South Park -festivaali survived its debut year to come back a second time in Eteläpuisto, Tampere, kicking off the summer music season for metal and rock fans alike! After checking out its predecessor last year, Musicalypse had to be there again to see if they could live up to their introductory year, and with a promising line-up, we hoped that it would!
We headed down to the park with the sun blazing and the birch branches blowing vertical in a pretty heinous wind, mimicking the mediocre weather of last year already. This was one of those days where, depending on where you’re standing, you’ll be boiling hot or freezing cold. Coats were on and off every five minutes, except when the bands were going!
The first main stage act on Friday was Masterplan, a sort of super-group of Europeans created by ex-Helloween drummer, Uli Kusch, once upon a time. Nowadays they’re host to Rick Altzi (ex-Thunderstone), Roland Grapow (ex-Helloween), Jari Kainulainen (ex-Stratovarius), Axel Mackenrott (ex-live Gamma Ray), and Marthus Skaroupka (Cradle of Filth). They’re a proper epic power metal band, and Altzi is an incredibly cheesy frontman, trying to get the crowd to shout “megapussi” by asking them to say “big bag of chips” in Finnish. We weren’t convinced that the crowd got the joke, in spite of its decent size. Kainulainen was smoking very cheekily and Altzi made jokes about there only being one setlist on stage, so the whole band was crowding around Grapow because of it. They seemed like kind of a nostalgia band – the sort you listened to when you were a teenager and are excited to see because you once loved them so much. They were a fun show, and it’s kind of cool to see all these old pros gathering together in one place from different countries and bands.
Speedy and Saku from Kummeli were lurking around the festival, introducing bands from time to time. If you’re not Finnish and don’t know who they are, think Wayne’s World meets Beavis and Butthead. They were up on stage trying to convince the crowd that the päälava (main stage) was actually the sivulava (side stage), and vice versa; presumably because they played some short sets on the sivulava a bit later in the day.
In the meantime, they introduced Stratovarius on the main stage. They had a great, epic, power metal intro track introducing them, and I admit to being a bit amused at the strategically absent nipples on their Nemesis album art backdrop. We also noticed that, weirdly enough, Timo Kotipelto seems to be slowly morphing into Pasi Rantanen (Thunderstone). His hair’s a little darker and he has the same stubble beard that Rantanen has. What a strange thing, but amusing nevertheless. It’s great to see that Matias Kupiainen is still proving himself as a phenomenal live guitarist – I was at his first show with Strato back in 2009 or so and he was great then, as he is now. Also, Rolf Pilve just kills it every time. They do well live, in spite of the fact that they play so many festivals. There wasn’t a lot of banter, but Kotipelto spent a lot of time goofing around with his bandmates on stage. Of course, there were huge cheers for “Black Diamond,” and you can’t have a Strato show without “Hunting High and Low,” which I admit is still a highlight after all these years.
In the gap between Stratovarius and Accept, we decided to see what the festival area had to offer this year. Bungee jumping was back near the entrance, as well as sumo suits and the twisty rope ladder challenge, and of course, a lot of shops selling trinkets and whatnot. The food area seemed largely hosted by Poppamies, with burger joints, a roast pig, and more. We checked out a couple items off the deluxe hot dog stand on the first day. They were pretty epic, with options to put pulled pork and roasted onions on as toppings, amongst other things. The food area was also far enough away from the stage that there was almost always a place to sit, which is a nice change from say, Tuska, where getting a table is pretty rare.
Accept was next on our main stage menu. I had more or less forgotten who they were and what kind of music they play, so I was immediately blindsided by how excellent their performance was. They’ve certainly got that 80s hard rock sound pretty much nailed with stuff like “London Leatherboys,” and Mark Tornillo is a great frontman with his simultaneously raspy and high-pitched voice, though I admit I don’t know how he compares to Udo Dirkschneider. I’m not sure how I missed out on these guys back in the day when I was listening to other classics like Judas Priest; Wolf Hoffmann manages to shred like he’s got the Pick of Destiny with big smiles. They have a particular brand of metal that’s designed for legs moving and fists in the air more than moshing. They were just cool – they all look like they spend their spare time outside in the sun, chopping wood, and on stage they have a very distinct look of, “We are professional rockers and we will melt your face,” but without any off-putting ego. I’ve heard so many covers of “Metalheart” that I actually had no idea it was their song originally. I’m glad I got to see their version live first. Also, “Balls to the Wall” – I may have forgotten who Accept were, but I didn’t forget this song! What a way to end the night. Admittedly, I might’ve preferred if these guys were in the headlining position.
