~ Review by Kit Ekman ~
The honest truth is that ACCEPT is the whole reason we came to Balingen this year. When the festival was first announced, I distinctly remember sitting at my desk and thinking that Accept would be the obvious choice to headline the 20th Anniversary Festival. Then I thought back over all the times I’ve seen Accept, on small and mid-sized stages throughout the southeastern USA. Then I remember imagining what it would be like to see Accept on the huge outdoor festival stage, with thousands of people singing along every word to every song. Then I ordered our tickets to BYH Fest. True story. Now that the moment was finally here, I could barely contain my excitement. The stage looked amazing, featuring an enormous backdrop with the ‘Blind Rage’ cover art, a massive wall of double-stacked amps with the Accept logo from one end of the stage to the other, and a cool drum platform in the middle. That’s it. The taped intro to “Stampede” started and suddenly we were off to the races. Whatever lofty expectations I had for Accept on this night were well and truly shattered by their dominant performance. Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes effortlessly worked the stage from one end to the other, with frequent visits to the catwalk, individually and collectively. They bounded across the stage with an obvious joy and exuberance that belied their ages. Mark Tornillo demonstrated why he is the perfect frontman for this band, as he belts out the vocal lines with poise and power but knows when to step back and allow Wolf and Peter to take over. New guys Uwe Lulis (on guitar) and Christopher Williams (drums) seemed completely at home in the band. Both were marvelous players who seemed fully dialed in with their bandmates and committed to the cause. To be sure, Lulis mostly stayed out of the spotlight, but on a couple of occasions I saw Wolf motion for him to come over to center stage, or even out in the catwalk, to enjoy some time in the limelight. Wolf and Peter have both said in recent interviews that the band is tighter than ever in its new incarnation. Seeing is believing.
A curious aspect of this three-day festival was the opportunity to compare and contrast how different headliners do it. Unlike their predecessors on Thursday and Friday nights, Accept had almost no gimmicks, no props, no special effects (other than a few blasts of CO2 gas), and a few other little things. By and large, they let the music do the talking, relying on sheer energy, killer songs, and force of personality to win over the crowd. And did they ever. It was positively magical to hear the audience singing every word of so many songs, and adding rousing choirs during the singalong parts to songs like “Stalingrad,” “Princess of the Dawn,” “Metal Heart,” and of course “Balls to the Wall.” The band felt that way too, with Tornillo exclaiming with amazement, “You guys are killing it! Last band of a three-day festival and you’re all standing and screaming.” And we were. I felt like I was in a dreamstate seeing Wolf and Peter out there at the end of the catwalk, rocking out to their hearts’ content on the jammy extended version of “No Shelter.” New songs, old songs, everything was executed brilliantly, from the 80s romps through “Losers and Winners” and “Midnight Mover” to the fistful of new classics like “Dying Breed” and “Final Journey” from Blind Rage. Here’s an interesting fact: Accept played 10 songs from the Tornillo era tonight, and just 8 from the Dirkschneider period. Living in the past? I think not. You know, I wouldn’t have had it any other way (I did miss “Breaker,” though, first time I’ve seen them in recent years where they didn’t play that tune). Only moment where my heart jumped into my throat was during “Pandemic,” when Baltes dashed out onto the catwalk, then ran back to the mainstage at full speed, only to wipe out when he hit the stairs. For a split second, I imagined Peter being injured, unable to continue, the show screeching to a halt. But then Peter got back to his feet, raised his fists with a sheepish grin on his face, and resumed rocking as if nothing had happened. Both Wolf and Mark made a point of walking over to check on him, but he waved them off. A minute later, Peter was running back out onto the catwalk, sprinting to and fro, one fist in the air as if to tell us, “No worries folks. I got this.” And he did.
If the metal gods are kind to me, I will see Accept many more times before either (i) I go deaf or (ii) they call it a career. I will never see them better than they were tonight. This gig is one of those memories that I will lock away in my heart, forever and ever, bringing it out whenever I need a little sunshine, a little inspiration, a little pick-me-up to get through a tough day. Accept were the best band on the planet tonight. And I got to experience them. Thanks BYH! Setlist: Stampede, Stalingrad, London Leatherboys, Restless and Wild, Dying Breed, Final Journey, Shadow Soldiers, Losers and Winners, 200 Years, Midnight Mover, No Shelter, Princess of the Dawn, Dark Side of my Heart, Pandemic, Fast as a Shark. Encores: Metal Heart, Teutonic Terror, Balls to the Wall.