By Adrian Peel
I remember reading once that famed Swedish rockers Europe performed their signature song The Final Countdown twice in one gig and if that was indeed the case, then that would be fine by me – heck, I wouldn’t mind hearing it three or four times in the same show!
Tonight, in front of an enthusiastic audience – particularly a group of young Japanese girls at the side of the stage who knew all the words to every song – they only sang it once, but this gig was a reminder that there is so much more to this seasoned quintet than that one song.
The evening got under way with a video in which members of the band looked back on how the group got started and recalled their reaction when singer Joey Tempest suggested the name ‘Europe‘.
“Europe is a continent?” said deadpan bass player John Levén, recalling his initial reaction. Tempest also explained how he came up with The Final Countdown‘s legendary keyboard riff while tinkering on the piano.
The curtain then came down and the band launched into On Broken Wings, the explosive b-side of The Final Countdown.
The charismatic Tempest owned the stage, prowling the space and immediately getting the crowd on side, while guitarist John Norum delivered an impressive solo.
“I got a good feeling about this,” announced Tempest ahead of Rock the Night, one of Europe‘s best-known hits. A ‘newer’ song came in the form of the excellent Start from the Dark, the title track of the band’s 2004 ‘comeback’ album, after they had reformed in 2003.
Even more up-to-date was Walk the Earth, a stunning piece with a noticeably ‘heavier’ feel, from their most recent LP, also called Walk the Earth, from 2017. Tempest turned in another first-rate vocal performance.
The anthemic Hold Your Head Up was introduced as a new song and then came a tender ballad from 1984 in the form of Dreamer.
The singer reflected on the strong relationship between the band and their fans and then joked, “If we don’t play your favourite this evening, it’s not our fault!”
Further highlights of the first half included War of Kings (from the 2015 album of the same name) and popular sing-along Carrie, which is perhaps the band’s second most well-known song.
Introducing it, likeable keyboard player Mic Michaeli revealed that it was the first tune he ever wrote with Joey Tempest.
The second set started with another video, in which the band members talked about what makes their relationship with each other so special. Happily, the ‘classic’ lineup from the Final Countdown era is the one that continues to this day.
Joey Tempest likened the band to “one soul” made up of five different parts, and that close bond between them is something that certainly comes across on stage.
Always the Pretenders, a track from 2006, kicked off the proceedings, song-wise, and then it was a trip further down Memory Lane, thanks to Ninja, another gem from the band’s seminal 1986 album, The Final Countdown.
Following the groovy Sign of the Times, there was a marked change of pace, as Tempest and Norum sat at the front of the stage and strummed acoustic guitars. Remembering how they first started playing together that way, they ran through a stripped-down version of David Bowie‘s Space Oddity, which again was very well received.
A touching moment came when it was revealed that today was bass player John Levén’s 60th birthday. The musician had earlier displayed his considerable talent with a bass solo and now it was time to sing Happy Birthday to him. Balloons and a cake were wheeled out. “This was unplanned so it could go either way,” joked Tempest, as he praised his bandmate who was in Europe “right from the start”. An audience member was then given a piece of the cake.
After another top tune, More Than Meets the Eye, amiable drummer Ian Haugland recounted the story of how Levén saved him from being fired from the band when he became addicted to cheap white wine. Haugland then drummed along to a speeded up version of the William Tell Overture. It was a very nice touch that each member of the band got to interact with the crowd as it helped add to the overall experience.
The last song of the main set was the wonderful Superstitious, definitely one of the best songs of the evening, and one on which Tempest got everyone passionately singing along. The first song of the encore was Cherokee, another track from The Final Countdown LP, and then as the lights went down, we knew what was coming next.
An almighty cheer went up as THAT keyboard riff came out of the darkness. Along with the keyboard lick from Valen Halen‘s Jump, the introduction to The Final Countdown has to be THE most iconic synth riff in rock. Change my mind!
What followed was truly euphoric, with the band once again firing on all cylinders and sending the audience away deliriously happy, having heard not just an outstanding all-time classic, but over two hours of music from a solid, though often overlooked, back catalogue.
Europe, who expressed love and appreciation for their fans throughout, are going to do it all again tonight (October 26th) at the London Palladium.
My advice to you is if you’re a classic rock fan who hasn’t already bought a ticket, then get one!