This was nice and convenient for me because I work in Northampton and live in St Albans, so going to see the Von Hertzen Brothers in Milton Keynes was practically on my way home. The venue was very easy to find and there was some free parking close by, which is always good. The Craufurd Arms is a pub with the music venue in a separate building behind it and I went through the pub and past a smaller stage to get to the venue entrance. There were already two girls from Finland in the queue (who I found out at the London gig the following evening are Johanna and Katri) and they had brought some gifts of chocolate and liquorice for the band which they gave to Kie von Hertzen as he came walking through. I was also able to say hello to him and grab a few words, when he told me that they were really enjoying their time in the UK and that the sound at this venue was great.
As everyone else started to come in it looked like it was going to be a young crowd so I hoped they would hang around to the end. First up we have Ivytone, and I see why the crowd is so young, as it must be made up of their friends. So, we have two lads with acoustic guitars and very loud and enthusiastic fans. They begin with Dead To Me and lead singer Luke Wright forgets where he is going with the lyrics because he gets distracted by their enthusiastic following. They are playing an acoustic set for this gig, and are both strumming acoustic guitars, with Luke singing with a bit of a wail, something of Kurt Cobain in his voice, as they continue with Craving You which has a deeper sound to the guitars. The next one is Fameless and Steffen Haworth picks out an interesting, more Spanish sound within it before a big strum from both of them leads to a melodic finish. Breakdown rolls off hard and they keep that going well throughout the song.
Prozac seems to continue a theme of angst through the song titles and starts off with a lighter feel before the two melodies from the guitars clash and then come together to sway through the chorus. It drifts then picks up again and drives to a close and big applause, which is well deserved. “We thought it would be pretty good to end it on a cover, so we’re going to do Umbrella,” says Luke. I may as well say it, I hate this song. I am sure the only time I have seen it was when Rihanna was performing it live at some festival and she seemed to repeat the chorus forever, obviously just in an effort to fry my brain, so I was not looking forward to hearing it here. But it rattles away with a nice melodic feel, some in the crowd are singing along, and this sounds very good and is a great finish to a very promising set. I will be interested to see where Ivytone go from here with their full electric lineup.
You can see more of my photographs from their set here.
Well, Destroy Everything Move On certainly kick it up as we hit some thrashing punk screamo. Burn has cookie monster vocals from Harry Hales, rattling drums from Ben Adams, thumping bass from Harry Greenfield and two hard riffing guitars from Tommy Corbridge and Tom Dimmock. The crowd appear to love it, even if it is not my particular cup of tea. I mean, I have always liked Metallica and I probably prefer the cookie monster version of Opeth to the somewhat bland thing they have now become, but the screamo by itself thing just does not do it for me. Having said that, I can spot when it is being done well or badly, and it is being done very well here, with everything they do packed full of intent and energy.
The next song is Angels Fall and it bounces away before pounding along behind Harry’s bass and Ben’s drums, with the double guitar attack from Tom and Tommy really effective. What I really enjoy is how they work together, with Tom often holding things together while Tommy is allowed the freedom to flow. Harry Hales comes down into the crowd to get a mosh going, and interaction like that is always fun at a gig. They follow that with one of their earliest songs, called God Of Lies, and it has less of the cookie monster vocals, allowing Harry to show a fine voice. It still pounds along hard and deep with excellent rhythms and it is still full on as both guitars riff away. Crossed The Line is the first song they ever wrote and it riffs in hard and rocks away with a blast. I notice that Harry the bassist is having a few problems as the song progresses and by the end of it he has broken his top string and rips it off, continuing the rest of the set without it.
Anyway, a band with two Harrys, a Tom and a Tommy – that’s a reviewer’s nightmare right there. A guest vocalist (who is probably called Ben, just to add to my nightmare) comes up on stage for their version of In Waves by Trivium. I do not know the original song and here both vocalists take the screamo approach. Guitarist Tommy has taken off his top and comes down into the crowd to see Steffen Haworth from Ivytone, and the crowd are really getting into it now as Harry (the vocalist) comes down from the stage again. Then we get their newest song, Choked On Your Own Words, which was written nine days ago and it is full on driving, pounding screamo with more mosh pit antics off the stage.
Their last song is Don’t Drown and it eases in deep with tapping hi hat from Ben, who has really grown into things as the set has progressed. The crowd clap along as it holds then Harry and Tommy are both off into the crowd again. It eases down to a big finish. This has been an exciting set full of power and energy and the guys up on stage are not only accomplished musicians on the evidence of tonight’s performance, but they also know how to work their crowd. I suspect it will not be long before they move on to bigger things.
You can see more of my photographs from their set here.