Finishing up the night on the tent stage was Teräsbetoni, taking a break from their 5-year hiatus to play through their first album, Metallitotuus, for its 10th anniversary. I’ve never really known what to think of this band because the members are certainly talented – Jarkko Ahola has a fantastic voice that very much suits the cock-rock, Manowar-y style they play in. They’ve always seemed like a bit of a Finnish Manowar, only it’s hard to say if they take themselves as seriously as Manowar seems to – Viljo Rantanen was all smiles and good energy, but Arto Järvinen was all business, no play. A little irony could make them great for what they are, but I’m not yet convinced. The crowd seemed pretty enthused to have them though. We couldn’t get close enough to the stage to see what was going on, there were so many people packed into the tent. I still wonder if Ahola’s voice is wasted on that kind of music. Maybe we’ll go to their show at Nosturi and see if we can form a more concrete opinion.
Wrapping up the first day in the ever-growing chill was Extreme, a band I’m quite sure I have never heard of in spite of their age and position as headliner for the first night. The images on their backdrop had me almost expecting something like Offspring, so you could imagine how surprised I was to see a singer who looked like a blend of Alice Cooper, Steven Tyler, and Mick Jagger. Maybe that’s why I didn’t know them, in the end. The band was good, and with a particularly beneficial sound that makes you want to dance when the night had gotten pretty cold, but they didn’t seem like anything other than a combination of every other late-80s/early-90s band you’ve ever listened to. It was an enjoyable set, to be sure, but I don’t think I’ll be going home to listen to them in my spare time anytime soon.
The weather wasn’t looking any better on Saturday, with the wind still howling and grey clouds rolling overhead in an attempt to scare the weak of heart away from the festival grounds. Fortunately, the appeal of Def Leppard and other great music was enough for most to overcome the threat of rain and head down to the park once more.
We stopped in briefly to have a look at the Loudguns, but not for too long. We’d never heard of them before, but they were fairly adequate. A little 80s keyboard here, a little wailing vocal there, and if nothing else, a neon pink guitar just for fun. They had a pretty good throwback to the 80s/90s sound, with a hint of Thunderstone-style power metal but a bit more of a mainstream sound. They had a decent crowd for their time slot too. They might be good if they had a bit better material to their name.
The first band we really checked out though, was Santa Cruz. These guys seen to be sweeping the nation these days, and how can you blame them with that heavy-hitting thunderstorm that is their self-titled new release? They had just sold out Nosturi the night before and were still at peak energy for the huge crowd they brought in for the festival. They had a few older tracks mixed in, which admittedly, I don’t care about, but their sound and intensity really brought some life into the crowd on a dismal day. I’m willing to bet that these guys are going to blow way past Reckless Love in popularity, and fast, if they keep up the quality of the music they’re putting out and the awesome glam rock good style that they have on stage. If I was to find one fault in their show, it was that the songs sounded exactly like they do on the album, which is a small thing. It says that they know their songs, but haven’t gotten quite to the point where they can play with them live. It’ll come with time though, I’m sure.
Saku and Speedy were back on the stage, doing their thing, and we were a bit surprised to note that they hadn’t finished their set before Amorphis took over the main stage, causing a little bit of interference for a song or two. They did, however, have a pretty cool intro track that reminded me that I haven’t listened to anything new that they’ve put out in a few years, and I probably should. I was also pretty shocked to see that Tommi Joutsen cut off his dreadlocks. I don’t know how he managed to get his hair long when he can’t have been rid of them for too long a time, but nevertheless, it was an interesting little change. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them and I think that’s probably a good thing. If you see Amorphis too often, you always start to notice that it’s basically the same show every time. If you wait a year or two in between, they often have enough new material to change things up and make it a little fresher. The sound was good and they were pretty laid back on stage. It’s always nice to hear “Towards and Against” and “My Kantele.” Of course, they played all the hits (“The Smoke,” “Silent Waters,” etc.) and the crowd joined in to sing along with “House of Sleep.”
The second trip to explore the grounds brought us by the merch booth, which was so small it was hardly noticeable, and nowhere near where the map said it would be. The South Park festival merch was decent, but just a little overpriced perhaps, to not quite make it worth it. We tried out The Beast burger at Poppamies as well – beef, bacon, and pulled pork made for a pretty epic meal, and one we had to share, even with our festival hunger raging.
