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Rock City 25 and 26 October 2008
Now in its fifth and possibly final year, Firefest has established itself as the
ultimate gathering of the clans for those who have kept the fire burning for
melodic hard rock and AOR and flown in the face of changing musical fashions. As
in previous years, fans from all over the world were present for the two day
extravaganza at Rock City featuring 16 of the genre's top bands, many making
their first live appearance for many years.
Talon got the party started, and with new lead singer Chandler Mogen
were doing a good job primarily showcasing songs from their new 'Fallen
Angels' debut, until during Wrecking Ball from their debut album, the band
fell apart somewhat and the taped backing vocals became painfully obvious,
before they bravely soldiered on and closed with Ashes to Ashes.
Californians Loud and Clear belied heir lowly status on the bill to
get the crowd going, singer Jess Harnell looking the 80's part with his
mass of curls under a cowboy hat and proving a witty and animated frontman.
Majoring on their debut album, they hit their stride with party anthems like
Make it Loud, Baby Likes to Rock, Waiting for the Roar, and Candle in the
Window, while Time to let Go, from their follow-up Disc-Connected album, was
truly superb. The crowd went wild for an ingenious mash up of Enter Sandman and
Don't Stop Believin', the Journey comparisons continuing during encore Love
Danger frontman Paul Laine revisited much of his cult 1990 solo
album Stick it in your Ear, plus the odd song from his Shugaazer project.
Well backed by ex bandmates Bruno Ravel and Rob Marcello, he impressed
with his vocal range on the likes of One Step over the Line and Is this
Love. Fellow Canadian Brad Darrid joined him to add some tasty blues solos
to Doin' Time and the Bon Jovi-esque Dorianna ended his set on a high.
photo Dave Harrison
AORsters Valentine had been surprise returning heroes at last
year's Firefest, but didn't quite make the same impact this time round,
notably because Steve Perry-esque singer Hugo was struggling with a sore
larynx. Compared to last year they focused more tightly on their 1989
debut with the likes of Tears in the Night, Never Said it was Gonna Be
Easy and set closer No Way all delighting the crowd.
As well as a couple of Hugo solo numbers, they also aired a trio of songs from
their new CD Soul Salvation which impressed, although the soul and gospel
influenced title track saw a bizarre sight of four young choristers on stage!
Soto, photo Dave Harrison
Scott Soto brought something different to the party with his usual
energetic hyperactive stage act, and a diverse series of songs that often
strayed from the melodic rock path into heavy funk, including some tracks
from his new album Beautiful Mess. But his cover of Crazy, a solo medley
at his piano and Talisman's I'll be Waiting all made their familiar
appearances to please his fans, though his disco medley which closes many
of his shows felt a little out of place here.
I missed the
first part of Pink Cream 69 who both visually and musically felt a
little samey, but singer David Readman, whose broad Lancashire accent
stood out among his German bandmates, worked the crowd and the likes of
Livin my Life for You and No Way Out, plus their best-known song Shame,
impressed, while So Lonely was an interesting choice of cover for the
Vaughn, photo Dave Harrison
supposedly played their last ever show last year at Firefest, Saturday
headliners Tyketto were back after a change of heart, albeit minus
original guitarist Brooke St James. However any reservations did not last
long as Danny Vaughn led his troops with his usual strong voice and
commanding stage presence, while guitarist PJ Zitarosa, once of his solo
band, was surprisingly fiery on guitar (despite a disturbing likeness to
Anthrax's Scott Ian) and the addition of rhythm guitarist Tony Marshall
added to a thicker and heavier sound.
Although an old demo Big Wheels was unearthed from the vaults, Tyketto's set
stuck closely to their 1991 Don't Come Easy debut album. With songs like Wings,
Burning Down Inside and Danny's own lyrical and vocal tour de force, Standing
Alone, they could do little wrong and it was fitting that they should close out
the first day with Forever Young, one of the melodic rock world's best loved
Unfortunately the demands of finding a pub for brunch and slow service
meant I missed the one all British band on view, Burn, but I heard
favourable reports. They were followed by the busiest man of the weekend,
Pink Cream 69 singer David Readman, with a well received solo set.
Next up were
new Swedish sensations H.E.A.T, who made a striking contrast to
most of the bands as they were mainly in their early 20's, though still
modeling the 80's hair band look.
Fate had dealt them a cruel blow with their singer taken to hospital for heart
surgery but guest vocalists from Eclipse and Brother Firetribe did them proud.
