Knockout Festival 2014 - EDGUY, PRIMAL FEAR, UNISONIC, PRETTY MAIDS, ANVIL, GOTTHARD: Merry Christmas!
December 23, 2014, 8 years ago
Some might feel poetic justice staging a metal concert next-door to the Karlsruhe zoo: long haired, wild animals. The Schwarzwaldhalle (Black Forest Hall) is a new venue for Knockout, whose former home, a sports arena down the street, has been rated structurally insufficient for crowds over 200. Might as well bulldoze it down. The new round facility is without seats, apart from a portable, aluminum stands imported for the occasion. Although entry was allowed at 3:30, when Anvil kicked into "March Of The Crabs" at 5PM, there might have been more people waiting in line for food/drink tickets (bar gelt) than watching Anvil, as each of the trio of queues were several hundreds deep. A few hours later, the same atrium was virtually empty.
Actually, Lips, the Canuck guitarist was zig zagging across the stage, launching open chords and screaming into the guitar pick-ups, prior to actually playing a song. The introductory instrumental gave way to "666", the smiling, frizzy haired frontman maniacally holding up six digits, the third and final time, a single, specific digit on his left hand. Plenty of stage fog and white headlights criss-cross the stage. Lips playfully asked, "Are there any old Anvil fans," knowing full well the answer was affirmative. "I see all the bald heads and gray beards. Metal knows no age. Growing old, no choice. Growing up? Never!" Nothing more old school that "School Love", then it was "Badass Rock N Roll" and "Winged Assassins". White streaks of lightning flashed overhead, during the solo spot in "Mothra", as well as some more yelling into the pick-ups. Robb Reiner's drum solo was completed with a short reprise of "Swing Thing". A fist thrusting "metal On Metal" rounded out their 45 minutes onstage, the crowd singing the titular chorus, hands clapped overhead.
What was to be a great night for Primal Fear, debuting new drummer Aquiles Priester, quickly took a nasty turn, thanks to technical difficulties. Unbelievably, it had nothing to do with the new guy, but rather Axel Beyrodt's guitar and the vocal mics. Ralf Scheeprs was nearly inaudible for two songs, going through as many wireless units, before stealing Beyrodt's tethered back-up. Shame, because it was a power packed running order, seemingly chosen to showcase Priester's double bass talents. Not sure why they were using the gold eagle on brown design from Seven Seals as a backdrop and matching scrims. The "Final Embrace" opener and "Nuclear Fire" were devoid some of their impact due to Scheepers' technologically imposed silence. Bassist Mat Sinner stepped into the breech, temporarily elevated from backing to main vocalist, as a crew member wandered onstage with a pair of wireless mics, neither operational. With silver buttoned top coat and blond soul patch, the visibly irate Sinner looked like KFC magnate Col. Sanders. Thousands of chickens would have been instantly slaughtered, if his icy stare could kill.
Sort of ironic, during "Unbreakable Part 2" is when everything got into working order, although there was an annoying electronic crackle/hum evident throughout, even as the band took their final bow. Blue, green and yellow lights looked festive for the surprising inclusion of "When Death Comes Knocking". “Angel In black” tests the drummer’s syncopation skills. On a similar tact, there’s the “Chainbreaker” follow-up, begun with crowd sung “whoa, whoa” chanting. Speaking of openings, nothing tops the vocal operatics of Scheepers announcing “Metal Is Forever” lit, once again in festive reds. "Running In The Dust" closed an all too early exit (especially now that “the troubles” have been ironed out), Can't wait to see what they pull out, on the duel performances onboard the 70000 Tons cruise.
For those not knowing, Unisonic sees the regrouping of former Helloween bandmates Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray main man/guitarist) and Mikael Kiske (vocals), sporting a knee brace. That alone is monumental, but add Dennis Ward (producer/Pink cream 69 bassist) and guitarist Mandy Meyer (ex-Krokus). Smiling and with neatly disguised removable cloth tattoo sleeve on his right arm, under purple lights Hansen played off the others, while Meyer was frequently left alone, displaying all sorts of guitar god histrionics. He’s a more physical (American?) player than Hansen. The mid-tempo “Star Rider” was followed by the speedy, Helloween-ish “Your Time Has Come”. During “When The Deed is Done”, the yellow lights practically reflected the giant Unisonic logo backdrop. The stage went purple as the singer introduced “Kai Hansen, lead guitar” for a keyboard sampled “King For A Day”, with its big, sweeping white starbursts. Was there a subliminal message in the title/intro? No, Kiske (now with white towel draped around his neck) made a mistake, as he utilized the same intro, a second time, as Kai launched into a brief solo that lead into “Throne Of The Dawn”. Afterwards, the house lights flickered, for a second, as the band ran offstage. Fooling no one, under green lights, they return for Helloween’s “I Want Out”, before ending with a blistering rendition of their signature tune, faster than the Weenie choice just observed. As it winds down, Kiske holds the mic stand overhead and Hansen, guitar similarly outstretched, jumps from the drum riser. God forbid they keep that intensity throughout the entire show.
With an intro tape actually wishing everyone a Heavy Christmas, sorry if you were in the beer line, or bathroom as Pretty Maids hit the stage, to everyone's surprise, opening with two of their biggest (read, typically reserved for encore) classics: "Future World" and "Red, Hot & Heavy". The shock got everything off to a flying start, that really never waned. Great move, although on paper, never would have thought it would work, in terms of sustaining the high level of energy. The seemingly always tan Ronnie Atkins (will also be at the 70000 Tons event) is a consummate frontman, working the crowd and making sure everyone feels involved. Speaking of sun drenched destinations, ran into a sun-burned Destruction frontman/bassist Schmier, fresh from Brazil, who promised to be tannest guy on next month's metal cruise. Watch this space for a full report!
