Not many bands will kick off a gig with a brand new track from an album released just a week earlier… especially a twelve minute long track… but then again, Von Hertzen Brothers are not like many other bands. Prog or not prog? Classic rock or not classic rock? They have leanings towards both genres, but worrying about where to place them is futile. Better to simply tune in and drop out. Besides, prog bands don’t tend to smile as much as these guys do, or have as much fun on stage either. Someone needs to tell them that prog bands are supposed to be po-faced! The one thing that can be agreed on is how powerful a live band that they are. It’s one thing catching them on a wet miserable afternoon at Download but here, in front of a packed house, it’s quite another.
The opening track in question, the title track from new album ‘War Is Over’, is like a classical suite in the sense it has a prelude, main body and an end piece. The guitars that signal the main body of the composition are staggering. Kie von Hertzen is battering the living daylights out of his Fender, and brother Mikko is no slouch in the six string department either. The sound is massive, there’s no other word to describe it. Serious musos in the crowd can be seen making mental notes as the brothers make it look effortless, a skilful attribute indeed. Besides the musos, the crowd is a great mix. The younger couple to my right are bopping about, as the band plow headlong into another new one, ‘Jerusalem’. The older ones, like myself, might draw a line at ‘bopping’, as it can spill one’s pint, but fun is being had nonetheless. The third Von Hertzen Brother, bassist Jonne, is oblivious to the starry-eyed glances coming from the female fans on the barrier, but they don’t mind. Mikko is an engaging frontman, every song met with a brief introduction or an explanation. He jokes with long term fans that he has spotted, including one that had been badgering the band for over three years to come back to the city for a headlining gig. He also points out another long term fan and asks him what he thinks of the new album. “Best one yet” is the answer, to which the vocalist responds, “It’s our baby, so you better like it!”
As mesmerising as the Von Hertzen Brothers are to watch, it’s very hard not to keep one eye on drummer Sami Kuoppamaki, who is simply incredible. Mikko makes a point of singling him out for special attention, as he is stoked to have Kuoppamaki back with the band. Keyboard player Robert Engstrand also gets special attention, but not just for the atmospheric layers that he adds to the evening, but also for being Swedish! It’s all bants mate, trust me, it’s all bants. ‘War Is Over’ forms the bulk of the set with ‘The Arsonist’, ‘Frozen Butterflies’, ‘Beyond The Storm’ and the sublime ‘Long Lost Sailor’ joining the earlier tracks. Plucked from the back catalogue are ‘Flowers And Rust’, ‘Kiss A Wish’, ‘Miracle’ (which features Kie on lead vocals), and ‘New Day Rising’. When the latter starts up, the young ones that were ‘bopping’ earlier have now upgraded to full on bouncing. Once the set ends, Mikko von Hertzen climbs the bar to retrieve his phone which had been perched on a tripod recording the evening. Don’t get that at a prog gig, do you? A bloody epic evening.
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Becky O’Grady