LIVE: Hard Rock Hell AOR Day 2 – Magna Centre Rotheram 07/04/2013
A key point in the Hard Rock Hell agenda would seem to be to push traditional rock and metal bands to as broad an audience as possible. It’s an attitude that can’t really be sniffed at – old timers are given the chance to see a new wave of melodic rock pretenders, and younger attendees are offered solid performances from talented acts that for a variety of reasons failed to supernova.
Sunday sees a few of the newer acts invading the main stage. Opening up just after noon with a late, late breakfast grill are all-Finnish, all-female ham and eggers Barbe-Q-Barbies. A lazy hack might call this AC-DShe. I guess I’m easy like a Sunday… lunchtime.
Nubian Rose raise the bar with a sound at the heavier end of the AOR spectrum. It’s a mix of DIO, Whitesnake and Rainbow and, yowser, yet another wailing female vocal. This one is courtesy of the Sofia Lilja, whose catwalk grace befits a mid-set costume change. Several bands this weekend look suitably delighted about playing to a large crowd, and for Nubian Rose there’s the added bonus of their first ever UK appearance. To honour it, Sofia unveils a striking Union flag cat suit that doubles as a nod to local heroes Def Leppard.
The blue and yellow aural onslaught continues in the form of H.E.A.T, a six-piece, twin guitar wall of sound hailing from the same small Swedish town as poodle rockers Europe. Co-incidence or something more sinister? Wearing pop-metal hearts on denim-sleeves, you start to wonder if somewhere in the Swedish countryside lurks a heavy metal Hogwarts. If so, look past the D- for originality and you’ll find everything here that took that stadium rock to the masses. Showcasing tracks from their latest album ‘Address the Nation’ the tunes are huge, infectious and buzz with a self-belief lacking in modern day performances from hair metal’s founding fathers. A sort of Smash Hits friendly version of Crashdiet’s Simon Cruz, Erik Gronwall is the band’s blue eyed, blonde haired, poster-boy. He covers every inch of stage available, and along with rest of the band assures an afternoon slot feels like a headline show. It’s the performance of the weekend.
For a while, everything that follows feels like an anti-climax. Ten mark the drossier end of melodic rock market – it’s all grandiose soundscapes and the kind of technical ability that sounds impressive one moment, and bland the next. Music to crush cars by.
Influential blues merchant Uli Jon Roth clocks on for double time this weekend, with slots on both the Prog and AOR bills. For his AOR appearance, the card-carrying Hendrix-disciple and his band run through a collection of work from his early days with the Scorpions.
Elsewhere, stoking the Fire stage, Southampton upstarts Summers are a musical identity crisis. On ‘Rock Machine’ (a Lizzy-esque tribute to Phil Lynott) they look comfortable with testosterone-fuelled hard rock, moments later ‘Superhero’ is Busted after too many alcopops. There are sure signs of talent here, but it feels a bit reactive. It’s as if they are going through rock star motions rather than playing from the heart and seeing what emerges.
Rock star motions are not familiar territory to Moritz singer Peter Scallan, who has barely stepped on a stage since shoulder pads were de rigueur. It’s a brave move on behalf of the promoters to take a band who disbanded over a quarter of century ago upon failing to secure a record deal, and grant them a comeback so high up the bill. Someone clearly knew something we didn’t. In Scallan we might just have one of the great lost voices of British melodic rock, and In Moritz maybe a British Gotthard – but let’s reign in the superlatives for now, and reserve judgment for another day.
The main-stage headline antics belong to the big names, big guns and big vocals; Kip Winger, Skid Row and Jeff Scott Soto. Kip takes to the stage sans band (indeed, sans everything), armed only with an ego an acoustic guitar. If Kip was a winger, he’d be a right one. As the saying goes, if you can’t say anything nice… point and laugh. All jibes aside, unlike his set at Firefest a few years ago, tonight Master Winger seems happy to actually play Winger songs that people might know.
So are Skid Row AOR? Not a chance. This is hard rock played loud and played heavy. Stone cold-classics ’18 and Life’, ‘Slave to the Grind’ and ‘Youth Gone Wild’ are all duly delivered and with that the audience is ripe for tracks from the band’s new EP ‘United World Rebellion – Chapter 1’.
Living after midnight, rockin’ to the dawn. It’s left to rent-a-gob Jeff Scott Soto to collect empties and sweep up as he heads on stage just after twelve. The voice of everything from Yngwie Malmsteen solo albums to fictional metal giants Steel Dragon (as featured in the Mark Wahlberg movie Rock Star), Jeff’s extensive career also includes stints with Journey and AOR giants Talisman. He even supplied pipes for an album of songs inspired by the cartoon series Biker Mice from Mars. No really. He did. I am not shitting you. Right here, right now he opens with songs from his latest solo album Damage Control, and finishes with the fictional rock monolith ‘Stand Up and Shout’.
Overall then, kudos is due to the Hard Rock Hell brand for a successful new format. The addition of new bands and liberal definitions means there’s enough diversity on show as to bring new life and a new audience to a scene that might otherwise be happy to dine out on recycled mullet wine for the rest of its days. The established Firefest festival now has some serious competition as the UK’s premier melodic rock event, and it will be interesting to see how it responds.
As the show closes AOR2 is confirmed for 2014 and talk, later to prove correct, spreads of a return to Hard Rock Hell’s roots in Prestatyn. In a way it’s a shame as Magna feels like it could prove a suitable home for a regular rock event. However, much like the silent reminders of a bygone age that surround the venue, AOR is a genre heavily rooted in the past. Perhaps a change of scene is just what’s needed.
Words by Karl Eisenhauer, photos by Liam Fretwell
Missed our review of Day 1? Catchup here – HRH AOR Day 1!