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Manchester HMV Ritz, 23 November 2012

Photos by Simon Dunkerley

Europe, photo by Simon Dunkerley

By all accounts, 'Bag Of Bones' is one of the best albums of 2012. Almost universally it has garnered positive or more precisely - gushing - critical reviews. So GRTR! followers may have been surprised to see my own appraisal in less than gushing terms although still a four star rating.

Prior to the gig I revisited the album for the first time since that review and I have to say I still have my reservations, but it's more about the band's more recent riches-to-roots classic rock trajectory - bolstered by the trademark Kevin Shirley 'fairy-dust'.

Europe, photo by Simon Dunkerley

And looking at the set-list before the gig it became apparent that the new album would be the primary focus, understandably, but it's still a bold move for most established bands peddling new material. The argument must be that 'Bag Of Bones' (released in April) has now been firmly etched in the Europe fan consciousness.

And looking round the venue tonight it seems that Europe fans probably fit into three distinct camps: those who grew up with the late eighties version and do not now have to hide a guilty pleasure any longer, those who picked up on the millennium revival, and those who have latched on since 'Last Look At Eden' and the general media frenzy. The demographic was also a bit older than you might expect.

Europe, photo by Simon Dunkerley

This gig more than anything reaffirmed my love of the previous albums. The new songs came across as you would expect - economical and perfectly executed - but for me it took the inclusion of 'Love Is Not The Enemy' to revive the stabbing hunger pangs for 'Secret Society' and its predecessor.

If this was a great ensemble performance - just like the new album - it also allowed Mic Michaeli more space and his keys were more prominent in the mix - unlike the new album - especially on songs like 'No Stone Unturned'. 

Europe, photo by Simon Dunkerley

John Norum kicked off an excellent acoustic interlude taking lead vocals before the rest of the band joined in on 'Drink And A Smile' and 'Open Your Heart'. And, as we headed for "that song", the faithful were fully satiated with 'Girl From Lebanon', 'Carrie', 'Sign Of The Times' and 'Rock The Night'.

One of the previous set highlights, Norum's extended introduction to 'Lebanon', was sadly truncated perhaps reflecting the new spirit whilst in trawling their earlier albums like 'Final Countdown' and 'Wings Of Tomorrow' their two 'comeback' albums were only represented by that one track.

And, for me, it would be a great loss if they continue their headlong pursuit of the blues in rock, perhaps now bolstered by Black Country Communion's current hiatus.

But, after all, this merely boils down to taste and preference: most of the audience tonight were witnessing one of their best gigs of the year.

Set-list: 1 Riches To Rags 2 Not Supposed To Sing The Blues 3 Firebox 4 Superstitious 5 Scream of Anger 6 No Stone Unturned 7 Demon Head 8 Acoustic Blues 9  Drink And A Smile 10 Open Your Heart 11 The Girl From Lebanon 12 Love Is Not the Enemy 13 Carrie 14 Sign Of The Times15 The Beast 16 Doghouse 17 Rock The Night

Encore: 18 Last Look At Eden 19 Final Countdown

Review by David Randall

Photos by Simon Dunkerley

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