Sofia Rocks with Priest, Whitesnake, Mike, Saxon, Slade
This year's Sofia Rocks festival gathered a string of heavyweights from the 70s and 80s UK rock scene and went on into the wee hours Saturday.
The event, organized by Balkan Entertainment Company at Sofia's Balgarska Armiya (CSKA) Stadium, kicked off in the blasting heat around 4.30 pm Friday with Bulgarians Sheky and the Bloodrain, who pulled off a couple of songs from their hard rock repertoire.
Soon after the sweltering crowd gave a more than warm welcome to British glam rock veterans Slade, who have made a return as a live band.
The bunch showed great enthusiasm and in their 50-minutes' set showered on the audience old hits such as "Coz I Luv You," "My Oh My" and "Cum on Feel the Noize."
Mal McNulty's voice showed an unrelenting rasp, founders Dave Hill and Don Powell showed class, while John Berry showed proficiency by every now and then swapping his bass for the violin.
Then the show was on to more epic ground with UK heavy metal classics Saxon, who excited the more hard core part of the crowd, presenting a mix of classic songs and numbers from their fresh 2011 outing "Call to Arms."
New songs "Hammer of the Gods" and "Call to Arms" were just huge, and the crowd went totally crazy with metal anthems such as "Crusader" and "Wheels of Steel."
Eternal frontman Biff Byford walked the stage like a dignified Saxon warrior and gave his thanks for the support of the thousand-strong crowd that was on the verge of collapse from metal and fire.
The lead singer of metal band Saxon Byff Byford during Sofia Rocks. Photo by Sofia News Agency
Things lightened with Mike & the Mechanics, the pop-rock formation of Mike Rutherford of Genesis fame. The choice of line-up for the fest proved successful, since after the first couple of minutes into their set, you could see many happily dancing and clapping hands.
One of the more curious things about the band was co-lead singer Tim Howar's choice to dress in a Blind Guardian shirt, possibly to placate the heavy metal audience.
The crowd itself did not seem to need such a kind gesture per se, as it was plainly enjoying hits such as "Another Cup Of Coffee," and "The Living Years," plus Genesis classics "Follow You Follow Me" and "I Can't Dance."
By the way, Mike & the Mechanics is apparently still one of the most played bands on Bulgarian radio.
A little after 9 pm, when the night weather was starting to turn beautiful, the imperious David Coverdale artistically took on the stage with his band Whitesnake, blasting into "The Best Years" from their 2008 album "Good to Be Bad."
Then on to 80s hits "Give Me All Your Love," "Love Ain't No Stranger," and "Is This Love," to be followed by a bunch of songs from the fresh 2011 Whitesnake album "Forevermore."
The new cuts were strong, with the title track being particularly stirring. The audience never failed to be touched by Coverdale's tales of love and failure and so went nuts to old gems "Fool for Your Loving," "Here I Go Again" and crushing closer "Still of the Night."
Brilliant singer Coverdale, whose voice has acquired a certain raspiness, but has kept his inimitable warm tone, bade farewell with an a cappella rendition of "Soldier of Fortune" from his stint in Deep Purple.
Around 11 pm the stage was being prepared for headliners Judas Priest, one of the bands that defined the heavy metal style, who have embarked on their last major world tour, aptly named "Epitaph" (also the name of a little-known ballad from their 1976 "Sad Wings of Destiny").
The British quintet blasted in with "Rapid Fire" and "Metal Gods" from their 1980 classic "British Steel" and went on a rollercoster ride through their varied and acclaimed discography, from "Never Satisfied" out of their first album "Rocka Rolla" (1974) to "Prophecy" from their last outing "Nostradamus" (2008).
Outstanding vocalist Rob Halford performed in his usual theatrical style, his voice easily reaching the piercing heights he is famed for, guitarist Glenn Tipton was top notch with his blasting solos, and drummer Scott Travis put on a fiery performance.
The only unfortunate thing was the absence of founding axeman K.K. Downing who retired from the band ahead of the tour.
The sound frontstage was simply punishing, especially on tracks such as "Judas Rising" and "Painkiller," the lights, fire and smoke onstage were spectacular.
A softer side of the show was classic Joan Baez cover "Diamonds and Rust," while things turned epic with "Beyond the Realms of Death" and "Blood Red Skies."
The more dance-worthy Priest pieces were chosen to be at the end of the set, which closed its final encore after 1 pm with the apt hit "Living after Midnight."
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