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Monday, February 8, 2010

Europe - Almost Unplugged (Live)

Europe – Almost Unplugged - Live at Nalen, Stockholm.
CD review (US Release on MVD Audio)

Most people will remember Europe for the ‘parp, parp’ of that big or should I say mega hit, ‘The Final Countdown’ back in 1986 or as Bon Jovi ‘wannabes,’ which to be honest is a huge injustice on both counts.
While I recognize that it was indeed for me ‘that song’ that got me to listen to the band, it also made me dig into their back catalogue after reading interviews with the band at the time, as they quoted their influences as UFO, Thin Lizzy, Deep Purple, etc and I just had to go listen to other stuff.
The earlier stuff ‘Europe’ (1983) and ‘Wings of Tomorrow’ (1984) to me frankly put Bon Jovi to shame and at the time I was into Bon Jovi wanting to see them live, opening for Kiss in 1984, rather than Kiss!

So you see, with all the typical stigma attached to the Swede’s with the poodle perms, it was hard to put across to general public to say you liked Europe, when sadly … - Thanks to Final Countdown – so did all the little screaming girls, so you were often sniggered at!

Moving swiftly along to the new millennium years, when the band reformed they stunned many by releasing the dark and heavy, ‘Start From The Dark’ album. It is killer!
2006 release 'Secret Society' was good too, although I personally think ‘Start …’ was stronger.

Anyway, in 2008 Europe decided to do a pretty special gig at “Nalen, Stockholm, Sweden,” which was to be broadcast live through their website as a Pod-cast, with a string quartet joining them for a semi-acoustic performance. I can remember staying up late here to watch this and loved the show!

The band were totally on form and also paid tribute to some of their heroes that night, with some cover songs and I for one was hoping and praying that this would have been recorded for a later release.
Clearly it was as I have the CD here to review, sadly in the USA the DVD was not made available. A great shame.

They kick off things with ‘Got to have Faith’ from ‘Start from the Dark’ and this is done completely different, almost soulful at times but it works for the set up of the evenings events.
Joey Tempest has long since parted with the perm and the guys look these days like typical rockers.
Tempest’s voice is also one of those instantly recognizable tones and he’s not lost anything.

‘Forever Travelling’ from ‘Secret Society’ is a mid to up tempo rocker well presented here in an acoustic form.
From the same album, ‘Devil Sings The Blues’ has some of the more older Europe style about it and I love the song and this arrangement equally does it more than justice. It’s awesome guitar work from the very talented John Norum which picks up the edginess of the song, as well as some pace here too. Norum who plays from an old school rock background, that often reminds me of classic Thin Lizzy or UFO, great stuff!

So to the first of the evenings cover songs in Pink Floyds ‘Wish You Were Here’ and really if it wasn’t Tempest putting his own stamp on it, I think Floyd themselves would be more than happy with this musically.
Ballad ‘Dreamer’ next from their ‘Wings of Tomorrow’ release, shows that traditional classic rock type structure to it, that the band had originally mastered and have since grown and grown with. Love that piano intro.

OK, this next song gives me goose bumps when I hear it, UFO’s 'Love to Love' with a truly excellent interpretation of the song and the Michael Schenker influence on Norum shows clearly, as he has this down to a tee!
What a great song and Europe deserve a huge pat on the back for how they’ve pulled this off, although the string quartet gives it that extra special touch to the original. Class!

No ‘parp, parp’ in the version of ‘The Final Countdown’ presented here and again, all power to the band for making these arrangements which all must’ve taken some time in rehearsals. Great job guys!
‘Yesterday’s News’ was a track from the ‘Prisoners in Paradise’ era, although didn’t feature on an album until their ‘Best of’ releases started to appear, became a popular live favorite. It’s kind of rocking bluesy stuff and no complaints on its inclusion here semi-acoustically done, although lost is the bass in there a little during the guitar solo. Love the Hammond organ jamming from Mic Michaeli, good stuff here!

A little Led Zeppelin tribute up next with ‘Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You.’ None too shabby either!
‘Hero’ from ‘Start from the Dark’ is a little like a right up to date ‘Carrie’ paced tune, although it seems to be more of a tribute to the bands fans for being there for them throughout the bands ups and downs.

Alright, time for me to be very impressed again as the band provide a high voltage version of Thin Lizzy’s 'Suicide.'
John Norum’s playing again is spot on! He’s right there every little detail and the band is so tight, as they are throughout the whole performance. Great job lads! I’m well impressed!

‘Memories’ comes from the bands very first album, starts slow but then picks up the tempo, for a contagious ‘Whoa, whoa, Memories,’ chorus. I dare you not to sing along. Some arpeggio stuff from Norum too. Nice.
I remember the video for ‘Superstitious’ back in the UK in 1988, yeah, a little cheesy, big pyros but big Hammond organ rock stuff too. Here it’s done again with the acoustic drive from the guitars, some audience participation too. All in all still sounds very good and boy, I wish I’d been there the night they did this!

They close events with ‘Rock the Night’ and again Tempest gets the audience involved to wrap things up, full blown electric rockin’ stuff for grand finale, Norum riffing like a king!
Two guys I haven’t mentioned here at all, Ian Haughland and John Leven also deserve much praise as the backbone of the band and keep it strong throughout.
This is a live album I can happily play again and again as the band were clearly having fun and gave their all for some very fortunate fans that night.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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