Europe @ O2 Institute, 19th September 2018

Whatever you think you might know about Swedish rock veterans Europe, it’s only part of the story. Before the doors open for their gig at the Institute there’s a massive queue snaking right around the block made up of all different kinds of people – from loyal fans who have followed the band since their 80’s heyday to a younger generation brought up on their parents’ record collection, from hardened heavy metal fans to the curious or nostalgic who might never have investigated the band beyond ‘The Final Countdown’. Whichever way you look at it, for a band often marked down as “one hit wonders” to still be able to fill venues like this after 35 years and 11 studio albums, it’s an impressive feat.

Since the classic lineup reunited in 2003, Europe have been quite prolific and it’s telling that when the band take to the stage they kick off their set with two tracks from their most recent album, 2017’s ‘Walk The Earth’. Frontman Joey Tempest comes across as part Bon Jovi, part Dio and captivates the crowd from start to finish, twirling his microphone stand and pulling shapes at the front of the stage. Things step up a gear with old fan favourite ‘Rock The Night’, a Def Leppard-esque anthem that manages to incorporate a brief cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ in recognition of where they’re playing and encourages the first singalong of many. “There’s bad days and there’s good days, Birmingham”, Joey addresses the crowd. “Today is a good day!” It certainly seems that the band are in high spirits as bassist John Levén nods and grins along, providing the cool counterbalance to Tempest’s livewire enthusiasm, whilst lead guitarist John Norum largely stays out of the limelight but his notable work on the riff-heavy ‘Hole In My Pocket’ highlights his technical brilliance. The newer songs tend to take a more overt influence from classic rock and blues in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple such as on ‘Last Look At Eden’, but when Joey picks up an acoustic guitar for the power-ballad ‘New Love In Town’, it’s closer to their 80’s contemporaries like Whitesnake or Journey.

‘Firebox’ and ‘Ready Or Not’ pick the pace back up with Joey again taking guitar duties for the latter as keyboardist Mic Michaeli provides the backing during the intro, and the rest of the band get a breather whilst John Norum solos impressively on the instrumental ‘Vasastan’. Towards the end of the set the band start to introduce a few more old songs including ‘Sign Of The Times’ and ‘Carrie’, prompting the crowd to sing back to the band loudly. Drummer Ian Haugland also gets his chance to shine with an impressive solo that incorporates Monty Python soundbites and finishes with him standing up at the back of the stage to huge cheers. “He’s a Norwegian god!” exclaims Joey as the rest of the band return to close off the main part of the set with ‘Scream Of Anger’, ‘War Of Kings’ and a version of ‘Superstitious’ that references Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’.

When the band return for their encore they receive a huge response from the crowd and after ‘Cherokee’ recalls the uplifting commercial rock of Rainbow, there’s only one way this show is going to end. As the unmistakable synth riff of ‘The Final Countdown’ echoes around the venue the whole place comes alive. Loving the reaction from the audience, the band give it their all as they have done throughout their entire set and really it’s just the icing on the cake. “We’ll be back!” remarks Joey as the rest of the band throw out plectrums to the front few rows, and the countdown continues.

Support comes from King King, a blues-rock outfit fronted by formidable Glaswegian Alan Nimmo, who takes to the stage wearing a kilt and immediately impresses with the power of his soulful vocals. A large portion of the audience have come down early to watch them and are very receptive, clapping along and singing back. The band’s smooth, clear sound is enhanced with a swirling Hammond organ and when Nimmo rips into his epic guitar solos such as on the slower ‘A Long History Of Love’, he’s grinning from ear to ear and clearly enjoying being up on the stage. Another word of mouth success, King King will have no problem in impressing new fans if they continue on this kind of form and before long could be headlining venues like this themselves.

Reviewer: Ian Paget

Photographer: Ian Dunn

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