Von Hertzen Brothers
And so we get to the main event, if a little bit late despite quick change-arounds between sets. I find it fascinating to watch a band setup and to see the different approaches taken by each band member, and tonight is no different as Mikko and Kie von Hertzen are here, there and everywhere, while Jonne von Hertzen is very methodical with what he is doing, and drummer Mikko Kaakkuriniemi and keyboardist Juha Kuoppala appear to have already done whatever they needed to do. And then we are ready…
The Von Hertzen Brothers come on stage to a cheer and almost immediately Insomniac rocks like a big one with more cowbell from guitarist, Kie !
I am spotted in the front row and get a “hello” from vocalist and guitarist, Mikko, which is always nice. Insomniac is the roaring opening track to their latest album, Nine Lives, and it works very well as a live opener too, a real statement of intent as it powers along. It is followed with the deep dark power chords of Lost In Time and as Kie moves around his slide falls off the stage around my feet. The guy they have with them on the road brings his torch and we find it as the song growls. It pauses then explodes and moves in phases from there with wah wah and piercing sounds from Kie. Angel’s Eyes has us all clapping. Kie was not wrong about the sound in this venue as we can really hear the keyboards from Juha Kuoppala when the song pauses for the vocal part before then blasting away with machine gun drums.
Mikko looks at the front row and says, “Our friends from Finland are here tonight !” and I know there are at least four of them present. In The End has an emphasised guitar part which sounds different to the album version before it breaks open and then roars. This is really an apocalyptic version as it blasts along and they are clearly giving their all. I did not realise at the time this was the first time they had played this song in the UK (it is one of my favourites of theirs and I knew I had seen them performing it in Finland) and I wonder if that caused them to give it some added oomph ! “This afternoon is the first time we saw the sun since we got to the UK,” says Mikko, before Always Been Right crashes away with clapping from the crowd and rolls along upbeat. They really kick it to the finish then flow into Endlessly which drifts and sways. It very gradually builds. Then, almost from nowhere, who knew it rocked this hard ? Mikko and Kie look sweaty and knackered by this time and Kie’s tshirt is so drenched it has changed colour. Someone in the crowd calls for Freebird. Mikko considers it for a second. “OK guys, we’re about to take it down a bit. This one is called Separate Forevers.” It chimes in with a deep tolling sound and drifts in the wind (although there is no wind in the venue). Crashing waves with added keyboards from Jonne as well as Kie’s slides which hit us with a piercing sound as he sits to the side. It is all very atmospheric. Mikko thanks Abi for doing the merch desk, and it was good to see that they have their cds on sale during this tour. They have some feedback issues before they get into I Believe. It very gradually builds behind Kie’s vocals then blasts away in bursts of pure energy. It comes alive ! The album version is a brilliant epic but this takes it up a couple more notches. Oh, the emotion floods through with the sweat !
Mikko tells us he had never heard of Milton Keynes before he had arrived here today. He wonders if they have a football team. How on earth do you summarise the whole Wimbledon/MK Dons/AFC Wimbledon story into gig banter ? “They stole a team,” I shout. Gloria blasts and we bounce and clap as Kie adds in some shaker and we sing along. Mikko stretches his arms wide as he hits two toms which are in front of the drums and keyboards and Kie is on tambourine as there is a flury of activity on stage. They are spinning, jumping around to huge applause and there are bigger cheers as Mikko introduces the drummer, Mikko. “I think it is time for the anthem of the year,” says Mikko, referring to their recent win at the Progressive Music Awards and Flowers And Rust powers away before holding with phasing guitar then soaring through the chorus. It is a mighty track, but, to be honest, it is not even the best anthem on their latest album, as you will find out later in this review. Coming Home rocks from the off and has more vocals from Kie. It gets to the middle part and the three brothers bash anything that moves, with Kie almost bringing everything down around him as he walks off with his stand, which is tangled up in all the wires.
Some wonderful bass rumbles in to lead off the epic Kiss A Wish and we all get lost within the swirling sounds before it gradually builds again and soars away. Let Thy Will Be Done kicks. Simple as that. It riffs in and does not let up as it powers away. We thrust our hands into the air and sing along – it is impossible to resist. They finish their set with Prospect For Escape, which is the best anthem on their latest album, and to begin with it eases us down as it prowls and is such a brilliant example of the VHB formula, as I discussed with Mikko in my interview with him which you can read here, because then it grows and gradually takes us up to the climax before easing us down again to bring a stunning set to a close.
We all called for more and kept on calling for more, and they were coming back on to play Miracle until someone at the side of the stage told them they had passed the curfew and it would not be possible. There was a collective groan from the crowd. So the music was over for the night but another part of the VHB formula is making themselves available to their fans, which they certainly did here.
I was able to have a wonderful chat with Mikko, and you should try it some time because like their music, it will leave you feeling uplifted. This had been an excellent gig before a very receptive audience, some of whom were seeing them for the first time. The set was very well balanced between the new material and the older classics, and included some parts which allowed both the band and the crowd to relax down from the high octane numbers. Overall, these guys know how to rock !
You can see more of my photographs from their set here.
But really you would be far better off taking a look at the excellent photographs from Sarah Lockwood here.