FIREFEST HEATS UP WITH AOR LEGENDS
Show Date: October 22, 2011
Location: Nottingham, England
Venue: Rock City
Reviewer: Dirk Ballerstaedt
Festival Website: www.thefirefest.com
The first official day of Firefest (the previous evening was considered a pre-show party) consisted of seven bands, which meant standing in the front row for about nine hours in order to cover all the bands and shoot some photos while listening. Nine hours of standing and without changing positions much, except when I left to grab something to drink, wasn’t the easiest thing to do. The first band, Talon, started at 12:50 pm and the last artist, Steve Augeri, had to finish at 10:00 pm. That was one of the good things about the Firefest Festival, before the shows you could do a little sightseeing of Nottingham City and right after the last band you could see what kind of entertainment the young British kids preferred in the evening — the rockers mostly went out for a late dinner while some of the others went to Karaoke bars and sang along to ’80s pop music while drinking too much.
American openers Talon played an awesome warm-up set that had them reuniting with original lead singer Michael O’Mara, who stepped in when Shawn Pelata was unable to attend the festival. O’Mara sounded very British to me, in the vein of a younger David Coverdale, but he was very good singing songs like “Wrecking Ball”, “Paradise”, “What About Me”, “Fallen Angels”, “Mother Mary, May I”, the heavy “Evil” and some tracks from the recently released ‘Talon III’ — an album which doesn’t include O’Mara. These Californian rockers were a lot of fun to watch, so two thumbs up for Talon.
Vega, a melodic British with a modern touch, was next and proved once again that there are many great new bands out there. Vega were definitely one of the better bands at Firefest and proved it on songs such as “One Of A Kind”, “Staring At The Sun” and “Kiss Of Life”.
Then came on one of the main reasons to go to Firefest… Silent Rage, from the United States of Rock. The band that did well with their two albums in the late ’80s but never made it big like many others bands from that era. They really deserved to have more success, but when Seattle’s grunge rock came hair-metal groups like Silent Rage were washed away into obscurity. As they begun with the fast, furious and energetic “I’m On Fire”, which lead directly into the groovy “Don’t Touch Me There”, it was crystal clear to me that Silent Rage were one of the highlights of this year’s Firefest. The fans liked them very much and by looking into the faces of singer Jesse Damon, bass monster E.J. Curse, guitar-slinger Mark Hawkins and drummer Brian James you could see nothing but joy and passion — it’s a shame that a band like this can’t do massive touring in front of more fans.
If you compare Silent Rage photos from yesterday (with the massive hair) and today you’ll see that the former boys have turned into men. Which brings up two thoughts — first, Jesse Damon‘s voice is now rougher and stronger, the musicianship of all players is great, and the sound is still heavy and melodic. And secondly, the songs from their first two albums have really survived all fashion styles while sounding fresh, powerful and timeless — not many bands from the hair metal decade can say that.
Silent Rage didn’t know how the audience would react, but I told E.J. Curse prior to showtime that they would be surprised at how much they’d be loved by the old and new fans alike. Both the band and the audience loved every minute of the set which included all the best of tracks possible like “Make It Or Break It”, “Sarina”, “Rich, Young And Pretty”, “Runnin’ On Love”, “I Wanna Feel It”, “Rebel With A Cause” and newer stuff such as “Still Alive”, “Four Letter Word”, “Remember Me” (with Curse on vocals ) and “Unchained” (in which Damon and Hawkins split the vocals). It was awesome, and for me Silent Rage was already the climax, even though they appeared in the afternoon.
Next was Jeff Paris, an AOR legend who has worked with Vixen, Mr. Big, Alias and several artists outside the hard rock genre. After the storm Silent Rage delivered it was now time to take a break with some AOR classics. Paris was supported by the audience and mostly performed material from his solo albums ‘Freak Flag’ and ‘Lucky This Time’ (he released five records between 1986 and 1998). Jeff Paris remembered Jani Lane by singing an acoustic version of “I Saw Red” and then paid homage to Ronnie James Dio by playing the classic “Rainbow In The Dark”. Those tributes alone made his performance an over-the-top spectacle, and I can barely find the words to describe his show. Jeff Paris still rocks, and for me was one of the biggest surprises at Firefest.
Then came W.E.T., the band that jumped on the bill after Warrant cancelled their Firefest appearance, and the group that features Jeff Scott Soto — the singer you’d hire for any outstanding projects. W.E.T. played a powerful show starting with “Brothers In Arms” and followed by tracks like “Invincible”, “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and the great ballads “If I Fall” and “One Day At A Time”. The musicians mixed together the best ingredients to create that typical big arena sound like Journey. The project that features Swedish musicians and an American singer released a well received album in 2009, and with a follow-up I’m sure the band will have a bright future.
As I wrote earlier, singer Terry Brock performed twice at Firefest. On Friday he played an exciting solo show and then on Saturday he fronted his old band Strangeways, the classic English AOR rockers. It seemed like the crowd kneeled down on Rock City’s floor to hail the great men of rock, maybe because they performed their classic and epic 1989 album ‘Walk In The Fire’ in its entirety. Strangeways proved to be a great band with one of the best singers in rock, who together played very fine music — even if Terry Brock had a slight cold.
While Warrant stayed away, a very healthy looking Steve Augeri climbed into the headliner slot and brought a little bit of Hollywood to Nottingham, England. He entered the stage with the tune “Jamie” from his work with Tyketto, but as the keyboard intro to “Separate Ways” was played the crowd went totally nuts and it was Journey time — supplied by a great singer and entertainer. Augeri was being honest and said that he was performing at this edition of Firefest because he had been Journey‘s singer for eight years, so we heard “Higher Place” (a bit harder than on album), “We Will Meet Again”, “Kiss Me Softly” and the all-time favorites like “Wheel In The Sky”, “Faithfully”, “Don’t Stop Believing”, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “Anyway You Want It”. But he also played “Sister Of Mercy” from his old band Tall Stories alongside some of his own songs like “Riverside” and “Rich Man’s World” — which proved that there is more to Steve Augeri than just his work in Journey and that he can do very well on his own.
This fantastic singer has fronted Tall Stories, Tyketto and Journey — two great bands and the Gods of AOR — what more could you want? Other singers would be glad to prepare coffee or tea for bands like that. During the show a lady behind me just screamed “awesome, awesome” repeatedly, but I can’t tell you any more than that.
The fine Saturday at Firefest ended at 10 pm, and the fans that couldn’t get enough had a five minute walk from Rock City to the bar at the Premier Inn, where singer Carl Dixon of Coney Hatch did an acoustic set at eleven o’clock and let the evening fade out in harmony… Firefest proved to be a very good festival so far… but I didn’t know that it was going to get even better on Sunday’s finale!