LCMDF with Phantom and Wino4ever DJs at Tavastia

Phantom at Tavastia - Photo by David de Young

Phantom at Tavastia – Photo by David de Young

The double bill of Phantom and LCMDF at Tavastia Wednesday night made for a lovely mid-week evening out in Helsinki.

When we arrived, the Wino4ever DJs were warming up the club with their enthusiastic vibe. Their musical selections were from all over the map, but always fun. The energy from the DJ booth was contagious.

The live show started around 9 with Phantom, the electropop duo of sound designer and media artist Tommi Koskinen (effects) and Sibelius Academy-trained Hanna Toivonen (vocals). Koskinen’s gear included a very cool theremin-type device that looked like it was salvaged from a Starship Enterprise model. The device added a nice touch to the live feel of the show, which was nice as there is only so much visible effort you can put into twiddling nobs when working with primarily pre-recorded backing tracks. A third band member manipulated images from a live camera on the screen behind the band.


Phantom video for Phantom’s “Kisses”

Phantom has been hyped this week in Finland and has also received favorable press recently in the UK. They’ve been praised by British band the xx, and their single “Kisses” was premiered by the Guardian. The centerpiece of their show is Hannah Toivonen and her mesmerizing vocals. You get a fine example of those vocals in the much touted video for “Kisses” (which you are advised to watch here, as you won’t be disappointed). Live, the song brings the same shivers up the spine as in the recording. It’s sensitive, beautiful and disturbing at the same time. And it’s a tasteful and perfect use of Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1. Toivonen is still growing into her role as a front woman, but her fluid hand-motions and subtle dancing enhance her impeccably-pitched singing. Phantom’s set was nicely paced and varied. They even slipped in a cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.” This act will only get more powerful as they get more experience touring.

You can download Phantom’s 4-song EP “Scars” for free from their website here. For more photos of Phantom’s live show at Tavastia, check out this excellent set of pictures by Eetu Ahanen.

lcmdf2

LCMDF at Tavastia – Photo by David de Young

LCMDF is a band who first and foremost knows how to entertain a crowd. They get extra credit from knowing how to appeal to a wider demographic than just young people who like electropop girl groups. Though the band likes to cite ‘90s influences to their music, bands like Weezer, Chemical Brothers and Beck, perhaps the appeal to older audiences (like myself) is the influences of ‘80s groups ranging from dance bands such as The B-52s to the playful tease of fun girl groups like The Waitresses’ (“I Know What Boys Like”).

Primary vocalist Emma Kemppainen wasted no time revving up the crowd as the set began, clapping her hands and wireless mic above her head. (Kemppainen is a singer who clearly can’t be tied down by a cord.) Sister Mia Kemppainen was grounded stoically stage left behind her electric guitar. The duo also features a live drummer who perfectly rounds out both the sound and visual experience with her steady beat. Lack of a live bass player is a non-issue. Once the set began, the energy never let up. Emma oozed confidence and Mia’s steady, sometimes understated guitar provided the perfect accompaniment.


Video for LCMDF’s “Future Me”

This band is also one that seems ready-made for outdoor summer festivals and live TV. As an audience member you feel seen and like you’re a part of the show. At one point Emma jumped from the stage to dance with the audience, literally breaking down the fourth wall she’d been breaking figuratively from the start with her interactive stage demeanor.

LCMDF played most of their well-known songs including “Paranoia” and “I Go Insane” from their latest EP Mental Health Part 1. (Two more EPs are due out soon as part of a trilogy on FAN Recordings.) Also heard were “Ghandi,” “Future Me,” “Take Me to the Mountains” and “Cool and Bored” from 2011’s Love & Nature.

Their acoustic encore of “Beach Life” was lovely (and a sing-along for some in the front row.)

LCMDF is off now on a tour of Finland this weekend and then a European tour this spring.

LCMDF early 2013 tour dates:

  • 7-feb FIN Nuclear Nightclub, Oulu, Finland
  • 8-feb FIN Freetime, Jyväskylä, Finland
  • 9-feb FIN Valoa Festival, Tampere, Finland
  • 13-feb SE Fritzs Corner, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 14-feb NO By:Larm Festival, Oslo, Norway
  • 15-feb NO By:Larm Festival, Oslo, Norway
  • 20-mar DE Comet, Berlin, Germany
  • 21-mar DE Halle 01, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 22-mar FR Point FMR, Paris, France
  • 23-mar CH M4 Music Festival, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 26-mar DE Uebel & Gefährlich, Hamburg, Germany
  • 27-mar DE Beatpol, Dresden, Germany
  • 28-mar DE Zoom, Frankfurt, Germany
  • 29-mar NL Merelyn, Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • 01-apr DE Studio 672, Cologne, Germany
  • 02-apr LX Rockhal, Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Soliti Roadshow at Tavastia, Helsinki featuring Cats on Fire, Big Wave Riders, Astrid Swan, Delay Trees and Black Twig DJs

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Delay Trees at Tavastia – Photo by David de Young

If you’re looking for great Finnish indie bands who sing in English (and admittedly, I am), you need look no further than Soliti label’s impressive – eight artists and counting – roster. On Wednesday night I got a chance to see four Soliti bands live at the their roadshow at Tavastia in Helsinki, and it left me looking forward to hearing more.

