Europe Live @ Nottingham Rock City 27/11/2012

There has been no greater musical return to prominence than that of Europe whose career stalled when the band went on hiatus in the early 90s as grunge swept the fickle media before it. Looking back it would seem that it was not so much the whirlwind success of that song that burned Europe out, so much as the loss of guitarist John Norum who left the band in 1986 dissatisfied by the band’s overly commercialised image and the keyboard-dominated sound that came with it. However, following a tentative concert in 1999 rumours began to circulate that the band would reform and in 2003 the rumours were confirmed as the band reunited for ‘start from the dark’, an album that saw the return of John Norum and a resulting shift towards a heavier, more classic rock-inspired sound. Signed to Sanctuary records the band produced one more album, ‘secret society’ for that label as their popularity bubbled just under the surface, before signing a deal with highly respected earMUSIC for the phenomenal ‘Last look at Eden’ album. Not so much a return to form as a joyous celebration of Europe’s musical roots, it was a classy, hook-laden mix of devastating hard rock (the title track, ‘the beast’) and heart-felt ballads (‘new love in town’) which showcased both John Norum’s gloriously fluid, blues-inspired playing and Joey Tempests remarkable vocal skills.

With so strong an album in hand, the band exploded back onto the worldwide circuit, playing headline gigs in the UK for the first time in years and even earning a headline slot at Bloodstock where the initial scepticism of the crowd was dashed in the face of the band’s triumphant performance. It was to no-one’s surprise, then, that seemingly ubiquitous producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley took an interest for the band’s much anticipated follow up and ‘bag of bones’ (featuring a guest appearance from Joe Bonamassa – another of Shirley’s charges) managed to make even ‘last look at Eden sound lack lustre by comparison. Thus expectation for Europe’s ‘bag of bones’ tour was high and Nottingham Rock city was suitably packed as the band took the stage on Tuesday night to once again prove why they are one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands currently treading the boards.

Leaning heavily on the new album, the show opened explosively with the vibrant opening gambit from ‘bag of bones’ – ‘riches to rags’ seeing Joey Tempest more than living up to his name as he effortlessly glided across the stage, whilst the single ‘not supposed to sing the blues’, with its eastern-influenced keyboard breaks and heartfelt vocal, sounded simply immense. However, it was on the almighty ‘firebox’ where the band truly demonstrated what Europe 2012 are all about as strobes flickered across the stage and the band launched into a full-on metallic assault that owes as much to Audioslave and Metallica as it does to Deep Purple. Heavy on the album, dizzyingly so in the live arena, the fire with which Europe now burn is more intense than ever and throughout it all it is the excellent showmanship that Joey demonstrates that keeps the show as invigorating as it is musically intense. Unusually the whole band communicate with the audience on a very human level, never afraid to make eye contact or smile for a proffered camera and the result is that over the course of the concert’s generous twenty songs, a bond forms between band and audience that makes it feel as if for all the world the band are only singing for you – few performers have such power.

The show continued with older tracks in the form of ‘superstitious’ and a brilliant ‘scream of anger’ before heading to the excellent ‘last look at Eden’ album for ‘no stone unturned’ and a particularly poignant ‘new love in town’, featuring Joey on acoustic guitar. ‘Demonhead’ (another standout track from the new album) proved to be particularly ferocious and then the band stepped to the front of the stage for a stunning, albeit brief, acoustic set, the highlight of which was either the John Norum solo blues number or ‘have a drink and a smile’ which really came to life with such a stripped-down performance.

The latter half of the show was heavy on old classics, all leading up to the inevitable encore of a certain popular number. But on the way we’re treated to a blistering ‘the beast’, the mass sing-a-long ‘carrie’, and when the band lurch into respectable stabs at ‘run to the hills’ and ‘another one bites the dust’ during the show-closing ‘rock the house’ the audience’s collective joy can hardly be restrained. That only left the encore – the concert having passed in what felt like the blink of an eye – which featured the brilliant title track of ‘last look at Eden’ and a joyous ‘final countdown’ which, unsurprisingly, bought the house down as Joey gets the sizable Nottingham audience to jump as one.

It’s funny – you mention the name of Europe and people snigger right up until the point that you break out their new material, at which point the knowing sneer is replaced, first by a look of consternation and then admiration. Joey Tempest is possessed of a stunning voice and a genuinely likeable attitude. His clear joy at being on stage in front of an adoring crowd radiates from the stage, and the whole band share his enthusiasm, the result being that a Europe show is a special thing indeed. The balance of songs here was spot on – for every ballad there was a raging, full-on rock track waiting just around the corner, and the band were not ungenerous with cuts from the new album – which is just as well because ‘bag of bones’ is a stunning work and the only shame was that they didn’t play the title track. With a genuinely affectionate audience in attendance and a crystal clear sound mix, Europe truly laid claim to Rock City bringing home once again just what an excellent band they are. This was a triumphant, life-affirming night of pure rock ‘n’ roll delivered by a band who just keep getting better: simply beautiful.

1 RICHES TO RAGS
2 NOT SUPPOSED SING THE BLUES
3 FIREBOX
4 SUPERSTITIOUS
5 SCREAM OF ANGER
6 NO STONE UNTURNED
7 NEW LOVE IN TOWN
8 DEMON HEAD
9 Akk BLUES trad
10 Akk HAVE A DRINK AND & SMILE
11 Akk OPEN YOUR HEART
12 GIRL FROM LEBANON
13 LOVE IS NOT THE ENEMY
14 CARRIE
15 SIGN OF TIMES
16 THE BEAST
17 DOGHOUSE
18 ROCK THE NIGHT

ENCORE

19 LAST LOOK AT EDEN
20 FINAL COUNTDOWN

 

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