Any lingering doubts about the well-being of rock ‘n’ roll were emphatically dispelled by veteran Swedish hard-rockers Europe when they blasted through a 100-minute set that culminated in the majestic The Final Countdown, at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on Friday night.
Lead singer Joey Tempest, who is widely regarded to be one of the most charismatic front men in rock music, ran a tight ship, navigating his virtuoso band with bursting enthusiasm and bravura to have the sell-out crowd on their feet from the opening bars of Riches to Rags, a beefy, melodic lead single from their 2012 album, Bag of Bones.
The crowd took in the moment and by way of approval stomped on the makeshift wooden floor that covered the hallowed tennis court which has been graced by the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.
“Shukran”, screamed Tempest, propping his leg on one of the sound monitors at the front of the stage while drummer Ian Haugland beat the stuffing out of his snare drum. “First time for us in Dubai… it feels fantastic.’
Flanked by guitarist and childhood friend John Norum, bassist John Leven and keyboardist Mic Michaeli, Tempest bulldozed into Firebox, a fast-paced chest-thumper which made way for the more understated Not Supposed to Sing the Blues, both songs culled from Bag of Bones, an outstanding album chockfull of 70s-style riffage from Nordic Beast Norum.
While sections in the crowd may not have completely wallowed in the new material, Tempest introduced Superstitious, a memorable made-to-order rocker from 1988’s Out of the Word, with the cry: “Everybody doing alright?”
His request was met with thunderous approval from the crowd — some the skinny jeans and jelled hair set but most from the classic rock star style of leather jackets, heavy metal T-shirt/black tank tops and skull metal boots.
Although Europe’s Classic albums from the 80s were surprisingly pop-friendly, much of their new material falls back on the veneer of the hard rock made popular by bands like Cinderella, Thin Lizzy and Journey.
No Stone Unturned, Prisoners in Paradise and Girl from Lebanon, laid it on thick — rock doesn’t get any heavier as the power trio of Norum-Leven-Haugland ruled through sheer force.
“Thank you so much,” said Tempest before acknowledging the thunderous applause from the by-now wound-out audience. “I want you to meet this guy… who I met when I was about 14 years old… which was only a couple of years ago [laughing at his own sense of humour]. When I saw this guy playing the guitar, it changed my life. Let me introduce to you my great friend and true guitar legend — Mr John Norum!”
And fans were not in for any surprises as Norum showed himself to be a bonafide axe-hero with a fleet-fingered solo that effortlessly slipped into Sign of the Times, also from the 88s Out of this World.
It was easy to see how Europe have endured for so long. They made rock ‘n’ roll sound flawless and like their own creation and although much of their ‘sound’ is a throwback to the days when bands like Def Leppard, Poison, Heart and Kiss ruled the stadium, it seemed garden-fresh and relevant in today’s computer generated pop music.
Even the sleek, romantic mellow-rock ballad Carrie, from 1986’s triple-platinum selling The Final Countdown sounded crisp and unsullied, if perhaps a trifle unfashionable. There was however, an interesting dash of elegance that Tempest conjured up with unaffected grace and flair, tossing his eighties-style long hair from side to side with the tempo of the song.
“You’re such a tease,” he yelled, pointing to an audience member in the fan-pit next to me.
But the real fireworks were reserved for the boombastic Rock the Night, with Norum’s frentic guitars and Michaeli’s synths laying the foundation for Tempest to put his experience to use in what was one of his most palatable efforts of the night.
Judging by the reaction of the crowd, the song hit the bulls eye and no one dared to breathe as the band burst into the long-awaited The Final Countdown, as flames and angled spotlights bathed the stage creating a strategic high point for the show.
Europe shattered the constraints of pop-rock combining swathes of Also sprach Zarathustra-inspired keyboards with Tempest voicing his lyrics with virtuoso and a sense of drama.
Europe are one of classic rock’s all-encompassing treasures. Long live rock ‘n’ roll!