It is also a great uptempo power metal song. Joachim “Piesel” Küstner is steady as a rock on rhythm guitar and even providing the odd solo. Band leader Piet Sielck provides steady lead vocals and lead guitar. I get the feeling he is running out of ideas when it comes to crowd interaction and talking to the audience. He doesn´t feel at ease and it all gets artificial and stiff at many points during the show.
They effectively plough through a couple of more metallic anthems in “The Savior”, again from The landing and “Last Hero” off the 2013´s The Rise of the Hero. Piet announces it is time to visit the Wild West and it is time for the hard rocking “Gunsmoke” from Titancraft. This is one of the stronger cuts from the newest album. It is a more hard rocking song than the usual metal songs. The crowd is a little reluctant to rock out throughout the gig except maybe a 100 people that have gathered close to the stage. The band continues on with “Beyond the Horizon” from Titancraft and this nights favourite of mine “Hall of the Heroes” from The Landing. When they finish “Hall of the Heroes”, Piet asks the crowd if they are ready to rock n´roll. He is not satisfied with the response so he asks a couple of more times until he gets the response he wants and they kick off “R. U. Ready” from The Landing. Time flies and their hour is almost up. Piet says they cannot leave before playing this song and we all know it is their signature anthem “Heavy Metal Never Dies”, also from The Landing. It features a lot of crowd singing and Piet tries to get the people in the back to sing along as well and is fairly successful. I would agree with him that the band shouldn´t leave the stage without playing this great anthem and one of their best-known songs throughout their long career.
My grade stays with OK but nothing more for this gig. The setlist is maybe one or two songs heavy on the last three albums, the band does not seem to be fully rehearsed together with Sören which is clearly evident when he is about to start up the songs. Piet also seems to have run out of ideas to talk about between the songs. Still, it is not bad and Jan S. Eckert provides some really impressive backing vocals. I did not know the guy could sing like that! Piesel is steady as a rock as ever and Piet Sielck´s vocal performance is also good. They are a bit misplaced on the bill being much heavier than the rest of the bands but things like that shouldn´t affect the performance. Unfortunately, the band is nowhere to be seen after the gig so no autograph writing, this time around for me.
The headliners this Saturday is strangely Finnish glam/sleaze outfit Santa Cruz. A band that in my mind definitely should have played earlier and the running order is a bit confusing, to say the least. I am not familiar with them since before but have been told they sound like a young Skid Row. That should ensure a great gig if that were true. When they hit the stage my impression is that they LOOK like a young Mötley Crue and I guess that is the whole idea of the image. The favourite word of singer Archie Cruz must be fuck or fucking which is every second word he says. Songs pass me by and I catch titles as “Mother Fucking Remedy”, “Six Feet Under” and “We´re the Last to Fall”. They even squeeze in a cover of Prince´s “Purple Rain” as a dedication to the talent lost all too early.
From what I hear I am not enticed to dig any deeper in the Santa Cruz discography. To me, they show a lot of attitude but I don´t hear the memorable songs I would like to have heard. They are far off a young Skid Row in my book. Disappointed that the Väsby Rock Festival was cancelled I still got two pleasant days in Stockholm and it is very important for the scene that this festival lives on. A great howdy to Sun Hill Promotions for putting on this show and hopefully I will be back for another taste at a future date. The pricing of the festival was affordable and it is a pity there weren´t more people at the festival. It also a great compliment to the more melodic Rockweekend Festival that focuses more on AOR. The best performances of the second day would be Erik Grönwall and Iron Savior for me even though I had expected a little bit more from the latter.
LIVE PHOTOS BY: Mikael Svensson