Hard Rock Hell VIII – Pwllheli, Hafan Y Môr Holiday Park, 14/11/2014

It’s sunny in Wales this morning.  Yeah, you read that right, sunny.  Not that it particularly matches the disposition of your PM team, as they battle against non-existent mobile signals in vain attempts to track down the extremely long list of artists we’re supposed to interview…

Skam - Hard Rock Hell 2014But, whilst there are still a lot of people catching a lie in and taking their time to prepare for a full day of music, Piston (8) perform to a healthy number of punters on the second stage and blow the hangovers away with force and power. That’s it’s singer Steve’s final gig adds a degree of emotion to the room, and the frontman responds accordingly – he’ll be a hard task to replace [EL].  The set is summarized by one of the most hard-hitting , raucous and energetic – not to mention one of the loudest – renditions of CCR’s classic ‘Proud Mary’ that this reviewer has heard in an extremely long time [MA].

Leicester trio Skam (9) are on top form and provide the first real stand out performance of the weekend. Despite there only being three of them they sound like there’s an extra two band members on the stage and towering bassist Matt Gilmore has more charisma than a lot of frontmen out there. The driving riffs are unbelievably catchy and the guys look like they’re having, to use an internet phrase, ‘all of the funs’ [EL/MA].

Carousel Vertigo- Hard Rock Hel 2014French hard rockers Carousel Vertigo (7) ease back on the pedal a little, with the laid back vibe of their traditional blues boogie lying somewhere between Humble Pie and Nazareth:  despite his miniscule status, Jimmy Montout is one of the most lithe and athletic drummers I have witnessed in any live environment, while American-born frontman Vincent Martinez displays an easy rapport which in turn is supported by a tight and proficient performance [MA].  It’s a far cry away from Fire Red Empress (5) who, whilst being one of the heavier bands on the bill, showcasing a style similar to the present day Alice in Chains, are too generic to really make an impact.

Highway To Hell winners The Texas Flood (8) belie the early hour as they open the main stage with their fiesty, booze-soaked blues rock, delivered with a Black Crowes/Rainmakers vibe:  the band have definitely upped their game since I first saw them in a tiny club earlier this year, and look as comfortable on the much bigger HRH stage as they would in a sweaty boozer.  Having said that, they could definitely do without the faux American accents employed on their between song raps [MA].

Santa Cruz - Hard Rock Hell 2014Santa Cruz (6) battle erratic sound levels (something that would hamper a lot of the acts on the stage this weekend) to keep their glam rock showcase on track, which is solid if a little formulaic at times [EL].  The sound issues intially mean that the backing vocals are much, much louder than Archie’s leads, but they nevertheless manage to get the party started with energy and enthusiasm, with the likes of new single ‘Wasted N Wounded’ the sort of arena-sized sleaze anthem that countrymen Hanoi Rocks specialized in [MA].

Down at the HRH Blues stage, the rise of the only person on site unable to drink a beer is continuing.  It’s criminal at how good Aaron Keylock (8) is for a guy of 16;  young enough to be most people’s son (and some people’s grandson) yet playing guitar with an intricacy and soul that defies his age by a mile and a half. Able to go off on a tangent and let his music do the talking before reining it back in to the initial song structure with consummate ease (shown best in a fantastic version of ‘Just One Question’), this guy will go places.  Remember the name; he’ll be a world-beater before he’s 21! [EL]

Back up the hill on the second stage, Western Sand (7) are exceptionally tight and the twin harmonies are excellent; song ‘Badlands’ is the main standout as they pick up the pace again. Poland’s Chemia (7) have the difficult job of playing during Y&T and Krokus on the main stage, which dents the size of their audience but it’s no matter; they just power on through as if they were headliners:  vocalist Lukasz Drapala is an excellent frontman, with a real prescence AND the ability to pull off a trilby with aplomb. The Black Marbles (6) seem a little uninspired today and whilst their brand of classic 70’s rock should be a hit with the average age demographic of the audience, they break the unwanted record this weekend of causing the longest queue for the gents across the three days [EL].

