Awakening CD Release Party, May 31, 2015
Twenty-five years in the making, Lucifer’s Friend finally came out of retirement. The original group of John Lawton (vocals), Peter Hesslein (guitar), Dieter Horns (bass) with Stephan Eggert (drums) and Jogi Wichmann (keyboards), played to a sold out crowd in celebration of their new compilation disc Awakening. The event was held at the Downtown Blues Club in their hometown of Hamburg, Germany. It was no surprise that the venue was packed to the rafters with fans from around the globe. The set list was a ‘Best Of’ and closely mirrored the Awakening CD with several new songs making their live debut. For a group that formed in 1970, they looked and sounded damn good. Lucifer’s Friend were one of the few heavy progressive rock bands that rarely toured, making their focal point their studio albums. Early in their career they led the charge as a proto-metal band on par with Black Sabbath, but later expanded to incorporate jazz and progressive rock. However, their real charm was their incredible songwriting.
An air of excitement filled the club as fans filtered in 90-minutes before the band took to the stage. When the lights went down and the hum of the amplifiers resonated, all hands raised in the air with a shout of elation. A fit John Lawton welcomed the crowd as Jogi Wichmann played the keyboard intro to “Pray”. Peter Hesslein’s guitar riff signaled the rhythm section and the group were suddenly in full flight. It took half the song to get the volume just right but as each instrument came into focus the band gelled as a solid unit. Light on stage banter, the five-piece moved directly into Mean Machine’s AOR hit “Fire and Rain” with its catchy hook and slicing guitar solo. Horns and Eggert made for a powerhouse rhythm section giving the music a physical punch. After a brief pause, Lawton introduced “In the Time of Job”, a classic ‘70s hard rock number complete with surging organ riffs and call and response guitar and vocal. The band even stretched it out a bit to give each member a short solo within the jam.
From their 1970 debut came “Keep Goin” with its sinister guitar and heavy organ pounding. Lawton’s voice harmonized with the riff as he sang the song of a soul laid to rest and hell awaiting. Grey and brooding, the band recreated the stormy doom of yesteryear playing off each other and embracing their darker side. Few realize how incredible the band were at creating heavy “pop” rock back in the day. On par with Foreigner, 1981’s Mean Machine galvanized the group with the return of Lawton after a five-year absence. Two of the night’s melodic favorites were the aforementioned “Fire and Rain” and catchy “Hey Driver”. A keyboard workout, “Hey Driver” shined as one of the band’s most radio-friendly songs. Next, a superb rendition of Banquet’s “Dirty Old Town” lifted the audience with its acoustic beauty. A hook-filled climactic chorus had fans singing along with every “La la la.” The second new song of the evening was “Riding High”, a bombastic, cinematic number with prog elements and cascading waves of instrumental fusion.
Mid-set, jazz-rocker “Moonshine Rider”, the first track off Mind Exploding (1976) was unleashed. Dangerously appealing, the high-crime drama played out like a theatrical trailer with Lawton pleading, “Lady Luck be on my side / Don’t let me ride alone / Keep the devil’s hand away from me.” The chemistry of the group had fully fused and it felt, for a moment, like they’d never been apart. Third new number of the evening was the Zeppelin-esque “Did You Ever”. Lumbering with weight and density, it picked up pace with each verse until soaring into the chorus. It’s often asked, ‘where are the new songs like the ones of old?’ Here they are being written by the same musicians that wrote them 45-years ago. “Burning Ships”, the only song played from Where Groupies Killed the Blues (1972) was the emotional apex of the evening. Hesslein sat down on the drum riser and picked out the enchanting acoustic intro while the ambient beach sounds played from a pre-record mix. Lawton’s voice never sounded better: mature, powerful and hauntingly emotional. Proof that he is one of the greatest singers of his era.
Returning to Mind Exploding, the band launched into “Fugitive” with urgent bursts cutting into jazzy grooves. The song is far more vibrant ‘live’ than on wax as the bass and drums punched holes in the smoke-filled air. “Ride the Sky” came early in the set. I was sure they would hold their biggest hit for the encore, but there it was in all its glory. Majestic, thunderous and primal, the song escaped with all the raw intensity of its original. Proto-metal, Neanderthal-licks, frighteningly heavy all contributed to the band’s comparison to Black Sabbath. It was only when they settled into “High Flying Lady” that we knew the end was near. The up-tempo dance number sweat with groove and soul, and with that, the band waved goodbye. The audience wasn’t going to stand for such a quick exit and lured the band back with a thunderous applause ‘give us one more song’. In an effort to promote Awakening, Lucifer’s Friend ran through “Pray” one more time.
Set list: Wake Up Call, Pray, Fire and Rain, In the Time of Job, Keep Moving, Hey Driver, Dirty Old Town, Riding High, Moonshine Rider, Did You Ever, Burning Ship, Fugitive, Ride the Sky, Highflying Lady. Encore: Pray.
Website: Lucifer’s Friend
Photos by Nikolas Fenrich