Something has changed since I've been away
-Gotta Have Faith
In 2005 alone I have seen concerts by Motley Crue, Enuff Z Nuff, White Lion, Tesla and just recently, Europe. One may to wonder if I have traveled in a time machine back to 1989. Here we are in the year 2005 and while I find my musical tastes have altered drastically since 1989, Ill proudly confess that these bands have a place within my heart as they are the architects of my rock n roll initiation that later made me discover ranges of bands extremely wide and vast. When I heard Swedish rock band Europe would be making their first US tour in 17 years, I knew I had to be there because I was only eleven-years old they last time they toured the United States.
The last time Europe played Chicago was 1988. Well, than again, it wasnt Chicago but Alpine Valley in East Troy, WI (opening for Def Leppard) in July of 88, playing to a total of 70,000 fans. Lets put things in perspective of how long ago that really was; Ronald Reagan was still president, gas was a little over a $1 a gallon, Def Leppard was at #2 on the Hot 100 with Pour Some Sugar On Me, the grunge explosion was three-plus years away and Metallica had yet to receive a single platinum album. What was most alarming to me was that 1988s Out of This World album went platinum based on the airplay of the bands videos on MTV alone. If the band had properly toured behind the album it would probably have sold three times as many copies. The band took their time writing their next album, the vastly underrated Prisoners In Paradise, released stateside on September 24, 1991. Two other major releases were planned for the same day; Bryan Adams return to form album Waking Up The Neighbors-produced by Mutt Lange, which contained the monstrous Robin Hood ballad and a little album called Nevermind, by a up and coming band from Seattle called Nirvana. Right there and there the tide turned. Prisoners In Paradise barely cracked Billboard Top 200 album chart even though it showcased the bands finest work to date. Due to the tepid reaction of the album, the band opted to support it in well-established areas around the Globe and passed over America completely. When that campaign came to an end, the band went on indefinite hiatus, which lasted well over a decade.
In 2002, rumblings were being made that the band would reunite. Those rumors became reality in 2004. The band released two albums overseas; the first was a 2 disc compilation Rock The Night: The Very Best of Europe culling songs, rarities and b-sides from the first decade of their career. The second release was a new album-their first in thirteen years, Start From The Dark. Start From The Dark begins a new chapter for Europe, it incorporates a new sound for them, however, while it challenges its audience it does so with classic hooks and sounds that helped Europe sell close to twenty million records worldwide. Surprisingly, instead of over analyzing their music, Europe simply went ahead, did what felt right and made a extraordinary album. I was cynical because so many other bands from the same era have fallen flat on their faces trying to make new music. Even the new Motley Crue songs on their new Best of release leave a lot to be desired. So when Start From The Dark came to me in a Fed Ex package, so I would be familiar with the songs when I went to review the show, I was taken aback by the quality of the songs and how strongly they resonated. Start From The Dark is an album of unflinching compromise where the band knew the stakes were high and somehow they reached up and seized the moment with their life-affirming lyrics and self-introspective songs. This is what differentiates it from dozens of other releases I have heard over the last decade from their 80s counterparts. And trust me; some of these bands have made truly repulsive music. Can anyone even tell me one song on the last few Warrant albums? Winger anyone? Even extraordinarily gifted bands like Cinderella have gone over a decade without any new material. Its one thing to be able to shine live and another to make innovative music without having it sound dated. Europe followed their hearts and their gut instincts during the writing process. They knew better than to try to be something they are not. Instead of conforming to what is fashionable, they stayed true to themselves and in turn made a first rate album.
There is no going back, this is what we know
We come to entertain, asking you to follow
The House of Blues was not filled to capacity but there was a much larger crowd there than I figured there would be. The band did not have the album in stores and there had been no promotion whatsoever for the House of Blues gig. At 10:45 the lights dimmed and the announcement heralding the Biggest rock band to ever emerge from Scandinavia was made as Joey Tempest, John Norum, John Levin, Ian Haugland and Mic Michaeli emerged onto a stage in Chicago for the first time in seventeen years. Got To Have Faith opened the show and the band made their proclamation of faith and renewal, as they were out to reclaim the crowd and show those in attendance that they are more than a one-hit wonder. As Joey Tempest put on a Les Paul around his neck, the band led into Ready or Not from their 1988 album, Out of This World. What was surprising to me was the reaction from the crowd, as they clearly knew the deep cut from an underappreciated album nearly two decades old. The slow mood of the keyboard was up next before the words Keep on walking that road and Ill follow
led into Superstitious one of four Top-40 hits the band had here in America. Joey Tempest gave his famous twirl of the mic stand a few times throughout the song led the crowd along to a forgotten classic which had been improved upon vastly from its studio counterpart.
For 100-minutes Europe performed a flawlessly paced set showcasing the old and new and never once losing the crowd. This was where my trepidation lied, I knew the majority would be unfamiliar with Start From The Dark, yet the songs are so fiery they were able to perform a bulk of the album and still receive eager reactions from the crowd. America is a scorching rocker which showcased some excellent axe work from John Norum and great backing vocals from keyboard player Mic Michelli. The rhythm section, bassist John Levin and drummer Ian Haugland, stayed in the background but kept the lashing beat with assurance and reserved stage presence letting Tempest and Norum share the limelight. Newer material including Flames and Start From The Dark were both presented with intensity and conviction as the thunderous licks of both tunes made them stand aside classic rock tracks as the band proclaimed Weve come to entertain, asking you to follow
and that is just what the House of Blues crowd did.