Y&T - Hard Rock Hell 2014I had seen Y&T (9) just 48 hours earlier back home in my native Belfast, when I – along with many other longtime fans – stood open-jawed as they condensed their 40-year career into a mere two-and-a-half magical hours:  this, of course, beggared the question as to how they were going to precis it even further into their alloted hour slot this evening.  The answer was with equal degrees of difficulty and aplomb – as evidenced by the fact that, when their set ended slightly prematurely, the arena was filled with similar amounts of cheering and booing (the latter aimed not at the band but at both the set’s brevity and the enforced omission of the traditional show-closer ‘Forever’).  Following the typically rambunctious and raucous opener ‘Hurricane’, 40 years of professionalism seeps from every cascading note of the likes of ‘Black Tiger’ and ,Meanstreak’ – the latter of which proves Dave Meniketti and company still have a hot one running through their musical veins – to provide the packed room with one of the true highlights of the room, and cementing many fans’ argument that the veteran Californians are worthy of headline status next time around [MA].

Setlist:  Hurricane / Black Tiger / L.A. Rocks / Meanstreak / Dirty Girl / Midnight In Tokyo / Cold Day In Hell / I’m Coming Home / Rescue Me / I Want Your Money / I Believe In You

Krokus - Marc Storace - Hard Rock Hell 2014Krokus (8) are on great form which, considering they followed Y&T, needed to happen.  Rolling back the years never looked so simple – it’s a great set full of fan favourites and exactly what was needed to keep the momentum high.  The cheeky snippet of ‘Seven Nation Army’ during main closer ‘Easy Rocker’ was also a nice touch [EL].  With the Swiss legends another act approaching their fifth decade making r’n’f’n’r, they were a band I – in common with many present – had waited almost that length of time to catch in the flesh.., and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  Marc Storace proved that he is still very much in fine voice and also a charismatic frontman, while the band played with assured and entertaining professionalism.  The set was, suitably, rammed to the gills with all the expected classic anthems, from ‘American Woman’ through ‘Screaming In The Night’ and an energetic ‘Bedside Radio’ to the aforementioned closer… but the rousing rafter-raising finale of ‘The Mighty Quinn’ undoubtedly will stand the test of time as one of the most memorable endings to any set! [MA]

Setlist:  Long Stick Goes Boom / American Woman / Winning Man / Hellraiser / Screaming In The Night / Fire / Bedside Radio / Heatstrokes / Easy Rocker.  Encore:  Hoodoo Woman / Live For The Action / The Mighty Quinn

Across the way on the second stage, Horisont (6) cross a number of different styles as the evening draws in which seems to baffle the punters;  sometimes you get a sound reminiscent of early Iron Maiden, at others a psychedelic trance.  Spiders (7) play during the main stage headliners’ slot, but, as with Chemia before them, they take it in their stride very nicely indeed and it doesn’t faze them in the slightest.  Vidunder (7) cross over into the final day with a loud, ’60s vibe to their music and a tambourine that is remarkably clear amongst everything else going on, before Massive (8) round things off beautifully:  they’ve travelled from Australia, they’ve got the final slot of the day and they ensure any feelings of tiredness are not apparent with a great Alter Bridge vibe [EL].

Queensryche - Hard Rock Hell 2014The last time Queensrÿche (6) played Hard Rock Hell it was a set of new material, with nothing from Operation Mindcrime and Geoff Tate acted, to put it bluntly, like a complete dick.  This time, there’s no Tate (which immediately improves proceedings), songs from the aforementioned …Mindcrime and, for the most part, the reception is warm and positive.  That said, there are moments where people are leaving in hefty numbers, clearly unimpressed with what they have seen.  It’s a blow to the headliners who are doing everything they can to put on a good show and Todd La Torre is a great vocalist with more than enough to replace Tate… sometimes though, it just wasn’t to be [EL].

Queensrÿche undoubtedly got off to an energetic start with the resurrected ‘Nightcrawler’, but their set was plagued by even worse sound problems than the likes of Santa Cruz had experienced earlier in the day, with both the guitars and vocals practically disappearing into quiet oblivion the further you moved from the stage and becoming almost completely inaudible at the back of the room (where, perthaps most importantly, the bar was situated).  While, despite the legal limitations of not being allowed to play certain songs from their back catalogue, the band appear to be in great form, and LaTorre develops an immediate rapport with the largely appreciative crowd, the ‘safeness’ of the set combined with the acoustic inability to fully appreciate their soaring twin guitar harmonies and competing yet complementary solos left many with a sense of unfulfilment [MA].

Setlist:  Nightrider / Walk In The Shadows / The Whisper / En Force / Warning / Where Dreams Go To Die / Guitar Solo / The Needle Lies / The Lady Wore Black / My Empty Room / Eyes Of A Stranger / Empire.

Encore:  Queen Of The Reich / Jet City Woman / Take Hold Of The Flame

Review jointly written by Mark Ashby and Elliot Leaver.

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Photographs by Sean Larkin.

About Mark Ashby

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