Helloween (Pumkins United Tour) live in Sofia 2017

Watching Helloween perform with an invigorated lineup, utilizing the “strengths” of longtime “prodigal sons, Kai Hansen and Michael “Mici” Kiske must have been one of the most requested “reunions” in quite a while and to be quite honest, despite having witnessed the band numerous times with Andi Deris and the other two guys, often blasting out the odd hit as an encore, during their “normal” performances, the whole idea must have sounded both lucrative enough and a nice enough “chance” that would otherwise be wasted, to try and see – what would happen if you put two and two together and did a hits tour… well read on...
Helloween (Pumkins United Tour) 2017 poster

With a heavy heart, we did board the plane, as our dearest friend Alex “Polish” Stzigel, who was scheduled to come with us, has departed this vain earth about a month ago, thus cutting down our team of friends attending. Even Jim another friend, who’d have joined us there, had things turned out otherwise had to miss this because of some urgent crisis in his immediate circle of f&f… well… health and life do come first I guess, but little else comes in the way of enjoying the metal, so despite, knowing in advance that this would be a “little” trying we stayed up all night and marginally boarded the last bus before a scheduled strike to take us to the airport. There we mucked about, meeting a number of like-minded fans and friends, who made the morning hours a little more bearable and we were airborne, before we knew it.
 
Arriving in Sofia we were greeted by at least -10 degrees than in Athens, but at least it wasn’t snowing like it were on the prior few nights, so it was tolerable, if not a little chill. A metro ride earlier and we were in the city center, mucking around for a while longer, actually too long, to go and do some shopping – since we took a lot of time, buying metal and comedy t-shirts… oh well, WTF!
 
A fair bit of walking and bus riding later and having enjoyed a “Happy” meal – but not from MC’D’s, we were in front of Armeec Arena and ready for the show… that wouldn’t start for a while… with the 19.30 mentioned on the tickets being doors and not stage time. We killed some time beer drinking and lifting our glasses to our fallen comrade and at around 20.00 after “Let Me Entertain You” the Robbie Williams song, not the Queen one – which would have been a more retro and probably better choice, the huge curtain fell down as the full version of “Halloween” began blasting from the speakers… followed by an energetic rendition of “Dr. Stein”… in which both Michael Kiske & Andi Deris traded off vocal lines… well it took more than half of “Halloween” to get the sound almost perfect and it really got fine-tuned after the good doctor went away, but you know such is live… And life and for all bad things that were mentioned about “pre-recorded” parts etc… there were none, it was obviously a one off for the first couple of shows. Kiske struggled a bit here and there, or at first didn’t seem to really “push” it, but he soon enough got into the “zone” and he really gave a supper impressive and intense rendition of “I’m Alive” by his lonesome. Really, when he dueted with Deris, despite it being cool, he sort of sounded a little more “reserved” maybe by choice, so as to not overload the mix or sound out of place; the whole band too seemed energetic and jumpy, using a short extended broadwalk with all the “Stringed instrument guys” (Dani obviously was tied up behind that huge drumset) often walking out to its edge and solo or pose along with either of the singers while playing.

Andy then came out to chill things out with a beautiful rendition of “If I Could Fly”, but also to turn up the heat again with “Are You Metal?” (yes we are) a song, I’m not the biggest fan of, so I took the opportunity to get my pals another round, returning just in time to catch Kiske really giving it all on “Kids of the Century” in the most impressive way, succeeded by Deris doing a fair “Waiting for the Thunder”… a bit of a bizarre choice from the rather epic “Straight out of Hell” (ie “Nabatea” would have been a more obvious one)… Deris started of “Perfect Gentleman” dressed like David Lee Roth (sort off), but Kiske, came around midway to f@ck up with him and jestingly mock up stuff and in turn they took up calling each other and the crowd “perfect” before finishing the song, in an inventive and funny way, I must admit.
 
It was the time for Kai Hansen to attempt to take us all the way back to the “Jericho”/EP era … with a medley of “Starlight / Ride the Sky / Judas” and then “Heavy Metal (is the Law)”. To be absolutely honest, his voice is still “pretty shot”, so he did have a lot of off moments (and that’s why he’s even gotten a singer in Gamma Ray) and props to him for attempting it, but you know the delay was off the charts and it was more his conviction and attitude, that shone through, than a flawless performance, which this wasn’t… still we’ll let it slide, with a slap on the wrist and a sip of the beer! It must be mentioned at this point that the band had graphics during the entire show and used a little cartoon of A 1-2 of “Forever and One (Neverland)” with Michael & Andi dueting and then a “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” with Kiske made things “mellow down” to great effect and was a balanced choice of balladry from each era and to reignite passions “I Can” sort of did the trick, quite well…
 
With all due respect my legs did give in after several hours (14) of walking and standing about, so I did spent most of the Drum Solo of “Dani Löble & a recorded Ingo Schwichtenberg (RIP) being celebrated, sitting on the floor, trying to get the blood to circulate properly again… which was just great cause it worked to great effect. Going back for another beer, with minimal “delay” this time I returned for most of “Livin’ Ain’t No Crime” and “A Little Time” both interesting enough choices; then a 1-2 of Deris songs, “Why” and “Sole Survivor” that D said was his “favorite from that album (“MOTR”) was only followed by one more Deris moment with “Power”, which was all fine and dandy before he obviously “fakely” advertised that the next one would be the last song of the evening, only to say – yeah – maybe… “How Many Tears” saw the two vocalists sharing it and even Kai roped in for a verse by Kiske… finishing it all were it begun, at least temporarily...
 
Beer-run and back for the first “encore” with “Eagle Fly Free” complete with intro making all Kiske fans feel high as kites… taking them to an absolute heavy metal nirvana. I even felt my feet lighter and wings growing out of my back, I swear; then Sasha, who was obviously underutilized and whose third guitar did make some dual solos a little more fuzzy – despite him being a good player, started playing “Keeper of the Seven Keys” that little tune from “Keeper two”, with Kiske obviously doing most of the dirty work, and Deris sort of popping in to trade off and “respond” in parts and spread some mischief all around… which was all pretty cool.
 
Second beer run – due to someone spilling the first one midway – meant that I missed some of Kai’s solo ( I mean I could still hear it – but I was outside the arena) and I came back just in time for the final 1-2 which came in the form of “Future World” with Kiske on his own and then both Kiske and Deris, trading off each other for “I Want Out”, which sort of got a little derailed and funked up, but being performed as the clock almost was nearing three hours, it’s forgiven – confetti cannons blasted out a ton of confetti and balloons were tossed into the crowd making it all a big party…
 
Hardly anything I’d like to see being done differently (maybe I’d have a solo sacrificed to do “Pumpkins United” at the very beginning to fix the sound for “Halloween” if I was a show runner) resulted all in all, in a great “hits” live-set, with a well-rehearsed band, a very balanced setlist, shy of maybe a “March of Time” to be called “perfect”... with both Andi Deris and Michael Kiske in very good shape… no “egos” and the band seemingly having a good time up there – as the nearly 8000 fans (of which about 1/10th were Greek) did from down below. Cool stuff... through and through and maybe this symbiosis, no matter how “strange” will endure and even deliver an album – we’ve seen stranger things than this… y’know.
 
Go Pumpkins Go (Hope to see ya in Barcelona I guess!?)…
 
PS: Photos by John “Metalman” Livanos

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