SABATON - Not Far From The Fame: Live Report!

March 7, 2018, a year ago

Mark Gromen

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The Fillmore stage is fairly sparse, by Sabaton standards: no tanks, pyro, additional costumed stage hands/actors. From the old school ethic, the Swedes are notorious for prop filled stage shows and plenty of action, an all but lost art, these days. No tanks, just a few cargo nets strewn around the drums, otherwise the lone concession tonight is the multiple army helmet/machine gun mic stands that line the stage. Behind them, is a video screen projecting video game images of German Panzer tanks on a fiery battlefield, as the band runs in from the wings to begin the energetic "Ghost Division", the feverish crowd singing every word. If you'd told them they'd have to sit through a 90 minute history class, most would balk, yet Sabaton impart the same knowledge of global (military) conflict, to a rousing response.

With Mohawk haircut, silver breast-plated flak jacket and mirror sunglasses, frontman Joakim Brodén leads the "exercise class": up, down, run around, Mr. Universe pose down antics, as bassist Pär Sundström works both sides of the stage, throwing horns and getting as close to the crowd as a barricade allows. The wise cracking singer (at one point he asks the crowd if they want to hear, "Old shit? New Shit? Just shit?”) seems to wear a perpetual Cheshire grin. This man really loves what he's doing. No smiles during "Uprising", the serious tale of WWII resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. It's followed by the bagpipe introduced "Blood of Bannockburn", introduced by Brodén shouting, "Let's go to Scotland!" The bouncy rhythm lends itself to audience clap-along (not for the last time tonight, either). "Cliffs of Galliopoli" sees the crowd punctuate the titular city in the chorus, as the pumped in keyboard melody recalls Savatage, circa Edge Of Thorns. The vid screen bristles with lightning strikes and repetitive bomb drops (even though the WWI battle was ostentatiously a failed land assault, planes and aerial bombardment not really perfected until the "next" Great War). The guitarists switch sides of the stage. 

"Lion From The North" begins with an old European map, onscreen, in flames. The Swedish flag also catches alight, in video. Tommy (Johansson, guitar) riles up crowd for "Swedish Pagans", much to Joakim's chagrin (flips him the bird and kicks him in the seat of his camo pants). The singer, knowing he can't stop the song, vows, "I know when I've lost the battle, but I'll win the war," as he feigns kick boxing his bandmate. The crowd loves Brodén being the butt of "the joke" and sings along, start-to-finish. Midway through, Chris Rorland & Johansson trade licks, center stage. After some syncopated stage movements in "Carolus Rex", the night (temporarily) ceases to be fun. Pretty stark contrast for "Final Solution", as the show takes on a different feel, displaying b&w photos of concentration camp victims superimposed over images of the buildings at Aushwitz, crematory, etc. The band is respectfully still and unlit to start. The regular light show suspended, eventually, the guys are visible in constant white light. The only discernible rock star moment is Johansson playing his axe vertically. 

Following Joakim's brief guitar solo (with "Master Of Puppets" riffing), which affords him having six-string in hand for "Resist & Bite", the crowd claps along, as a makeshift lyric video plays behind the band. Like a giant teleprompter, the words appear quick enough to aid those who might not be familiar with the song, although that would be only a tiny minority, tonight. At one point, all but drummer Hannes van Dahl are side-by-side at the front of the stage. Between songs, fans chant band's name, in darkness. Air raid sirens herald the tale of Russian female pilots during WWII, aka "Night Witches". Behind the band, the video screen shows skulls and animation of planes. 

Throughout the tour, at this point in the set, fans get to pick the next song. On various nights it has been "Into The Fire", "White Death", "Gott Mit Uns" (in Swedish!). In Philly, it was "Screaming Eagles" (guess the guys know their American football). Nice local accent. Clanging bells (replicated onscreen) introduce "The Last Stand". When there's nothing better to show, stills of album artwork crop up behind the guys (Carolus Rex, Last Stand, etc.). To generate a clap-along, Brodén and Sundström, mimic the desired effect, hands extended overhead. 

Graphic novel images of warfare and life action (horseback warriors) are interspersed overhead, as everyone thrusts fists skyward, for the entirety of "Winged Hussars". This time Rörland gets a spotlight, front and center. End of the proper set, the stage goes black, as the band exits, but the gathering is undeterred, repeatedly shouting "Sabaton". Eventually, footage of German bombers, soldiers being ferried across the channel and Winston Churchill's infamous speech (as heard to start Iron Maiden's "Aces High") eventually fads to black, leaving just an audible heartbeat, as the stage springs back to life, for a retelling of D-Day "Primo Victoria". More pogoing, either side of the photo pit barricade. 

Infectious, bouncy (can never take the ABBA out of Swedes!) "Shiroyama" sees the singer playing air guitar with the mic stand, as he and Johansson engage in more synchronized stage moves (Accept would be proud!). The chorus is displayed onscreen (like a lyric video), for all to sing-along. The Wild West call intros the "To Hell And Back" finale: flames, marching armies, cemeteries, zig-zagging barbed wire alternately flash across the screen. Ultimately, it's the band logo, as flashing light lights rain down and the guys take their bow to the pomp and circumstances of "Dead Soldier's Waltz".

Triumphant, reverent, yet fun-loving, a rare mix. No wonder Sabaton are already massive and poised to be one of the few viable acts to step into the void left by retiring/deceased global headliners. See the future, now!

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