Never was the Glen Frey classic ‘The Heat is On’ a more appropriate choice as a band intro. Not only was the Highbury Garage a sweltering sweatbox on the hottest day of the year to date, but Sweden’s melodic rockers of the same name really seem, four albums in, to finally be building momentum on these shores with a larger crowd – spanning the age spectrum – than at any of their previous London shows.
There have been a few changes along the way and singer Erik Gronwall has taken them to new places. The former Swedish Pop Idol winner, with his loose-limbed manic intensity and his unusual haircut, cuts a striking figure that may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is the sheer force of his energy that has transformed the band compared to his more restrained, if technically skilled, predecessor Kenny Leckremo.
They opened with a pair from the new Tearing Down the Walls album, ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘A Shot at Redemption’ and the latter’s chorus seemed to have everyone singing along (even if the song title is not mentioned!), as did ‘Better Off Alone’ from the previous album Address The Nation. There was a solo in the middle from keyboardist Jona Tee, notable in itself as his instrument took more of a backseat than before.
The band went down from two guitarists to one last year and yet remaining axeman Eric Rivers has really come out of his shell, handling all the parts, adding extra fire to his playing and generally far more extrovert on stage than before.
As something approaching a moshpit developed at the front, the likes of ‘Its all About Tonight’ and ‘Beg, Beg, Beg’, with a snatch of Led Zeppelin, were made for singalongs. The way the title track of the new album built from a quiet opening – with Erik playing acoustic guitar – into a big, widescreen chorus would surely have made it an MTV staple in the late eighties. Despite its eerie similarity to Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I Did it Again’, ‘Mannequin Show’ was another crowd pleaser.
The biggest surprise of the night was a great piece of genre busting as the laid back, sax heavy (on album) ‘In and Out of Trouble’ was transformed when Dragonforce guitarist Herman Li – an acknowledged fan of melodic rock – sauntered on to solo away fluently and rapidly over it and combine with Eric. Both ‘Inferno’ and ‘Enemy in Me’, meanwhile, combined modern riffs with bouncing hooks almost in the manner of Shinedown.
Some, myself included, may regret the move away from the more overt AOR of their earlier, pre-Erik albums to this more aggressive sound, with ‘Late Night Lady’ now the sole survivor from the classic debut, but the positive effect on the band’s career cannot be denied.
They are great showmen too, and when ‘Danger Zone’ was totally undermined as the keyboards collapsed in a cacophony of noise and vocal mikes packed up, the band played on with Erik, who several times dived into the audience at the front, going a stage further and crowd surfing over people’s heads well towards the back of the club!
With two supports having played (New Device and rather misplaced Danish punky rock n rollers Supercharger) a 10.00pm curfew loomed, and after a final newie in ‘Emergency’, they pretty much dispensed with the ritual of coming off and on again for an encore, finishing with two stone cold classics from Address The Nation – the fist punching ‘Breaking The Silence’, complete with its ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ style drum intro, and ‘Living On The Run’, with a massive chorus that forced me to abandon any efforts to play it cool and pogo with my gig companion.
The Tearing Down the Walls tour certainly did what it said on the tin on this night – with H.E.A.T’s swagger, showmanship and energy – and it is a show sure to find its way to bigger arenas than this.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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GOODBYE JUNE Switchblade Heart (Earache)
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