Of their own numbers Straight From your Heart and Never Let Go impressed but,
possibly because of the circumstances, they relied heavily on covers by Europe,
Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and Journey, all expertly delivered and getting the crowd
Rox Diamond took a different approach from many of the bands, doubling up
on keyboards and having a more pomp rock style. The Kansas influences were
everywhere, notably from vocalist Paul Daniels who had a 'magical' similarity to
Steve Walsh, though Joanne was very Toto-esque. After a slow start, gradually
the crowd warmed to them with some fine songs from their early 90's debut, with
a smattering of people singing along to closer Heart of Mine.
Malloy, photo Silver
mercurial Mitch Malloy was back in rocking from and with hair to
match as, supported by noted Swedish guitarist Tommy Denander, he
revisited most of his classic 1992 debut album (with the exception of a
song from his current Christian album which was too saccharine for my
As he opened with Mission of Love, he appeared to be trying too hard to impress
but settled into his stride with a mixture of rousing up tempo rockers like
Stranded in the Middle of Nowhere and Forever, and ballads Nobody Wins in this
War and Our Love Will Never Die. Both were exquisite, backed by a crystal clear
sound and I kept thinking that with the breaks he could and should have risen to
Bon Jovi-esque stardom. His most famous song Anything at All ended a triumphant
return, preceded by a snatch of Journey's Stone in Love.
For many the
highlight of the weekend was the reformation of Californians White
Sister, last in this country in 1987 with FM and whose two albums
regularly feature highly in lists of classic obscure AOR albums.
Opening with perhaps their best-known number Promises, they did not disappoint.
Singer and bassist Dennis Churchill-Dries now hides a bald head under cowboy hat
and bandana but his vocals are as rich as ever, best showcased on Save Me
In contrast returning original member Garri Brandon was quite the character in
shades and turned round baseball cap- when not playing his 'keytar' to add to
their already lush keyboard sounds, he stepped up to the mike and worked the
crowd, albeit rather cheesily, to the likes of Straight from the Heart and Walk
Away, while on Love Don't Make it Right he ventured into the crowd to start a
singalong, while guitarist Rick Chadock produced a great solo. Other highlights
included April and an unreleased song called Double Crossed, and for me and many
others they were among the bands of the weekend.
They were certainly a hard act for Tall Stories to follow and despite the
warmth towards singer Steve Augeri after his controversial departure from
Journey, the crowd never really seemed to respond.
Their songs felt a lot drier and more stripped back compared to what had gone
before and this was not helped by a rather static stage presence. It was still
good to hear much of their 1991 debut album live for the first time- notably
ballads Somewhere She Waits and Stay With Me and the rockier Sister of Mercy.
Three new songs also sounded quite impressive, while Steve nodded to his past
with a snatch of Stone in Love which segued into the encore of Close your Eyes.
Danger got the best response from the crowd all weekend. With singer
Ted Poley's larger than life persona and a range of dumb but catchy cock
rock anthems full of 'who-oahs', they proved the perfect band to lift any
Opening with Horny S.O.B. and Boys will be Boys, the likes of Bang Bang, Crazy
Nites, Naughty Naughty and Monkey Business had Rock City living up to its name.
The Def Leppard-esque Afraid of Love and I Still Think about You showed their
way with a ballad too, and guitarist Rob Marcello was in fine form but Ted stole
the show, notably with two trips deep into the 1000 plus crowd mid set.
It was left
to Firehouse to close out the show; humble and hard-working, they
put on a solid show but lacked the charisma of White Sister and Danger
They opened with Rock You Tonight but it was their 1990 debut that formed 75% of
the set- however for every strong song like All She Wrote, there were two or
three average hair metal numbers with singer CJ Snare's voice beginning to grate
With drummer Michael Foster sharing the vocals then jamming with guitarist Bill
Leverty, the NASCAR tribute Door to Door was the one surprise of the set, then
CJ added keyboards to their schmaltzy US hit ballad Love of a Lifetime. The set
ended on a high though with a fiercely rocking Reach for the Sky and another of
melodic rock's signature songs, Don't Treat me Bad.
Firefest co-promoter Kieran Dargan gave an emotional speech at the end and it is
clear these events are a labour of love rather than a money spinner. But if this
was the last Firefest, then what a showcase of the best in melodic rock to go
Review by Andy Nathan
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