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London, Shepherds Bush Empire, 8 January 2008
Review by John Stefanis
I do not believe that one can find better proof of the popularity that German Power/Heavy Metal bands are currently enjoying in the United Kingdom, than the fact that this gig was scheduled to take place at the prestigious Shepherds Bush Empire - a venue that normally hosts performances from bands with a more Classic Rock/Hard Rock background, such as Asia, Kansas and Uriah Heep.
Arrangements to interview Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray) and Michael Weikath (Helloween) meant that I had to entrust all my hopes to the services of the normally completely unreliable London Underground, something that I was not particularly happy about - still, the proverbial Lady decided to smile on me this time, so I managed to finish my second interview (for both interviews - Gamma Ray and Helloween - do check out the pages of Pure Metal in the near future) moments before the doors of the venue finally opened to allow the fans of both bands to enter the venue.
Knowing that this was a sold out show and fearing that I would not be able to find a good spot to watch both Gamma Ray and Helloween, had I chosen to stay close to the bar, I strategically positioned myself to the centre/right of the stage moments before the opening act Axxis hit the stage. Even though the band's latest offering "Doom Of Destiny" failed to make any huge impression on me, I decided to watch their live performance unbiased.
Unfortunately, though, I soon lost interest in what was taking place on stage. The music can only be described as generic Melodic Power Metal and so was the band's performance, despite Bernhard Weiss' (vocals) various acrobatic/gymnastic moves and his attempt to perform a theatrical duet with a female singer who shared the stage throughout the band's performance and whose name I cannot remember.
Even though I ended spending the remainder of the band's set by the venue's bar, chatting with two really cool Irish guys that I met earlier in the day (hail, Corey & Peter), there were a few people who decided to put their hands together right after Axxis finished their set - something that the German quintet was really grateful for.
Approximately twenty minutes after Axxis left the stage, the first few notes of "Welcome" filled the air and that's when Kai Hansen and his fellow band mates decided to come rushing to the stage, bringing their devoted fans to a state of total ecstasy!
Without any unwanted delays, the Hamburg-based outfit began performing a set that was sadly predominantly based on the period between 1997-2007, completely disregarding some of the 'treasures" that can be found on albums, such as "Heading For Tomorrow" and "Sign No More". Even so, songs like "Gardens Of The Sinner", "New World Order" and "Fight" were greeted with great enthusiasm and were performed with what can only be described as surgical accuracy, much to the audience's delight.
A constantly smiling Kai, like every great frontman of his era, took every opportunity to interact with the crowd either by making long introductions right before every song or by asking his fans to assist him in singing along to the set's numerous catchy choruses and refrains. The crowded venue paid him back by committing 100% to what was happening on stage throughout the show.
Even though Gamma Ray fans seem to have really enjoyed the "Land Of The Free II" material that were performed that night, namely "From The Ashes" and "Empress", it was the sheer power of classics such as "Rebellion In A Dreamland" and "Heavy Metal Universe" that helped both band and fans to lift the roof of the building on the night of the 8th of January 2008.
As for me and the oldest amongst the crowd, the best moment of the Gamma Ray set, and probably of the overall show, it was the performance of the Heavy Metal classic "Ride The Sky", which left me feeling as if I was being struck by a strong electrical current. After almost an hour on stage, Gamma Ray thought that they were bowing in front of their fans for the last time, but the screams of the crowd led Kai Hansen back on stage to perform, with a cigarette in his mouth, the farewell opus "Send Me A Sign".
Photo: Peter Marley
Last time I saw Helloween in a club environment was in the legendary Athenian venue Rodon Club (R.I.P) for what I believe was part of the "Better Than Raw" tour and I am being extremely honest in saying that I was not particularly impressed by what could only be described as a tired and indifferent band. I don't know if it was due to the strength of the material of their last release "Gambling With The Devil" or to the surge of 'fresh blood' in the ranks of the band since the last time I saw them, but what we were all presented by Helloween this night can only be described as a top class performance by the Hamburg-based quintet.
The band's set kicked off with the classic opus "Halloween" and long before the opening theme of "Sole Survivor" was introduced, we had all pretty much decided to surrender to the unique charm and radiance that this very energetic band was capable of conveying. When you think of Helloween, there are two albums that first come to mind and these are the two "Keepers…" - something that the five Germans seem to be quite aware of, seeing as the majority of the band's set was based on songs from these two releases.
In between, classics such as "March Of Time" and "A Tale That Wasn't Right", the band was 'allowed' to perform their latest hit "As Long As I Fall" - a simple and catchy tune that was much appreciated by the youngest followers of the band. As far as chemistry is concerned...I am really struggling to find the right words to describe what was happening on stage.
Michael Weikath looked his normal serious self, dominating the right of the stage and creating a very interesting duet with Sascha Gerstner - a younger and more happy-looking guitarist who was constantly interacting with the audience. Markus Grosskopf was very energetic, moving from one side of the stage to the other at mach speeds, either messing about with his fellow band mates or contributing to various refrains, whereas Andi Deris provided a solid vocal and stage performance that justifies his position as one of the most important frontmen of the genre.
One of the funniest moments of the show was during Dani Loble's drum solo, where a Punch and Judy box was raised on the left of the stage, allowing the dressed up trio Deris/Grosskopf/Gerstner to perform a vocally distorted version of "Smoke On The Water", after which they were all executed by Weikath's mini Uzi! Fun aside, the band performed a few more killer songs, such as "Eagle Fly Free" & "Dr.Stein" and also a nice medley that was mainly based on "Perfect Gentleman", which was enriched by people's participation, prior to leaving the stage - that, only to return a few moments later with Kai Hansen and the rest of the Gamma Ray squad in order to finish us off with killer versions of "Future World" and "I Want Out".
Photo: Peter Marley
The only two reasons I can think of that would justify someone not having enjoyed that show are a) this person was completely deaf, or b) that person was tricked into thinking that it was to be an Amy Winehouse gig! I heard quite a few people arguing as to which band provided the best performance that night and I am sure that this will be a very popular topic amongst the Power Metal fans in the weeks to come. Well, regardless with whom your 'allegiance' lies, I believe that we will all agree that this was one of the best Power/Heavy Metal shows that we've seen on British soil in recent years - what some often like to refer to as 'A night to remember'!
Gamma Ray Set List
Gardens Of The Sinner
New World Order
From The Ashes
Valley Of The Kings
Rebellion In A Dreamland
Heavy Metal Universe
Ride The Sky (Helloween)
Somewhere Out In Space
Send Me A Sign
Helloween Set List
March Of Time
As Long As I Fall
A Tale That Wasn't Right
Drum Solo - Punch and Judy Theme!
King For A 1000 Years
Intro - Eagle Fly Free
The Bells Of The Seven Hells
If I Could Fly
Medley (Hey Lord, Perfect Gentleman)
Future World (with Kai Hansen & Gamma Ray)
I Want Out (with Kai Hansen & Gamma Ray)
Interview (Gamma Ray)
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