Next up was Reckless Love over on the tent stage. We saw Olli Herman over at the Radio City stand, possibly doing an interview of some sort just before the show. Speedy and Saku introduced them, giving a shout out to the drummer from Viiala, and the crowd chanted “Hessu” to get Herman and the others to come out. He was showing his support in a Def Leppard jacket, and we had a little bit of a laugh at his sunglasses, seeing as how the sun was nowhere to be found. He did take them off after the second song, at least. We began to realize that these guys should consider trying out for Eurovision someday – they’ve got the glamour, as well as the mainstream sound that would be rather well-suited to Eurovision, but there’s still enough rock to keep the Finns proud. They had a good set, though honestly, their radio hits have gotten old pretty quick. They have some great tracks, but songs like “Beautiful Bomb” and “Hot” are just a little too cheesy to be listened to repeatedly. They talked about being on stage and living their dream, giving a big “thank you” to everyone for helping them live that dream. We were hoping that Herman would summon the sun with his pelvic thrusts in “Hot,” but instead the rain came pouring down as if to spite us. And to our genuine surprise, Herman didn’t once take his shirt off. Could that be considered a disappointment? Maybe for the teenage girls.
Luckily, the rain let up in time for us to go out and watch Helloween. The standard “London Bridge is Falling Down” intro brought them in, giving us “Eagle Fly Free” with some rather thunderous drums as they finished. They were sounding amazing all across the board – especially Deris, who seems to still have his range in tact after all these years. I was surprised to see Gertsner’s haircut looked so different that I had to double-check that he wasn’t a new person altogether. This was also the first time that I really noticed that waving a pointed finger toward the crowd is a rather unique move to Deris on stage. The new material was pretty decent – “My God-Given Right” and “Lost in America” seemed like decent tracks, and the first one made for some pretty good live sing-along. Deris said that hearing the crowd chant like that is why they’re still on stage. The rain came and went a bit – Deris thought someone was spitting on him until he realized it was just the weather. The sun did start to peak out towards the end of the set though. I’ll never get sick of hearing “Mr. Torture” or its backstory live, and expectations always get high when the top hat appears! This time we were given a fantastic medley of “Halloween,” “Sole Survivor,” “I Can,” “Are You Metal,” and “Keeper of the Seven Keys” before they finished up with “Future World” and “I Want Out.” It was a bit of a best-of show with a hint of the new material, which was fine for a festival.
Finishing off the night in the tent was Eclipse. They were pretty standard bright and sunny 80s-style Swedish rock. The vocalist was bouncy and energetic and the playing was solid and a nice way to cheer us up as the weather got dark again. I recognized Robban Bäck (ex-Sabaton) on drums, and he was really wild and enthusiastic – I can see how he would’ve fit in with Sabaton as well. It was a good show, but we didn’t stick around to watch long because we were getting tired and we still had Def Leppard to prepare ourselves for!
What has 9 arms and sucks? Certainly not Def Leppard, that’s for sure. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who played as an intro track for them (some of you may better know it as the CSI: Miami theme song), and we were pretty curious to see what they had to offer. Their stage set-up was a lot more extravagant than the others, with a high rise for Rick Allen’s custom drum kit. The backdrop also served as a screen alongside two smaller ones they had on the lower half of the stage. Phil Collen is an impressively buff old guy, and very amusingly sweaty from the moment he walked on stage – we wondered if he was, in fact, oiled, rather than sweating, because he was glistening as he flew through the songs. They’ve still got a bit of glam going on, though certainly nothing compared to the 80s (which is probably for the best), but they sounded as great as they ever did in the past. This was the last show of their recent European tour – “What a way to Finnish,” Joe Elliot joked, which let slip a few groans and laughs in the crowd. This was their first time in Tampere, which was pretty cool, and it was admittedly a bit epic when it started to absolutely pour rain during “Hysteria.” Somehow it just fit the melodramatic glam rock atmosphere. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was perhaps the highlight of the show for me, though really, the whole show was superb. You also have to appreciate bands who thank their crew during the shows. Taking the opportunity to see this classic band was definitely worth it as they “brought it” live and I can’t imagine anyone leaving afterward and feeling unsatisfied.
So, in spite of the questionable weather, the solid rock line-up and general enthusiasm from the bands really brought this festival together. It’s safe to say that South Park will certainly be back next year if it keeps offering such great bands, old and new alike. This glam rock, softer festival is holding up well against its heavier competitors and with 11,000 guests this year, we’re sure that we’ll be back next year to see how it continues!
Text: Amy Wiseman, | Photos: Lene L.