I've been looking forward to this gig for a long long time since I am a huge fan of Axel's singer Johnny Gioeli from his early days in Hardline and his now quite long tenure in the ARP band. The guy has the kind of hard hitting, hard rock voice that few can match in the modern age in my opinion. Before arriving I had it in my mind that the show would be rather averagely attended but how wrong I was! The Underworld was I would say more than 3/4 full though not rammed. Probably close to 500 at a guess which is a very healthy turn out for a Sunday. I guess the melodic hard rock loving crowd have been starved of this kind of band and turned out in impressive numbers to show their appreciation.
I had my usual pre-gig Chicken Shish opposite the venue beforehand and it always goes down a treat and sets me up nicely for the rest of the night so to speak. I entered the venue at 7.30 and saw that Mad Max, the only support of the night, were due on at 8pm sharp so I settled on a decent vantage point stage right, as I'm looking and waited for Mad Max. To be honest I've only heard a few of their songs and have yet to hear any music from their new album Another Night of Passion. The German old timers strode on at 8 sharp and started off on their typical Germanic hard rock without much aplomb. Their basic chugga chugga hard rock riffs were ok but nothing really excited me too much. They were solid and an able warm up for Axel and co no doubt but not knowing the songs well hinders one's enjoyment somewhat. However the new tunes aired were cool enough for me to investigate further. Their guitar sound was rather heavy and perhaps a touch heavier than the head liners even, who of course are a one guitar band. Mad Max were decent but they just don't have the big melodic hooks that ARP has though they were enjoyable like I said.
At around 8.40 or so their set ended and the roadies got the stage ready for ARP. I must say that Mike Terrana's drum kit was one of the most extensive and impressive I have seen on the tiny Underworld stage. It took some assembling but finally the intro music started over the PA around 9.20 or so though I wasn't checking my watch exactly. The band took to the stage to a warm welcome from the rather packed Underworld before Johnny Gioeli finally ran on to the stage like the Tasmanian Devil himself! The guy was like a whirling, air guitaring ball of fired up energy as he got stuck into opener Ghost in the Black which was not a song I immediately recalled to be honest, but it was a cool as hell ripper anyway. The sound was pretty heavy and crisp and Johnny sounded immense and cut through the mix sharp as a pin with a slight echo effect on the mic which was pretty cool. Mr Pell cut an understated figure in comparison to Johnny and had the odd smile but he mainly settled down to play the riffs and solos to perfection. Ferdy and Volker on Keys and bass respectively looked happy especially Ferdy who is a bit of a character to say the least. Terrana on drums was a complete powerhouse. The guy is just a pounding machine on his drums with cymbal slams and snare blasts galore and he looks like he jumped in a swimming pool there's that much sweat pouring off the guy. He really nails the songs to perfection and gives them the heavy backbone that they need.
Having said all that this show and band is all about front man Johnny Gioeli. They guy's performance as a singer and happy go lucky front man was really something to be hold. Constantly smiling and gesticulating and air guitaring when not singing, and when singing pulling out heart stopping powerhouse vocals which are even better live than they are on record. He has quite a different tone when singing live than in the studio with a more acidic bite to his vocals which makes the songs sound much heavier and better still. Strong As A Rock is one of the best and catchiest ARP songs of the Johnny fronted era and was sung back at Johnny very loudly indeed. Before I die from the new album was awesome with it's slightly funky groovy vocal lines. Awesome stuff indeed! The Masquerade Ball was the first epic of the nigh which was turned into a sort of medley with two other songs in between. The chorus of TMB is deadly awesome and was sung loud and proud by the crowd. The end of the song saw a few bars of Whole Lotta Love which was kind of cool and unexpected.
Then we had Terrana's drum solo with him going nuts and sweating like the chief sweater at world sweat championships! I'm not into drum solos but I guess it's not rock'n'roll unless you have one. The title and brilliant track Mystica from the album of the same name was up next with it's brilliant, awe inspiring chorus sung with spine chilling power by both Johnny and the crowd. The end of the was turned into Purple's Mistreated which was again a slight surprise but the crowd seem to love it or at least the Purpleheads did.
Next up was the epic title track of the new album and was again very cool although the song is not really my fave on the new album as I need to listen to it a little more although the repeated chorus does get under your skin after a while. Fool Fool was brilliantly catchy and sung damn well and with a large contingent of the crowd singing along to it's happy chorus. The last song of the set proper was one of the best and most anticipated ARP songs ever, namely Carousel with it's wonderfully catchy chorus and glorious tempo and general brilliance. Johnny's voice on this epic was stupendous I must say. What a sheer brilliant display of melodic hard rock vocals from Yankee boy!
Not one but two encores followed with Tearing Down the Vocals providing us with a great energetic fast paced rocker which was followed by I guess the oldest song of the night with the catchy title track from Nasty Reputation back when Rob Rock was in the band I believe. Very catchy song that I haven't heard in a long time although I do own that particular CD.
They left the stage again but the crowd asked for more and the band returned to hit us one more time with the anthem Rock The Nation with it's super catchy sing along chorus with full crowd participation of course.
My only gripe about the whole evening was that some of the solo spots could have been shortened and the extended medley with covers lessened or dropped to allow a couple more of their own tunes to be played. Other than that this was an awesome gig no doubt and the ARP band is one I highly recommend seeing live as they really play from the heart and in Johnny Gioeli they have a hard rock vocal God to be proud of and for me the best singer there's ever been in the ARP and there's been some great ones with JSS and Rob Rock. Johnny's live vocals are something else, being full of emotion, with power to spare and a great showman to boot, making the ARP live experience one to remember.
Set list and photos:
The Guillotine Suite
Ghost in the Black
Strong as a Rock
Before I Die
The Masquerade Ball / Casbah / Dreaming Dead
(incl. snippet of 'Whole Lotta Rosie' by Led Zeppelin)
Mystica / Mistreated(Deep Purple cover)
Circle of the Oath
Tear Down the Walls
Rock the Nation