"We Came To Rock" wasn't lying, as Atkins and longstanding guitarist Ken Hammer (he of the straw cowboy hat) had an appreciative crowd eating from their hand (the Danes are managed by one of the festival organizers and have played the December Karlsruhe date previously). "Nuclear Boomerang" was at least megaton, if not nuclear and a snippet of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall" opened "I.N.V.U.", overhead spotlights illuminating the crowd, who clapped along. Atkins saying they were going back to '87 was met with a huge response, cue keyboards and sampled acoustics to begin "Yellow Rain", which paradoxically was lit in red. Hammer made a rare trip to the right side of the stage. The audience participation was slow on the uptake (did I mention people may have been drinking?), but finished strong as they segued right into a purple highlighted "Rodeo", As he'd done throughout, the stove pipe hatted bassist toured the stage during "Little Drops Of Heaven", venturing onto the amps in the photo pit, to get closer to the fans. "Back To Back" would have been a fine finishing number, but the Maids offered a holiday medley, combining "Wish You A Merry Christmas" with "Jingle Bells". While all the lyrics were in English, the Germans sang nevertheless, even the bow taking, Monty Python outro, "Sit On My Face". Always enjoyable seeing Pretty Maids live.
Swiss band Gotthard (named for their country's lengthy tunnel through the Alps) were the one band which I wasn't too familiar. Crime scene tape and "bullet holes" across the stack of amps (red & blue emergency sirens on top) were situated either side of the drummer (whose kit was situated on the oversize bumper/headlights of a 50s era American behemoth). An elaborate, arena act staging, for sure. The hose, leading to a backing mic, also hinted a squawk box would be employed at some point. They opened with "Bang" the title track from their most recent release, Knockout apparently being the final night of said album's touring cycle. Stringy haired singer Nic Maeder, who occasionally adds a third guitar to the mix looks a bit like a thinner Russel Brand, while main axeman Leo Leoni has a certain big haired ‘80s streak. "Right On" was up early as was "Feel What I Feel" (with a decidedly Peter Frampton vibe about the lyrics). There was a bluesy, Gary Moore styled solo from plaid outfit/lumberjack attired guitarist Freddy Scherer in "The Call" ballad, while a keyboard dominated "Heaven" saw the crowd go off. Eventually, they invited some folks onstage, including a couple of girls who had dressed in sexy Santa's elves dresses, countryman Mandy Meyer and one fool in an Argentina fooseball (soccer) jersey, as Maeder strapped on the guitar once more, for "Starlight". Wearing a fedora, he returned for the oft covered "Hey Joe/Hush". While not the most original band, they were big on audience participation and interaction, which might explain them receiving platinum albums (for German sales) onstage. After collecting their hardware (Krokus reference intended) they couldn't just disappear, so they called it a night with "Anytime, Anywhere".
Talk about showman, few modern characters have the moxy of Edguy singer Tobias Sammet. The night before I had to endure local bar patrons' wrath about my affection for the diminutive frontman's sense of humor ,be it in his own language (as it would be in Karlsruhe, naturally), or English. Evidently he's created some enemies (tongue in cheek on his part, most assuredly) by previously greeting regional rivals with onstage banter praising his home are (at the expense of theirs): see Habs vs. Leafs, Yankees vs. Red Sox, etc. Then there was the veiled slight (as some took it) to Kreator, at last year's Wacken, when he was fronting the appositionally lightweight Avantasia. Guess his onstage antics haven't ingratiated him to non-Edguy fans which is too bad. See no reason to buy into local rivalries (apart from reporting the feelings) and I'd say he's laughing all the way to the bank, if he's truly raking in the Euros.
With a backdrop of planetary landscape from the Space Police artwork, it was almost midnight before the band went on. "Love Tyger" and "Ministry Of Saints" arrive early, the later a bit of a surprise on this festival gig. "Superheroes" gave way to an extended version of "Defenders Of The Crown", which Sammet mocked, both the title and belittled other areas (on the just completed European/South American tours), hoping Karlsruhe would surpass any previous response. Bassist Tobia "Eggi" Exxel and guitarist Jens Ludwig both took a trip to the drum riser. Speaking of Felix Bohnke, the skinsman's solo featured Star Wars "Imperial Death March", as wild video played on a screen behind him. "Defenders of The Crown" led to "Vain Glory Opera". While it was visible onstage from the start, as "Space Police" was aired, an inflatable arose from the stage, soon recognizable as the character on the CD cover. Outside AC/DC (Whole Lotta Rosie and effigy of Angus Young), not many recent bands have utilized these visuals (it has to be a large venue, much bigger than a club show). Can I be the only one who thinks their helmeted, phaser toting cop owes much to Knutson, the grimacing moustache CHIPS officer who adorned the CDs of ‘80s act Savage Grace? If giant balloons strike you as goofy, imagine the cover of ‘80s one-hit-wonder Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus". See what I meant about inside jokes? "Land Of The Miracle" is almost a ballad, by comparison, before closing the proper set with old school mover "Tears Of A Mandrake".
The encore sees the band returning to the stage (perhaps from a bathroom break?) for "Lavatory Love Machine" and the concluding "King Of Fools". Music is rarely this fun-loving and infectious. All hail Edguy!
The Knockout festival is an annual event, held right before Christmas. BraveWords will keep you informed of plans for 2015.