SABATON - US Battle Plan Day 1: Philly Conquered!
April 21, 2017, a month ago
Like any successful military mission, the troops in Sabaton launched a couple of exploratory forays and aligned themselves with a few special forces (myself included) to scout out the resistance, before initiating a full scale assault. The resulting blitz, their first North American headlining tour, will be all the better for it, as more town fall under their sphere of influence.
In recent years, no one sports a better live resume, having toured these shores with luminaries likes Nightwish, Accept, Iced Earth, Amon Amarth and Trivium, to say nothing of being able to headline over all, anywhere in the world (apart from North America), as well as the biggest metal festivals on the planet. They've been handpicked by Iron Maiden to open several high profiles shows and when that doesn't work, they throw their own outdoor shindig, be it at home, in Sweden, or (one of) their adopted homeland(s), Germany. So the kick-off to their first official headlining tour on this continent loomed as a historic event, something the Sabaton lyrics frequently commemorate (although the understated Swedes will no doubt downplay the significance).
Even in an era when top flight bands can't sell product, Sabaton is one of the biggest entities going, not only capable charting, but with countrymen Katatonia headlining about ten blocks away, still pulling a sold out crowd. This was not the same old set (and have the feeling it will change throughout the month long North American trek). There's no visuals (video screen, added warriors, pyro, etc.) as witnessed just months ago, headlining in England. In fact (based on Kreator, just a couple days removed), Sabaton don't even rely on lighting, just getting onstage and rocking out.
As always, "Ghost Division" kicks things off. The band frenetic, crisscrossing the stage throughout. "Art Of War" is a surprise, so early and without pre-recorded intro, followed by the first of many Last Stand offerings, "Blood Of Bannockburn". Afterwards, the ever comedic frontman Joakim Brodén promises the audience, "old songs, new songs, shitty songs," prior to launching into "Soldier Of 3 Armies", the crowd clapping along, as the singer repeatedly punches the air. Brodén promises they'll play songs not previously aired and in that regard, there's "Union (Slopes Of St. Benedict)". Given the less than stellar reaction, can see this one being ousted from the setlist, moving forward.
"Sparta" is more in keeping with this crowd's familiarity, lit in copper, the fans latch on to the opening "Oh, ah" right away. During the course, it's three across the stage, when Brodén shuffles offstage. All are still wearing matching camo pants, but then a bra shows up, from the crowd. Brodén deadpans, "Just my size," as he puts it on, atop his steel plated flak jacket. Who says musicians have to take themselves too seriously? Certainly NOT Sabaton!
"Screaming Eagles" comes next, followed by "Carolus Rex", which is half the song of its predecessor, but receives a bigger ovation, more in tune with the domestic release schedule. The singer poses, in his extended leg flex. Asking if there are any Swedes in attendance, one brave sole is then questioned, "Are you proper Swede, or just some grandmother, grandfather (ancestry)? Fuck you, you're Danish!" A lead into a choice between Swedish sung The Carolean's Prayer" or "En Livstid I Krig", which ultimately wins. Lit in red, arms sway overhead as the synthetic string accompanied track plays out, as guitarist Chris Rörland gets a solo spotlight. By the way, t-shirts were $30-35, but a kids tee was $65 and a special (albeit from the Heroes tour) Affliction design was $75!
Alone, onstage with a guitar Brodén claims it will now be "One hour of Michael Jackson." When fans are not upset, he counters, "You're supposed to boo. Do you want some Michael Jackson," to which he uncorks the Eddie Van Halen solo from "Beat It", before his bandmates reappear and save the day with a triple guitar version of "Resist & Bite". Afterwards, the stage is bare, as sirens herald the start of "Night Witches", still destined to be the only possible replacement of their "Ghost Division" opener. The band is re-energized, the fans singing all the way through. The threaten "Swedish Pagans", but the singer cuts it off, promising if they get some support, they'll play it later. A red tinged "Winged Hudssars" is chosen, instead.
As the proper set is winding down, Brodén admits, "Would be wrong to leave without playing (the aforementioned) 'Swedish Pagans'. Will you sing with us?" Of course! He jumps up & down, Pär Sundström holds his bass vertically, as the song is almost entirely sung by the assemblage. The two guitarist come center stage, dwarfing the bassist. The band leaves the blue lit stage for the third time, as the Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth) introduced voice-over to "The Lost Battalion" pumps out of the speakers.
In a moment of sincerity, the oft self-deprecating Brodén introduces "Primo Victoria" by saying, "If it weren't for you, we'd all be speaking German." Cue "U.S.A." chant, not for the first time tonight. "This is about D-Day. Will you Jump for us?" The band is still more energetic than half way through the set. "Shiroyama" is followed by what has become a staple of the Sabaton show, bringing a youngster onstage. In this case, a 10 year old (wearing ear protection), who claims to be at his second Sabaton gig. As he makes his way onstage, Brodén jokes, "Don't worry, we're not the kind of people your parents warned you about. Or are we?" He gives the kids his trademark mirrored sunglasses and a pair of drumsticks, before relocating him to safety. "Don’t want you to die from some overweight Swedish guys!" Safely out of the way, the pre-recorded whistle for "To Hell And Back" (the song about American war hero Audie Murphy) signals an end to the evening.
Songs, history lesson, comedy. What's not to like? There's a reason few can touch Sabaton in any live setting (visual enhancements or not). Fall in with the rank & file, solider!