Helloween Make Long-Awaited Return To Southern California

By Andrew Bansal
[Photos by Chad Alexander] 

October 7th 2013, City National Grove Of Anaheim, Anaheim CA: German power metal veterans Helloween hadn’t visited North America on a proper tour for a long, long time, and much to the delight of their die-hard fans, earlier this year they announced a return to North America for a 10-show tour in late September through early October. After months and months of anticipation, the day had finally arrived for Helloween fans in Southern California as the band arrived at the Grove of Anaheim last evening for the final show of this ‘Hellish Rock Part II’ tour. It was their first tour since 2008, and during this five-year period they’ve released two new studio albums ‘Seven Sinners’ in 2010 and ‘Straight Out Of Hell’ in January of this year. So they were expected to bring a sizable amount of new material, along with some of their well-known classics.

It’s no secret that power metal isn’t a popular style of music in North America, and that fact largely applies to Southern California as well, so I was more than a little miffed to note the ticket price listed on the venue’s website as $37 plus fees. As a result, I didn’t anticipate a massive turnout, and the venue/promoters even added on three local openers in a last-ditch attempt to get some ticket sales done. Regardless, I saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, most of whom attended that glorious Helloween/Gamma Ray show almost exactly five years to this day on October 6th 2008 and were seen talking amongst themselves reminiscing the great times that were had at that particular show. This crowd at the Grove wasn’t as Orange County-centric as it usually is, with people making the drive from Los Angeles and various other areas to attend the gig.

At around 9:45, AC/DC’s ‘For Those About To Rock..’ was played on the PA, a fitting warm-up to any rock show. The lights went out and Helloween appeared on stage. These fans who had waited eagerly to see the band for such a long time were initially overcome with excitement and even though the overall turnout was less than half the capacity of the Grove, the front general admission pit section started getting more and more packed as fans rushed in to get a closer look of the band. They began the set with ‘Eagle Fly Free’ from the Keeper II album, and it got everyone singing along, a great start to the set. Then the newer songs kicked in and the set ran along a plateau for a little while until ‘Steel Tormentor’ was played. But the drum solo that followed it absolutely killed any momentum the set had gained so far, and it came at the wrong time. It was much too early in the set to be throwing in a drum solo. The segment after the solo didn’t really explode the show into life either, with two slow/ballad-type songs ‘Hold Me In Your Arms’ and ‘If I Could Fly’ were played one after another. As good as the band sounded and as great as it was to see them in concert again, I have to be honest in my assessment of the set and I have to say that there was no real flow to it.

To their credit, their on-stage sound was excellent, specially that of guitarists Michael Weikath and guitarist Sascha Gerstner. For the tone freaks and guitar geeks in the crowd, getting to hear these two in harmony was a real treat and they both played their individual as well as dual parts with an effortless touch of class. The moments when they came together to take center stage were easily the best parts of the show. Even the newer material which sounded a lot more easy-going and poppy in comparison to the classic stuff had well-written guitar parts and that quality showed through the performance of Weikath and Gerstner.

Vocalist Andi Deris put forth his best efforts to do justice to sing all of the material and entertain the crowd at the same time, and to a large extent he succeeded. Deris and his band mates brought out their usual goofy stage mannerisms as well, adding humor to the show. But somehow it felt like they were going through the motions a little bit and seemed jaded, which was disappointing as a fan. Their 2008 show was a lot better, both in terms of the set list and the performance, but that show was so great that it may well have been a once-in-a-lifetime event, the kind of thing the band may never repeat or match up to. I did like the new material and I think it has its own quality to it, but it sticks out amongst the older tunes a little too much in my opinion which just shows the difference in the songwriting approach between now and then. Towards the very end of the set, they finally got to songs like ‘Dr. Stein’, ‘Future World’ and ‘I Want Out’, but even that was broken into two encores for weird unknown reasons and ruined the impact somewhat.

Nonetheless, Helloween still sound great as a live band and as a fan it was very, very cool to get to see them again, but this was far from their best gig and we can only hope for them to return with something stronger next time around.

Related: Interview With Helloween Guitarist Michael Weikath (Audio)

Set List:
1. Eagle Fly Free
2. Nabataea
3. Straight Out of Hell
4. Where the Sinners Go
5. Waiting for the Thunder
6. Steel Tormentor
Drum Solo
7. I’m Alive
8. Live Now!
9. Hold Me in Your Arms
10.If I Could Fly
11.Hell Was Made in Heaven
13.Are You Metal?
14.Dr. Stein
Encore 2
15.Future World
16.I Want Out