I'd never heard tonight's openers Voodoo Johnson before this evening. However the fact that I scurried off to the merchandise stall to buy their recent album 10,000 Horses at the conclusion of their thirty minutes set shows what a storming performance this UK five piece put in. Firing out energetic Queens Of The Stone Age riffs, with early Aerosmith cool and Zeppelin bombast, Voodoo Johnson are a name you should look out for and with their new singer Nik Taylor-Stoakes looking and sounding like he's been with the band from the start, this is a band hopefully destined for big things.
In a time of never ending reunions and reformations, the return of Europe, who have been one of Sweden's most successful musical exports, can be seen as more of a rebirth. Not content to live on past glories or to play endless tours packed with old favourites, Europe have updated their sound and continued to refresh their set list with new songs.
The band's most recent album Last Look At Eden may be well over a year old, in fact Europe played this very same venue just under a year ago on this tour, however the five members of the band still look enthused to be promoting it. With a stage set based round the rather nifty album art of a chrome studded apple (but customised with a Union Jack for the UK dates), the show kicks in with the classically inspired intro to the song "Last Look At Eden", before keyboard player Mic Michaeli gets things under way for real. Right from the start it is clear that the quintet of Michaeli, singer Joey Tempest, guitarist John Norum, bassist John Leven and Ian Haugland on drums, are firing on all cylinders and desperate to shake off the cobwebs of their two months break from the road. Another track from LLAE is followed by one of the band's biggest hits "Rock The Night" and anyone still left with any doubt on tonight's performance is instantly won over. One of the few early songs aired comes in the shape of "Scream Of Anger" from the band's 1984 album Wings Of Tomorrow and while there is no doubting the quality of any song tonight, old or new, it does have to be said that the difference in intensity and heaviness of the recent material is extremely apparent when it is played back to back against the band's early work.
Joey, who has been in tremendous voice tonight dons a guitar for "No Stone Unturned" adding more to punchy attitude of the music, before John Norum is handed a guitar that isn't tuned for correctly for next song "Carrie". After a short break while the problem is sorted, the song gets under way and is pleasingly played fully electric on this leg of the tour after being performed acoustically by Joey in recent years. "Getaway Plan" ups the tempo again, before a touching tribute is paid to Gary Moore as John Norum shows his blues credentials with a sensational version of Moore's "The Loner". It's a touching moment and one that not only pays respect to one of the best guitarist of his generation, but that also illustrates what an under rated talent John Norum is.
There are a few first night of the tour glitches, but Joey fills the time well and the duo of "Gonna Get Ready" and "New Voice In Town" keep up the momentum before "Love Is Not The Enemy" shows that this is a band capable of being equally effective whether they are firing out big groove laden riffs, keyboard led melodies, or introspective slow numbers. "More Than Meets The Eye" from 1988's Out Of This World is a welcome surprise, before "Start From The Dark" brings things more up to date again.
Drum solos are not many people's favourite part of a live show, so credit to Ian Haugland for turning his spot into a romp through the "William Tell Overture". It is all very Cozy Powell, but the ovation he receives proves that the man who is all shiny head and shades hit the spot. The Deep Purple-esque "Superstitious" closes the main show in style, with Tempest trying desperately hard to attract the attention of the lady working security at stage left so she can pass a guitar pick onto a fan in a wheelchair. The only person in the venue that couldn't work out what the frontman was trying to do was the security lady, who studiously ignored Tempest even as he tugged her sleeve, but he eventually did, much to her delight and to everyone else's amusement, get the pick to young lady intended. For the encore we were treated to the debut performance of new song "Doghouse", which indicates that the forthcoming album due for release next year could be another belter.
There was never any doubt which song would close the show, but the keyboard "bee-oings" of "The Final Countdown" still ensure a chaotic rush towards the stage and triumphant finale to the set.
The only niggle I have about tonight's show is one I have after every gig these days and nothing to do with Europe. It is bad enough that I always seem to be stuck behind someone a foot taller than me with a hair-metal wig balanced on his head, but the fact that I now seem to spend every gig trying to peer round ever present phones and cameras is a constant irritation. The more fascinating thing is that these people seem desperate to capture thousands of images so they can relive an experience they forgot to enjoy at the time!
Europe are a slick well oiled machine on stage, with great presence, stunning musicianship and phenomenal songs and while the classic tracks are celebrated in style, there were no complaints that the set was heavily weighted toward newer songs. Tempest promised to return next year after releasing a new album and I've no doubt that everyone in the ABC tonight is looking forward to it already!