Europe – ‘The Final Countdown 30th Anniversary Show’ CD/DVD Review

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to unleash a song that has echoed down the generations as successfully as ‘the final countdown’. Ostensibly a hard-rock-pop-song, it has a hook to die for and it stands amidst a small collection of songs that have crossed the barrier from rock to mainstream acceptance without tainting the band that wrote it in the process. The thing about Europe is that, although they bring the song out every night without fail (there’d likely be a riot if they didn’t), it never feels like they don’t still love playing the song. Moreover, they’ve never rested on their laurels, evolving across their back catalogue to arrive at a run of startlingly good albums that started with the return of feted guitarist John Norum and the quite remarkably brilliant ‘last look at Eden’ album. 2016 marked the thirtieth anniversary of ‘The final countdown’ and, in celebration the band elected to play it in full at London’s Roundhouse. However, whilst it is important to celebrate the past, Europe keep one foot firmly in the present and so ‘War of Kings’ also gets a thoroughly rambunctious work out. It’s one hell of a set, beautifully filmed and, without being physically present, it does as good a job of capturing the band’s positive vibes and rocking set as one could possibly hope for.

As might be expected for so special a set, ‘The Final Countdown 30th Anniversary Show’ is available in a wide array of formats. At the most basic level you can get a digital version of the release but, let’s face it, no-one’s going to want to do that so let’s move swiftly on. The basic physical edition offers up 2 CDs and a DVD (which is the version covered here) whilst those seeking better quality sound and video can seek out the same package but with a blu ray disc. Both of these come in a handsome 8 panel digi pack complete with 24-page booklet. Finally, for the super-Europe fan, there’s a limited edition (1000 units, so don’t think too long), super-deluxe version which includes blu ray, 2 CDs, a double gatefold vinyl (featuring only the ‘Final Countdown’ portion of the concert), a 40 pg, 12” sized, hard cover book, a vintage replica scarf and a replica laminate tour pass. It’s an exhaustive set and, although it looks pretty damn special, the merely curious will be much more likely to head towards the well-priced triple disc versions. In terms of presentation, band and label have pulled out the stops, with the digi-pack featuring clear plastic disc holders so that no surface is left unadorned with cracking gig shots. It’s a reminder, of course, that Europe are veterans from an era where fans demanded top quality physical products from their favourite bands and it’s good to see that Europe continue to pay attention to detail. The only slight let downs are both related to the DVD. First of all, as a Region 0 (in other words playable everywhere), it is necessarily NTSC (a lower resolution system than PAL) for compatibility. This is understandable, if disappointing, but slightly more egregious is the fact that the audio is available only as PCM stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 with no DTS option in sight. Nonetheless, these are minor grumbles and the audio and video presentation is otherwise strong.

In terms of video performance, the DVD excels within the constraints of the format. The image is strong and stable with the lighting and massive video screens well captured and grain is kept to a minimum, even when shooting from the back of the darkened Roundhouse. Director and editor Patric Ullaeus knows his subject and he does a good job of capturing the energy of a Europe show without opting for the sort of quick-cut montages that induce a headache over a long period of time. Each member of the band is given time to shine and Patric makes a point of focusing on whichever instrumentalist is taking the lead at any given point, making it feel like you truly have the best seats in the house for this special concert. The audio (mixed by Jay Ruston) is strong with good presence in the sub and front speakers, but the 5.1 largely limits the use of the rears to ambience and crowd noise. Whilst not necessarily a bad choice, it’s not a disc to use as a surround sound showcase and the subtlety of the mix, perhaps, helps to explain why a DTS mix was judged unnecessary. However, whilst this may not be an immersive extravaganza, there’s no question that the audio is well-mixed and the band sound incredibly strong throughout the lengthy show with plenty of space allowed to each instrument and Joey’s stunning vocals kept firmly in the centre. Europe fans will certainly not be disappointed by either the sound or visuals on offer and this stands up there as one of the better concert DVDs we’ve had the opportunity to review at SonicAbuse.

Audio: 8 Image: 9

Watching this video, two things strike home. First, Europe are arguably better today than they have ever been. There’s a confidence and power that shines through their performance and Joey Tempest, in particular, is a revelation. Secondly is the struggle you’ll have in believing the band, a whirl of energy throughout, are celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of anything. Fast, furious and with adrenalin surging through their veins, Europe are on the sort of form of which most bands can only dream and, from the moment ‘hole in my pocket’ detonates like a high explosive round, the band are set on reducing the Roundhouse to so much rubble.

It really is a monumental performance. From the blistering ‘Hole in my pocket’ via the bluesy beauty of ‘Praise you’, the band are firing on all cylinders. John Norum’s guitar work remains a thing of wonder and his solo in the latter song is sublime. The churning groove of ‘Nothin’ to ya’, meanwhile, is a perfect example of the band at their hard-rocking best, full-blooded riffs combining with that all-important sense of melody that has underpinned every one of Europe’s albums over the years. The band know how to stir the senses and, at the heart of it all, is Joey Tempest, a singer who has the stage presence of Steven Tyler but none of the ego, he’s one of the all-time great front men and he’s only got better with age. Mic Michaeli gets a chance to shine on the Deep Purple-esque ‘California 405’, all swirling Hammond organ and crunchy riffs, and Joey breaks out his guitar on the brilliant ‘Days of rock ‘n’ roll’, an effortlessly effervescent song that stands equal to any of the catchy tracks from ‘the final countdown’. Another highlight is the twin detonation of ‘Children of the mind’ and ‘Rainbow Bridge’, both of which have a Dio-era Sabbath feel to them, and from the roar of the crowd it’s clear that the audience at the Roundhouse feel the same way. It’s part of Europe’s strength that they can so effortlessly straddle the divide between blues, metal and hard rock, that has allowed them to endure for so lengthy a career in the most fickle of professions. The first half of the set would not be complete without a stunning solo from John Norum and, with ‘Vasastan’, he summons the spirit of the late Gary Moore on a performance that is guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat. Understated and exquisite, it is a reminder that John Norum is one of the finest guitarists on the planet today.

The second half of the show, of course, is given over to that evergreen album, ‘The Final Countdown’. Following the album in sequence, the band actually open up with their traditional encore (although have no fear, a reprise is waiting in the wings), but when you consider that tracks like ‘Rock the night’  and ‘Carrie’ immediately follow it up, you start to realise that the feted single was no fluke and that, although the rest of the album may be overshadowed by the title track’s inordinate success, the songs are of no lesser quality. Of course, you can’t beat that adrenalin rush when Mic’s oh-so-familiar keyboard intro blasts out, and the goosebumps that break out as Joey cries “are you ready London?” show just how influential this hard rock gem has become in the thirty years since it first appeared. Yet, just when you think it couldn’t get any better, along comes the Michael Schenker flavoured ‘rock the night’, super-charged by Ian Haugland’s earthquake inducing drums and Joey’s hook-infused, singalong chorus. Quite aside from the epic singles that have coloured the band’s live sets for years, it’s deep cuts like ‘Danger on the track’ and ‘time has come’ that excel, demonstrating that ‘The Final Countdown’ was always an album with more to offer than just it’s stratosphere-smashing lead single.

As the show ends, you realise that nearly two hours have passed in the blink of an eye, and Europe have just unleashed a musical firestorm that defies age. Europe are a truly timeless band and this stunning performance, bringing together their newest and their most lauded album in one package, demonstrates why. Vital, life-affirming and mesmerising, this is a concert DVD to treasure. 9

 

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