The line-up was refreshingly diverse for a single label showcase and kicked off with a dreamy set from Delay Trees who played to a quiet and attentive crowd. Delay Trees is pleasantly earnest, their music immensely listenable. A plenitude of shimmering songs reminded me at times of what Cocteau Twins might have sounded like with male vocals. This sort of music has been done a lot and could easily be pretentious, but in Delay Trees’ hands it never is. Though sometimes I found myself wishing the boys would “bring it” a bit more, this is probably my American cultural bias reacting to the band’s Finnish reserve, and in retrospect they “brought it” just about perfectly.

Delay Trees video for “HML”

Next up was multi-instrumentalist Astrid Swan, performing as duo with just her on piano and a drummer. Swan’s songs feature interesting chord progressions and dynamic range, her vocals sometimes reminiscent of Kate Bush. Her latest album on Soliti is 2012’s collection of all Pavement covers (yes, you heard me right, 9 songs written by Stephen Malkmus) called (appropriately?) Hits (Pavement for Girls). Swan’s no stranger to covers, incidentally, as she performed an acoustic version of The Killers “When You Were Young” on KCMP 89.3 “The Current” in my home state of Minnesota in April, 2007, a song that appears on Live Current Volume 3. While I didn’t have nearly the musical connection with Swan as with the other band’s on Wednesday’s bill, I was nonetheless impressed by her musicianship and rapport with her drummer. Together, the two of them brought the dynamic range of a full band to the songs, and as a duo, whether piano and drums, or guitar and drums, this is a skill not to be underestimated.

Astrid Swan video for “Here” from Hits (Pavement for Girls)

Perhaps as a harbinger of good things to come, the featured DJs of the night (members of Soliti band Black Twig), played Hüsker Dü’s “Makes No Sense at All” between sets, reminding me of my Minneapolis heritage. (Black Twig aren’t participating live in the Soliti Roadshow, but they have their own show at Tavastia on January 26th.)

Cats on Fire at Tavastia - Photo by David de Young

Cats on Fire at Tavastia – Photo by David de Young

The act that originally drew me to the show and Soliti music was Cats on Fire. I wish I could remember how I came upon them, whether it was Radio Helsinki or a Google search, but what’s most important is that we found each other. Cats on Fire’s albums are world-class English-speaking indie pop, reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian, the Decemberists, Camera Obscura, The Smiths, and many more bands in whose direction my tastes were already bent. Strong in the studio, it’s on stage this band really made their impression on me. Charismatic and articulate lead singer Mattias Björkas keeps your attention, his acoustic guitar worn high like a strolling troubadour, stiff but charming formality and a quick bows to the audience after each song. Stage banter between songs was in both Swedish and Finnish, some songs ending with a tack as well as a kiitos. Live, Cats on Fire cast a shimmery aural brilliance across the room, the kind that really makes you feel good inside (and that’s the main thing I look for in music at times.) Their new album, 2012′s All Blackshirts To Me is top notch and worth your time if you like any of the bands I mentioned above. The songs are well-crafted, memorable and distinct.

Cats on Fire video for “After the Fact” from All Blackshirts to Me (2012)

The roadshow’s final band, Big Wave Riders started a little late so I had to miss the end of their set but I was impressed by what I did hear. Before seeing them live, I’d heard only one track from them (the New Order flavored “Sunny Season” – see video) and that didn’t prepare me for what I saw. Big Wave Riders slammed into me like a swaggering locomotive from their very first song. Definitely not fucking around, they took no prisoners with their funky, frequently soaring 3 guitar attack. On 2012′s Life Less Ordinary which I’m only beginning to listen to as I complete this review, the same confident rock and roll attitude prevails. Yet another band to watch and one I look forward to seeing again.

Big Wave Riders video for “Sunny Season” from Life Less Ordinary (2012)

The Soliti Roadshow continues with shows in Tampere January 18th and Turku January 19th.

