The boy who loved EUROPE

By: Martin Bergesen            From: Nattguiden - June 19, 2004            Translated by: Stein-Vidar

For many, EUROPE was the ultimate band in the 80s. For Stein-Vidar Andersen they're still the greatest.

It's Friday night, and we're sitting on a train going to hillbilly land. When EUROPE choose to reunite after 12 years, they do so at the tiny place Vallset, somewhere between Oslo and Hamar. Stein-Vidar has traveled all the way from Båtsfjord to see this concert. Ever since he was 3-4 years old and got to hear his older sister's EUROPE tapes for the first time, this has been his wish dream: To see his heroes - Joey Tempest, John Norum, Mic Michaeli, John Levén and Ian Haugland - live on stage. After The Darkness paved the way for a new wave of hair rock, the dream is now coming true.

"The last real concert was done in 1992," Stein-Vidar explains. Then he was just 9 years old. A bit too young, then. Now he's nearly 21, and more than old enough. Two years ago he was in Oslo to see his second favorite band, a-ha. That was big, but this is gonna be even bigger.

We arrive at Vallset by taxi from Stange. The taxi driver calls it "The Strawberry Village", but the first sight that meets us is liquor boozing teenagers. Young boys drive around in styled cars with even younger girls in the backseats. The wheels are squealing. Stein-Vidar buys a Coca Cola at a local gas station before we plod along to "Festplassen" - The Party Place - where EUROPE will start their world tour.

The most striking thing about "Festplassen" is that it brings strong associations to a scene in the movie "Spinal Tap". In the movie a metal trio stands on a home-made stage at the bottom of a long hill and insists on showing the band's "new direction", to a rather poor response. "Festplassen" looks very similar. Perhaps EUROPE's comeback will be a switch to prog rock?

Stein goes goal-aimed to a booth where various EUROPE merchandise is for sale. Takes his stand and studies closely. After a little while however, he comes back disappointed. "There weren't any T-shirts with band photos," he exclaims. He himself wears a shirt with an old, bluish photo, from the time when they still had the hair length expected from hair rockers. Today their drummer is bald. Things change.

There are few EUROPE fans in Båtsfjord, but on the Internet they thrive. For a long while Stein has run the popular fan site "Aphasia", and by this he's got in touch with many like-minded people. Tone Irene from Drammen, who has bought some tapes with EUROPE videos from him, meets him down by the stage. Her big, blonde mane fits the leopard shirt she's wearing. "Is my hair 80's enough?" she asks. And it is, by all means.

The opening act is the band who was number 3 in the Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest, WigWam. "We know you're ready to be EUROPE'D, but we're here to fucking WIGWAM you!" the vocalist Glam screams, dressed in a tight outfit sewed together by an American flag. It's not just the local crowd who cheer back affirmatively. 1700 sold tickets has caused a reasonably full party place this night, even though the arrangers had hoped for more.

Drunk soccer songs and loud discussions reveal that people have come from all over the country. Even though few have traveled as far as Stein-Vidar, it's obvious that this is a fairly big happening. Many gangs of friends are already deep and cheery down in the bottles they've brought along. A guy from Sunnmøre tries to convince his friend to hit on the woman standing next to him. Infidelity is considered, but turned down. "I don't bother hitting on her, my girl back home is a work of art in comparison!"

The whole thing resembles more of a usual festival rather than the village party we had expected.

WigWam runs through covers of AC/DC, Sweet and, of all the things, Melanie C. "I tuuurn to youuuu!" is sung with great spirits, though in a 80s hair rock version. There's also a couple of their own songs. The band's enthusiasm can't be argued with, they look like they've been waiting for this chance all of their lives. They probably have. And out here, in what someone probably would call Dolly Parton land, there aren't any "hip" wiseacres or grumpy music reviewers to ruin the atmosphere. The taste tyranny is absent... except for me, but I keep my mouth shut.

Stein-Vidar enjoys himself. He and Tone occasionally shout into each other's ears, trying to drown the music. When WigWam leave the stage, they still stand in their places in front by the fence. If you're a fan, the frontline is the only place to be. After a while many people seem to think likewise, and soon Stein stands between two hard shoulders dressed in denim and looks a bit anxious. Looks up patiently at the stage, where an endless sound check finally ends and someone puts on a CD.

"Do you think it's gonna be good?" I ask him. He gives me two thumbs up. I remember primary school, when Stein-Vidar was one class below me. In the leisure periods at school, he always brought along his EUROPE tapes, and I recall a certain feeling of envy because he had found a band to like before I had. On the other hand I knew quite a lot about Ninja Turtles and He-Man, who've also made small comebacks lately. Young, spending men seek nostalgically back to the spark and enthusiasm that only a 10 year-old can possess. Being a hearty fan of something.

For Stein-Vidar that spark never went away. His room back home in Båtsfjord is decorated with posters of EUROPE and a-ha. He's got all the albums, both on vinyl and remastered CDs. And he's at the concert now, without any sign of nostalgia or modern 80s irony. His heroes never went away, he's just had to wait quite a while to see them. But then they turn up on stage, one by one. Suddenly Stein-Vidar doesn't look that anxious anymore. He jumps to the rhythm together with the rest of the crowd, clenches his fist in the air with the index finger and little finger pointed up, he sings along at the top of his voice while the music thunders out from the speakers.

At first vocalist Joey Tempest seems quite humble, in strong contrast to WigWam's wild stage show. When he thanks the crowd, it really sounds heartfelt. One can trace a gratitude in his voice, that there's still people like Stein-Vidar, who remembers the good old days and has kept the enthusiastic spark it gives to have a favorite band. Then he remembers that he's actually a rock star again, and gives the concert that Stein-Vidar and the rest of the crowd expect and deserve. The band has definitely not switched to prog rock, and there's no new direction here. "Final Countdown" is included, of course, failed solo projects and a dry-spell decade forgotten. A real comeback.

After the concert Tone Irene offers us a ride home to Oslo. With a five hour long wait to the first train, the choice is easy. In the car on the way home, they talk about the concert, all the songs that were played, which songs weren't played, which mistakes EUROPE's management made during the US tour, how good the one new song they played actually was, and so on. Stein-Vidar is close to being an expert, and eagerly reels off analyses and facts.

"What did you think about the concert then," Tone asks me suddenly. I'm honest and say that it's not quite my kind of music. That doesn't seem to bother either Tone or Stein-Vidar much. In this car I'm the minority.

When we get home late that night, Stein-Vidar tells me that the concert was one of his biggest experiences in his whole life. And I believe him.

That's what it's like when you're a fan.

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