Last Saturday evening saw Europe and their Time Capsule/40th Anniversary Celebration descend on a most expectant Civic Hall in Wolverhampton.
The Civic at The Halls, Wolverhampton – 21 October 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
Over the course of those four decades, they have always proudly worn their influences on their sleeves, but their exquisitely crafted material has their own identity stamped all over it.
This evening saw us treated to a recital of the Europe songbook with extracts from (almost) every chapter, commencing with the 1983 debut right up to this year’s single.
This was a slick two-hour-plus double set showcasing the very best they had to offer, and while obviously not presented in chronological order, one could hear the progression in their compositional and arranging skills as well as the styles of the songs performed.
These ranged in style from the early, almost NWOBHM style straight ahead rockers to the addictive driving melodies and harmonies of their ‘hits’, luscious ballads, a quite beautiful instrumental, a surprising acoustic cover, through to the grandeur, sophistication and sheer mass of more recent epics.
As Joey explained mid-set, before the tour, the setlist had been the course of much discussion within the band. “If we’re not playing your favourite song, then blame these guys.”
Following an aperitif of informative and humorous extracts from the forthcoming career-spanning documentary, the stage ignited in an explosion of white light as they tore into On Broken Wings.
The soundscape was driven by John Levén’s dominant bass, Mic Michaeli’s luscious Hammondesque tones, John Norum’s immaculate expressive playing and above all, Joey Tempest’s vocals. Here was a man who had arguably never sounded better, throwing his head back and letting his voice soar. Plus, when he wasn’t singing, he was positively beaming.
While space precludes me from detailing every single number, I will attempt to restrict myself to just some of the very many highlights.
The venue was in an all-seated configuration, and it wasn’t until the instantly recognisable riff of the third number, Rock The Night, that the audience finally rose to their feet. Such a mood-setting, feel-good tune that never fails to raise the collective spirits. One understands its placement here. Now, the party has well and truly started.
By the time we got to Start From The Dark, John Norum’s gritty tones had been elevated alongside John Levén’s rumbling bass in the mix. Heads were going to that growly riff, and as strong as this is, it was overshadowed by the towering Walk The Earth.
A prime example of what latter-day Europe are so good at, harnessing the scale and majesty of the rock gods of the ’70s. John Norum’s most immersive solo was characteristic of his playing throughout. Never overly long or indulgent, one could detect such influences as Blackmore, Moore and Schenker. Each run fitted the structure of the song as opposed to merely demonstrating technical ability.
Things were brought to the present day with the latest release, Hold You Head Up. It is a driving, air-punching anthem possessing a more direct riff above those trademark Hammondesque keys. Less grandiose but no less impelling. Dreamer offered some delicate respite before we were bludgeoned by the distorted enormity of War Of Kings.
Soaring highs and delicate lows seemed to be the order of events. Nothing better exemplified John’s skill than on the truly beautiful instrumental Vasastan. His playing possessed the feel and emotive melody of Gary Moore at his lamenting and controlled best. It built and built, then at its climax, segued seamlessly into the warmly welcomed Girl From Lebanon.
While introducing the next song, Mic explained, “This was the first song Joey and I wrote together.” Following some lounge lizard-style doodling, the opening chords of Carrie were warmly welcomed. I would go so far to say that this was the standout vocal performance of the First Set, if not the evening, with quite splendid accompaniment from the audience. The descending melody at the close was an all too brief segment of utter rapture.
“Beautiful. Thank you” encapsulated the moment perfectly. My earworm of the evening.
Difficult to follow that, but they concluded the 60-minute first set with the Schenkerish Stormwind from the sophomore Wings Of Tomorrow.
After a 20-minute interval, another prelude contained further extracts from the forthcoming documentary. A standout remark within was, “All the pieces are needed to make this band. The summation of the five of us is what makes this great machine.”
Set Two commenced with such vigour. Numbers full of attacking riffs blended with great melodies, with so many lines finishing in major keys reinforcing the virulence and mass appeal of the music.
Always The Pretender, Ninja, and Prisoners In Paradise with Joey on guitar adds an extra layer of grit, and on this showing, you can easily add Sign Of The Times to the list of epics.
Time for a breather. Stools were deployed, and acoustic guitars donned as Joey and John N prepared to take things down a notch. With recollections of their earliest musical days played out over a gentle strumming of Cum On Feel The Noize, it was explained that there was one song in particular that they enjoyed playing back then. That was Bowie’s Space Oddity. With John singing the verse, his voice being lower and more aligned to David’s and Joey handling the chorus, this was a most moving rendition. Joey even managed to inflect Bowie’s vocal waver in the line, “I’m stepping through the door.”
3-2-1, and we were back in the room as the ominous intro of Last Look At Eden commenced. More impactful, no doubt, after the grace of its predecessor but standing to shoulder with those previous masterpieces. Arguably the definitive sound of post-reformation Europe.
Open Your Heart possessed one of the most sumptuous melodies of the night, reinforced by Mic’s lush orchestral textures. Joey’s acoustic guitar provides a further layer of sparkle atop the already lavish arrangement.
Memories from their 1982 debut slowly erupted into a savage NWOBHM-style assault and included a bass solo from the other John. Its theme perfectly encapsulates many of the evening’s anecdotes. A cracking full-on rocker, I consider this was the evening’s marker to which all their subsequent, more sophisticated compositions could be referenced.
The infectious ’80s groove of the danceable More Than Meets The Eye preceded Ian Haugland’s obligatory drum solo. Based on Rossini’s William Tell Overture, it was enjoyably different. I’m sure Cozy Powell would be looking down, nodding his approval.
The band returned with the full-on charge of Ready or Not. “Rock me like you never done before, then rock me just a little more,” before hour two concluded with Superstitious with a perfectly incorporated mid-section breakdown of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry.
Thunderous tribal rhythms heralded their re-emergence with Cherokee prior to the evening’s inexorable finale of that song.
From the documentary footage, I was surprised to discover that its melody was one of the first things Joey wrote. It was shelved before the first album as “It didn’t fit”, only to be resurrected years later, and the rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, the lyrics were inspired by Space Oddity, and thus the circle is closed.
As the strains of Bring It On Home – the sole representative of Bag Of Bones – rescinded and the band bid their farewells, one could already begin to reflect on such a hugely satisfying set that provided a comprehensive representation of their 11-album career, which left me in a state of gentle euphoria.
Their return from the 11-year hiatus has seen them grow in strength, receiving wider critical acclaim as well as greater appreciation from a far more discerning fanbase.
A band that has matured so exceptionally and remains at their artistic peak. Who is going to bet against them returning in a decade’s time for a Golden Celebration?
Europe – Set One
Intro (Preview of the upcoming Europe documentary)
- On Broken Wings
- Seven Doors Hotel
- Rock the Night
- Start from the Dark
- Walk the Earth
- Hold Your Head Up
- War of Kings
- Vasastan (Instrumental)
- Girl From Lebanon
Europe – Set Two
Intro (Another preview of the Europe Documentary)
- Always the Pretenders
- Prisoners in Paradise
- Sign of the Times
- Space Oddity (Acoustic David Bowie Cover)
- Last Look at Eden
- Open Your Heart
- Memories (With Bass Solo)
- More Than Meets the Eye
Drum Solo (William Tell Overture)
- Ready or Not
- Superstitious (with a snippet of No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley and The Wailers)
- The Final Countdown
Outro Tape: Bring It All Home