18.01.2013 Yo-Talo, Tampere : The New Tigers, Big Wave Riders, Paperfangs

19.01.2013 Dynamo, Turku : Cats On Fire, The New Tigers (Nick Triani Dj.)

Husky Rescue at Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo, Helsinki

Husky Rescue at Korjaamo

Finnish electro-pop purveyors Husky Rescue played a shimmering and intimate set Saturday night at Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo (Korjaamo Culture Factory) in Helsinki as part of El Camino Label Night. This was Husky Rescue’s only hometown gig this fall for fans lucky enough to attend.

I was not able to see the opening set by label-mate, Tiiu Helinä, whose debut full-length, Brother, will be released November 5th. But one listen to Helinä’s SoundCloud offerings suggest that it will be an album that fans of Husky Rescue or Sigur Rós will also surely enjoy.

One could easily argue Husky Rescue is Finland’s answer to Iceland’s Sigur Ros. They employ a building, lullaby-like ambiance, subdued yet powerful, that makes you feel more tingly than sleepy.

Husky Rescue has been around since 2002, but this was my first time seeing them live. The current lineup is founder Marko Nyberg (effects, bass, vocals), Antony Bently (guitars, effects) and Johanna Kalén (vocals, bass). I first heard of them when they played in my former home of Minnesota in the US in 2006, but my interest was re-kindled after moving to Finland and hearing their 2004 single “Summertime Cowboy” on Radio Helsinki.

Acrobat at Husky Rescue’s Korjaama show

After the recording of the band’s 2010 album Ship of Light, long-standing singer Reeta-Leena Vestman was replaced by Swedish vocalist Kalén, and though Saturday’s set relied heavily on selections from that album, the songs took on new life with the addition of Kalén’s vocals. If the band’s first single with the current lineup “Deep Forest Green” is an indication of the chemistry possible between the band and Kalén, I look forward to the new full-length the band is expected to release in the spring of 2013.

Saturday night’s “in-the-round” show featured an acrobat spinning on a hoop suspended above the crowd, two string players in flowing full-length gowns, and employed a cinematic theme of lights and cut-out leaves through the 75 minute performance, similar to the theme employed in the Laura Väinölä-directed video for “Deep Forest Green.

The audience was encouraged to relax by lying down or sitting, which almost everyone did. Latecomers tiptoed in and stood near the back.  The set itself built, beginning in almost a hush and ending with something a little short of a roar.

For an encore they brought the fiddle players back on stage for “Sleep Tight Tiger,” which you can see her in a video captured on video by a fan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3QrjdOAilU.

Husky Rescue’s next show is at Scala in London, November 12th.

Leonard Cohen with the Webb Sisters at Sonera Stadium, Helsinki

Leonard Cohen at Sonera Stadium, Helsinki (view more photos from this show here.)

Leonard Cohen’s performance in Helsinki Sunday, September 2nd found the Canadian singer in good voice and spreading no small amount of uplifting energy among his many devoted Finnish fans. The open air-concert at Sonera Stadium featured a perfect blend of songs, a quiet and attentive crowd, and only a few drops of rain. This last fact was a lucky one considering the days before and after the show were rather rainier.

The 31 songs in Cohen’s set (25 songs divided between 2 sets plus 6 encore selections) came from albums spanning Cohen’s five decade long career: several songs from 2012’s Old Ideas, 1992’s The Future, 1988’s I’m Your Man, and 1984’s Various Positions with equal attention to the older songs fans have come to love going back to Cohen’s first album for Columbia Records, 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen, like Nick Drake, is an artist most music fans never forget discovering. I discovered Cohen (and not coincidentally, Drake) in 1989, at the age of 25, through a friend’s exquisite vinyl collection in Minneapolis. I don’t recall doing much else that summer weekend other than steep myself in the words and sounds of those many amazing records.

It would be 20 years before I saw Cohen live, and Sunday in Helsinki was only my second Leonard Cohen show. (My first was at England’s Glastonbury Festival in 2008.)

Cohen’s Helsinki show Sunday started spot on time at 7 p.m. The venue, Sonera Stadium, is usually reserved for football matches of the HJK (Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi) with a capacity exceeding 10,000. It’s not necessarily designed for concerts, but it does work as a music venue, and to its credit it was certainly the right size for the crowd. When last in Helsinki in October 2010, Cohen played indoors at Hartwall Areena.

Song summary Set 1:

Cohen played much the same set in Helsinki he has played elsewhere on his 2012 European tour which began August 12th in Belgium and wraps up in Portugal October 7th.

He opened with the Gypsy-styled “Dance Me to The End of Love,” Alexandru Bublitchi’s fiddle taking an early and exquisite prominence which it was to sustain throughout the entire evening.

