Scorpions & Europe: Zenith Arena, Lille, France 21 November 2015
Due in part to the frustrating lack of shows in the UK, the rare opportunity to attend a European gig combined with the venue being a mere 1.5 hours from Brett’s super flat in Hesdin meant that several months ago we purchased tickets to see the Scorpions in Lille, France. Little did we know at that time how poignant any rock gig in France was going to turn out to be as a result of the tragic events in Paris only a week earlier.
It was freezing and very wet in Lille when we arrived, traffic was typically French, i.e. utter carnage and so we dumped the car on the side of the road opposite the venue and spent a couple of hours ducking the showers in the better than expected city centre before heading for the Arena about 40 minutes before show time. A sell-out crowd was already patiently filling the 4500 capacity venue, and we warmed ourselves whilst waiting for Europe to arrive. Although the crowd provided the Swedes with an ecstatic welcome, I found myself wondering if this was more to do with the limited opportunity to see bands in Lille or just the demographic of the audience. Opening with a ponderous War Of Kings, Europe (5) plodded through a 40 minute eight song set which was just plain dull. Front man Joey Tempest may be well preserved, with a set of teeth to rival Jon Bon Jovi but if there was ever a rock equivalent to Cliff Richard, then boy is he it. Hole In My Pocket, Superstitious and a slight increased pace with Scream Of Anger came and went, the French crowd loving it whilst the band appeared to be going through the motions. Tempest wandered around the stage, waving to the crowd when not singing. A cringe worthy Carrie was followed by Rock The Night which at least got the tempo moving. The rockier Days Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which has received a large amount of air time on Planet Rock pricked the interest before the inevitable karaoke moment and 'that' bloody song. Leaving to a rapturous reception, I was less than enthused and left pondering what all the fuss was about. How this lot headlined BOA in 2009 is beyond me.
However the evening got a damn sight better shortly after 9:30pm as the huge curtain with the Return To Forever album cover on it dropped to the floor and the Germanic assault of the Scorpions (9) commenced. Hitting the stage running and not stopping for most of the evening, the band belied their age with a 17 song set that lasted over an hour and a half. Going Out With a Bang segued into one of my favourite tracks, the riff laden Make It Real. Rudy Schenker was already running all over the place whilst Klaus Meine's vocals were on top form. A broody The Zoo maintained the momentum, with lead guitarist Mathias Jabs using the talkbox to great effect. Coast To Coast allowed the band to demonstrate its musical muscle, with Jabs showcasing some excellent lead work. Perched high above the stage, the mental James Kottack hammered the shit out of his kit whilst Paweł Mąciwoda laid the bass lines. Although only three of the band are German, it was typical Teutonic efficiency which underpinned the show. Polished, crafted and self –indulgent, the Scorpions really enjoy their work with massive grins throughout the evening.
I've seen this band a couple of times before, notably at 1986’s Monsters Of Rock and they never fail to put on a tremendous show. An impressive light show, changing back screens which also provided some close up focus on each member of the band, but mostly some classic tunes. A montage of tracks from the 1970s made me very happy, with a run through of Top Of The Bill/Steamrock Fever/Speedy’s Coming/Catch Your Train before the recent single We Built This House steered the band towards the emotional part of the evening.
Obviously events in Paris were on the lips of everyone present, and the Scorpions played it sublimely with a sensitive tricolour backdrop earlier in the set and then, during the acoustic set, a silhouette of the Eiffel Tower again with the blue, white and red on the screen as they played Always Somewhere, Eye Of The Storm and a beautiful Send Me An Angel which brought a lump to the throat. Although I hate Wind Of Change, the audience participation was moving and not a person in the house failed to join in (yes, even I hummed along folks). After that it was heads down rock all the way, with Rock ‘n’ Roll Band and a ball breaking Dynamite leading the charge. Kottack’s drum solo was reasonably entertaining, being conducted from high above the stage with his platform suspended by cables. Much more entertaining was a blistering Blackout before Big City Nights closed the main set and saw the band take their time to leave the stage, milking the applause. A deep breath was required for the encore; first up the delicious Still Loving You before the inevitable Rock You Like a Hurricane concluded a fantastic evening. The crowd were respectful, engaged and interestingly for an old fart like me, more interested in watching and listening than heading to the bar every ten minutes. A pleasant change, an incredible performance from the Scorpions and if this is their final tour, a fitting conclusion to a brilliant band.