Hard Rock Hell AOR: Day One

H.E.A.T, Dare, Starz and The Poodles rip it up at Welsh holiday camp

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It’s quite possible the last three decades have passed The Poodles by, as a quartet dedicated to reprising the wild excesses of the mid 80s proudly wear their hair metal colours on their sleeves without hint of irony or fear of derision. Bizarrely, the only thing missing from a heady mix of infectious choruses, hilarious posturing and implausible dress code are the giant perms befitting the band’s ludicrous name.

This is pure entertainment, with frontman Jake Samuels relishing his role as The Poodles’ top dog. A striking diamante codpiece might even fail Steel Panther’s bad taste test, but the band’s ebullient frontman appears oblivious to the fact that he treads a perilously fine line between outlandish performance and pure pantomime.

The Poodles. Image: Will Ireland

Samuels views the majority of this buoyant set through rose-tinted spectacles, but the reality is a full house loving every minute from the fired-up Swedes. An atypical stumble prior to Caroline (drummer Christian Lundqvist going rogue according to guitar slinger Henrik Bergqvist) only serves to galvanise The Poodles prior to an adrenaline-fuelled finale.

Ageing Americans Starz comfortably kill the mood. The New Jersey rockers reformed in 2003 on the back of a reputation for influencing seminal glam metal bands Motley Crue, Poison and Twisted Sister: on this evidence it’s difficult to imagine any aspiring act citing Michael Lee Smith and his bandmates as a major inspiration. Tonight they’re a major disappointment.

Ragged and ruffled from the outset, it’s fair to say Starz look like a band that’s finally run its course. Following The Poodles’ vibrant set doesn’t help, and disillusioned punters are soon heading to the exit doors in their droves. Fast-rising Cumbrians Heartbreak Remedy are the primary beneficiaries – their ‘clash’ on the Sleaze Stage proving a potentially career-defining blessing in disguise.

Back inside the AOR Arena and it’s difficult to hear the finer moments of Starz’ set above the increasing hum of idle chatter.

Starz. Image: John Burrows

Smith’s ill-judged panting on the intro to Pull The Plug is frankly disturbing, while his decision to pull away from the mic at every opportunity leaves gaping holes in several tracks. Livewire bass player George DiAna’s awkward juxtaposition alongside the tiring Smith becomes increasingly jarring and even hit single Cherry Baby lacks its customary fizz. With Starz in their eyes it’s time for Dare to reignite the AOR devotees and rescue Friday night.

Based up the road in Colwyn Bay, the singer-songwriter chooses to play the Welsh card just a little too late. The mere mention of North Wales endears Wharton to the healthy contingent of committed locals, but too many floating voters have already chosen to back sleaze kings Hardcore Superstar across the way.

Dare are no party band. What they are is proficient, professional and perfectly pleasant. It’s hardly a recipe for whipping up the crowd into a pre-H.E.A.T. frenzy, and even the decision to introduce a Flying V – and play some ‘heavy metal’ – doesn’t set the pulse racing.

Dare. Image: John Burrows

An atmospheric rendition of Emerald draws warm applause and Wharton’s decision to dedicate King Of Spades to the late Phil Lynott is heartfelt. However, Dare are no Lizzy tribute band and it’s their own material that sparks a wilting crowd into life. A rousing Abandon precedes I Will Return but the jury’s out on whether Wharton and co. will be welcomed back with open arms.

H.E.A.T. have the look of a band under orders to take the night and save the day. They do. The slick Swedes’ swift ascension from wild-eyed wannabes to melodic rock’s next big thing might have taken rock’s mainstream by surprise but the Hard Rock Hell masses know their stuff. This is where the party’s at as Dare’s diligence cedes to H.E.A.T.’s intoxicating desire.

This is a band with the image, the songs and the reputation to kick Gene Simmons’s ‘rock is dead’ theory into touch. With everything in their favour it’s difficult to fathom why frontman Erik Grönwall’s feels the need to catch his own spit as part of the act. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

H.E.A.T. Image: John Burrows

Everything else about H.E.A.T.’s set fully justifies top billing. Running on to Glenn Frey’s mid-80s anthem The Heat Is On, the five-piece rush headlong into Point Of No Return and the pace never slackens.

Vampire-like Gronwall cuts a divisive figure – part punk antagonist and part rock and roll god – but there’s no doubting the fury in his lungs. Breathing the fire that fuels H.E.A.T., the rake-thin former Swedish Idol winner is the perfect foil for über cool guitar hero Eric Rivers.

Merging Highway Star with Beg, Beg, Beg works a treat even if drummer Crash threatens to kill the atmosphere with a horribly contrived solo during Enemy In Me. Living On The Run is the perfect set closer (even if Grönwall is desperate to play on) but H.E.A.T. are living in the moment.

Starz, Dare, H.E.AT.: John Burrows. The Poodles: Will Ireland