Next was, the apocalyptic “The Future,” with The Webb Sisters, Cohen’s “sublime” – Cohen’s word choice, and fitting – backup singers doing cartwheels towards the end of the song, which prompted Cohen later in the show to also credit them with acrobatics. Despite gymnastics on the stage, the crowd remained mostly mesmerized and still, and would remain so throughout the show.

A little drizzle was felt in the front of the stands by the third song, “Bird on a Wire,” and a few people on the field pulled on plastic raincoats.

At Sunday’s show, it was the Cohen songs I was least familiar with that had the strongest emotional impact on me. The first of these was “Who by Fire,” with its chilling refrain of “and who should I say is calling?” The song, an existential ode inspired by a Jewish prayer, gave me goose bumps. The 12-string classical guitar interlude by Zavier Mas is a beautiful touch to this song when it’s performed live, and the added depth Cohen’s voice has taken on since he recorded it in 1974 for the album “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” also adds to the effect. (Here’s a great example of what this song sounds like live these days in a video from the London show in 2009: https://vimeo.com/5143032.)

An outdoor show so close to the sea would be incomplete without seagulls, and I was a little jealous of the view the one that was flying over during “Amen” would have had of the show. “Amen” was also the first song of the night from Cohen’s latest release, Old Ideas. All evening I was impressed with how wonderfully these new songs mixed with the tried and true older ones, testament to the fact that the new album is unquestionably up there with Cohen’s best.

On “Come Healing” the Webb Sisters brought their gorgeous harmonies. Cohen knelt while they sang, as he often does when members of his band solo or sing. He also removed his trademark fedora in respect. Bits of blue sky peaked through the clouds around “In My Secret Life,” a hint of a sunset that we unfortunately did not get.

“Waiting for the Miracle” was another show highlight for me. Even 25 years after discovering Cohen’s music I am still frequently downright blown away by the quality of the songwriting from both a literary and musical standpoint. Cohen’s songwriting regularly exhibits the perfect confluence of lyric and hook many songwriters strive for all their lives and hit (if they’re lucky) only on occasion.

“Going Home,” the new album opener, was well-received and immediately recognized. Old Ideas has sold incredibly well in Finland; in fact, all around the world it has been the highest debuting album of Cohen’s career.

Before the inspiring “Anthem” (“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”) Cohen addressed the crowd at length for the first time. He thanked people for coming together under what he called “difficult circumstances,” mentioning a “coming conflict,” ostensibly referring to the bad weather which fortunately did not materialize. He added in his soothing, deep monotone, “It’s important that we sit in the rain and listen to music because otherwise we might grow soft, (pause) and decadent, (pause) and weak.”

Ever the gracious entertainer, Cohen also thanked the front of the house and monitor sound engineers and the lighting personnel, calling them all out by name and their city of origin.

Song Summary Set 2:

After about a 25 minute intermission, the second set opened strongly with “Tower of Song,” Cohen plunking out the childlike piano part on a keyboard. On the much-anticipated “Suzanne” Cohen played guitar, something else that has always impressed me about him, that he’s such a virtuoso lyricist and still a talented musician in his own right. The lighting effects during Suzanne had Cohen’s shadow reflected some 20 feet high on the curtains behind the stage.

“Night Comes On’ was another emotional highlight for me, and a song that I have enjoyed listening to several times since the concert, having been less-familiar with it coming into the show.

“Heart With No Companion” with its country fiddle had a country hoedown feel to it. Though definitely a toe-tapper, it still didn’t get this reserved crowd to move.

The sparse, dark and lovely “The Gypsy’s Wife” featured a mandolin solo and notably sweet tones on the prominent bass line from bassist and musical director Roscoe Beck.

Cohen introduced “Democracy” by saying it’s not a song about the upcoming US Presidential elections, but rather a song “about our deepest and best instincts” and that democracy “remains a goal.” Cohen plays jaw-harp on this song, and the jaunty “boing, boing, boing” of that instrument is somehow nothing less than perfect accompaniment. The Webb sisters pantomimed marching at the end to the song’s military drumbeat. Red white and blue lighting and fiddle were prominent as Cohen sang, “Sail on, sail on almighty ship of state.”

The Webb Sisters enjoyed a few minutes at center stage on “Coming Back to You,” Cohen only spoke part of the verse before turning the song over them to complete. Hattie Webb played a real harp on this song in contrast to Cohen’s jaw-harp on the previous song.