Wake Up Call is one of the edgier new songs, with a driving beat from the drums and a monster riff supplied by John Norum. Ive seen Norum over the years fill in for other acts like Dokken, but he appears to finally be back at home in Europe (he left in late 1986 over the direction of the band). The bands conveyance of the tune was on fire as Tempest and Norum gleamed with eagerness and buoyancy usually reserved for stadium veterans. The gaze on their faces and the delivery of the new material illustrated to me just how much they believe in the songs off of Start From The Dark. Whether there are 80,000 or 800 people listening, they were giving it their all, not taking anything for granted. As the song ended there were hollers of appreciation from the crowd. This is the type of fervent reaction held in reserve for classic rock tunes you have heard for decades, not songs that are being listened to for the first time.
The preeminent track on the new album is Hero as it bridges the gap between a midtempo song and ballad. Its a tribute to Thin Lizzy, as they motivated Europe to pick up their instruments and become a band. You threw us all a line, when our days slipped away. Yes, its a cliché-ridden tune, which is unpretentious and yet exceedingly reflective. Besides, whether or not the song is hip or current, all which really matters is that I was moved, and I was. Its not hip to say that about a band mostly known for The Final Countdown but Hero reveals a band that has grown tenfold as musicians and songwriters over the last two decades. Instead of trying to be something they are not, they are doing what they do best, writing life-affirming songs, which in the end hopefully move those who listen to them. With proper promotion and solid touring, Hero should be anthem for stadiums, with lighters ablaze, across the world.
While the band slayed through the songs off of Start From The Dark with ease, they also filled in the gaps with classic tunes not heard on these shores for close to two decades. Wings of Tomorrow, from the album of the same name from 1984, was the oldest track the band performed. Let The Good Times Rock, which to me always sounded like a rehash of Rock The Night sounded salubrious and invigorating as the live track was edgier, yet still faithful to the original version. During the latter part of the main set, the band paced the stage like seasoned veterans and even went deep into their catalog for Girl From Lebanon (sadly the only track performed from Prisoners In Paradise) and a rare b-side, Yesterdays News, which to my shock, was acknowledged by yells of praise from the audience. Mic Michaeli provided a keyboard solo that led into the intro Sign of the Times one of my favorite album cuts from the band and apparently from the sound of the crowd, one of theirs as well. The intro to the song, performed on piano is an remarkable piece of music as it leads into a deafening riff. Call me crazy but it was during this number that I knew I had to write what will arguably the most poetic piece of prose to from pen to paper about what the stage announcer referred to as the biggest band to ever emerge from Scandinavia. The foremost revelation to me during their performance at the House of Blues was the chemistry these five members had and the history they brought with them. Despite whatever name you place on their genre of music, Europe is first and foremost a rock band, and a damn good one at that.
I've been knocked down - come back around
It put some soul in this heart of mine
-Gotta Have Faith
Now the question I know you are all speculating is if the band even bothered to play material off of The Final Countdown. Yes, they did play it and what a reaction it received. The bands number one-hit, in America, Carrie was performed by Joey Tempest alone and acoustic, but with the help of the audience made it into a sing-along. Rock The Night ended the main set as the band executed the tune to aptness eliciting a monstrous response from the audience. The retort was larger than any Poison song I saw Bret Michaels perform solo a few months earlier. Cherokee was performed in the encore and the crowd sang along with the Dial MTV favorite, word for word, fists flying in the air. The song does not really work from a lyrical standpoint, but its not so much what the song is about or whether or not it makes sense, but how it makes you feel and Europe delivered on this one. As the band finished the song, the lights dimmed and an intro from the keyboard could be heard. And then
that riff, you know which one I am talking about
that riff you hear in the final ten seconds of every championship game for the last two-decades, that riff that has stood the test of time and that riff whether you love it or hate it, is one of the most recognizable songs of the last twenty years, The Final Countdown. As the keyboard intro wound down and the drums, bass, and guitars kicked in I felt the floor below me quaking as the House of Blues, security and all, were hurdling into the air in an infatuated trance as the band transported the audience to another level and another time. This is what even the cynical came to see. Yes, its a pop tune that some love and some hate, but no matter what you say, let me say this, the last time the House of Blues floor shook the way it did was nearly five years to the date when Bon Jovi opened a rare club show with Livin On A Prayer. Europe exceeded all of my expectations with their live performance and new album. The only thing I would recommend to them is to play a longer set and to not ignore the Prisoners In Paradise album. Another five or six songs would have taken the evening to mind boggling proportions.
I see dozens of shows every year and at least once or twice, I go to a nostalgic show just so I can see certain bands I grew up with in the live environment. Some are great and others disappoint. Europe propelled my expectations to another stratosphere with a thriving live performance backed by an album which may wind up on my ten-best of the year. They have proven the pessimists wrong by believing in themselves and their music. I for one hope its not another seventeen years before they return to America. Till then, I guess I just gotta have faith.
Well I had enough
Gonna stand up straight
Rebuild my life
Well you gotta have faith
-Gotta Have Faith