Then it was Cohen’s long-time songwriting collaborator Sharon Robinson’s turn at center stage for “Alexandra’s Leaving.” One lone fan on the soccer field slowly waived a cigarette lighter as she sang. This was quite touching, really, in a sea of otherwise no movement.

“I’m Your Man” got notable crowd response, followed by the likely highlight of the night for many people, Cohen’s much-covered “Hallelujah.” Cohen added our city name to the song as he typically does, singing, “I didn’t come to Helsinki to fool you.”

On “Take this Waltz” the lone lighter was back. God bless that fan’s perseverance.

Take This Waltz,” a song based on Cohen’s own translation of a poem by Federico García Lorca, was the end of the set proper and Cohen made his initial thank you’s and goodbyes. Several people left at the show at this point, perhaps not realizing the quality or quantity of the encores to come.

Encore:

It seemed to me as if the crowd came more alive for the encore than for the show itself.

“So Long Marianne” was a swaying sing-along (at least for us and maybe a couple behind us.)

On “First We Take Manhattan,” the crowd clapping along to the beat almost drowned out the mix. Maybe in response to the increased energy in the stands and on the field, Cohen was smiling. Beaming might even be more accurate. On this song the band also seemed to crank it up a notch.

“Famous Blue Raincoat” was another big crowd pleaser. “Different Sides,” from the latest record, whose refrain “You want to change the way I make love / I want to leave it alone” had already been stuck in my head for days. The live version only re-installed it there, where it remains.

It sounded like a wistful off-hand remark, but I believe it might be part of the original lyrics to “Closing Time” when Cohen said, “They ought to give the night a ticket for speeding,” referring to the fact the night really was drawing to a close.

After “Closing Time,” Cohen broke into an additional aptly-titled additional encore, “I Tried To Leave You,” permitting a final showcase of solos from the band.

And that was Leonard Cohen’s 2012 Helsinki show. But before leaving the stage for the final time, Cohen thanked Jarkko Arjatsalo, webmaster of Cohen’s extensive fan site leonardcohenfiles.com, for his support since 1995.

It was from Arjatsalo’s handy forum that I learned that the band hoped to play yet another encore, (“Save The Last Dance”), but a 10:45 curfew made that impossible.

Here’s the full set list:

First Set
Dance Me to the End of Love
The Future
Bird on the Wire
Everybody Knows
Who by Fire
Darkness
Sisters of Mercy
Amen
Come Healing
In My Secret Life
Waiting for the Miracle
Going Home
Anthem

Second Set
Tower of Song
Suzanne
Night Comes On
Heart with No Companion
The Gypsy’s Wife
The Partisan
Democracy
Coming Back to You (performed by The Webb Sisters)
Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson)
I’m Your Man
Hallelujah
Take This Waltz

Encore:
So Long, Marianne
First We Take Manhattan

Encore 2:
Famous Blue Raincoat
Different Sides
Closing Time

Encore 3:
I Tried to Leave You

EXITUS by Minna Havukainen, part of Helsinki Photography Biennial

One of Minna Havukainen’s photos from the exhibit

Now at G12 Galleria in Töölö (12 Töölöntorinkatu 3 00260 Helsinki), you can see Minna Havukainen’s photography exhibit EXITUS.

Though the display is just eight pieces, consisting of seven photographs and a short video display, the impact is quite large.  You really get the somber feeling of being at a funeral, and the portrayal of death is very real and human. The recorded tolling of funeral bells adds to the effect.

Previously, the exhibition has been shown in Havukainen’s hometown of Turku and Kuopio (in 2009 and 2010 respectively).  It’s Part of Helsinki Photography Biennial, which runs through April 30th. (Visit HPB on Facebook).

EXITUS runs at G12 Galleria from March 17, 2012 through April 5th.  They have pulla and coffee on Sundays.

OF TOYS AND MEN at Helsinki Art Museum (“Lelun lumo” at Helsingin Taidemuseo)

Moottoripyörä Mac 700 kuljettajineen, 1945 Valmistaja Arnold, Saksa © Collection particulière, Pariisi, Ranska, kuva: François Doury

I saw this exhibit of toys yesterday at Helsingin Taidemuseo in Helsinki called “Of Toys and Men.” (The Finnish exhibit name is “Lelun lumo” which translates loosely as “The Toy Charm.”) It’s certainly great fun for all ages as it caters to both children and the inner children of adults.

I enjoyed seeing an over-sized fussball table customized with Barbie Dolls as players, lots of toy cars fit for the children of royalty (and from the looks of the exhibit “on loan from” lists, probably used by the children of royalty). And maybe my favorite part, a section of toy robots that appealed to my inner Doctor Who.

The exhibit runs through May 20th and is part of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012.