Summer vacation is long gone, and I’m getting back on track of “normal” life. Work, less free time, gigs that are not in a festival tent, going to the gym (or so I hope…) and why yes, blogging! I’ve got several posts I’ve been meaning to write for ages, but this one was born thanks to a very special gig I went to last night.
I’ve written about my favorite band, the Von Hertzen Brothers, before. They’re the first band I’ve ever interviewed and one of the most gracious bunch of guys I’ve met during my rock photography adventures. They kindly allowed me to shoot their whole gig in the photo pit after the interview, for example. I was thrilled to pieces, as you can guess. I had accreditation, there was no hassle with photo releases or suchlike. It’s the small circles in Finland, I guess.
I hope things aren’t going to be changing in the future, when VHB is concerned – I think they’re heading for bigger circles in the near future and I hope they’ll keep the no-fuss, cordial approach to fans and photographers alike.
Last night I went to Helsinki, to the legendary Tavastia club. VHB was offering us fans a very special treat with their “Magnus Day Celebration”. All of the men in the Von Hertzen family have Magnus as their second name and celebrating the name day of Magnus, it’s their family tradition. This time around we fans were invited, as members of the extended family, you could say.
What’s the big deal, you ask. Well, let’s see. Everything!
The band is putting together their next album practically as we speak. It’s due to be released in March 2015. They just announced yesterday that they will be joining forces with some major music industry names for this one, namely producer Garth Richardson (Biffy Clyro, Rage Against the Machine…) and mixer Randy Staub (Metallica, Alice in Chains…). The band will travel to Vancouver after the pre-production phase is finished and they will put together what I’m expecting to be the album of 2015 (for me, at least). And it will cost them dearly.
Which is why they did a bit of auctioning yesterday, selling some unique pieces of VHB memorabilia to support their album production. Kie’s guitar, Jonne’s bass, few original photographs, some artwork related to their previous album, a couple of demo cd’s. I’m guessing the brothers are feeling rather happy at the moment, since some of the fans had come in packing. Packing thick wads of cash. (Me? Not so much. Pennies, really.) The auction raised probably a bit over 10 grand for the band (I lost count somewhere after 7000 euros), as the prices of the items certainly didn’t stay at what opened each bid (200e). Most items ended up costing anywhere up to 2000 euros – which is effectively what I would love to have now to buy me a nice and shiny Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to use on gigs…
Anyway, after the rich fans had had their opportunities to support the band financially (us poor ones just paid for a ticket that was a bit more expensive than regular Tavastia tickets), it was time for the main event. The first live performance of 16 new VHB songs. Out of which many (I’d love to say all, but they’ll probably have to cut something out) will be on the new album. I have never heard a band do this before. Performing the whole new album over half a year before the release date! I’m sure it’s been done somewhere by someone before, but this was a first for me.
Which is why the title of this post. No photography / recording songs allowed during the gig. I was happy to see people honoring the band’s genuine and 100% understandable wish in order to keep the new songs a secret from the wider public. No cameras, no smartphones, only the band’s official photographer shooting some frames with his pro Nikon. You couldn’t mistake his purpose, he was working for the band. (Sure, I wish I could do that one day, too, but it’s a distant wish for me, really.)
But you know what? This was the second gig I was on within the past couple of weeks when I hadn’t even brought a proper camera with me. Just my phone, of course, but yesterday, no frames. It feels surprisingly light to leave the DSLR behind. Plus it’s a funnily retro feeling to be on a gig where NOBODY is holding up their phones / tablets / p&s cameras / whathaveyous. People were actually listening. Concentrating on experiencing the music then and there. Perhaps with their eyes closed, perhaps swaying to the rhythm, but not singing along as nobody knew the lyrics to the songs!
We photographers who shoot rock (or any kind of) concerts know that seeing a gig through a viewfinder isn’t as intensive an experience as it is without a camera. Or, rather, it’s an intensive experience of a very different kind. Especially on gigs where you have to nail the photo stuff during the two / three first songs of the set list. You really don’t get to enjoy the music, as you’re struggling to keep up with the musicians bouncing hither and tither, keeping an eye on pyrotechnic devices (the joy of shooting heavy metal gigs…) and lighting and so on. You just can’t enjoy the music like you do without a camera.
Which is why I was able to soak in the new music with an open mind, really enjoy and concentrate on the first taste of the new VHB.
It was a glorious taste, too. The band opened the set with two songs that would fill stadiums. A tidal wave of guitar & bass virtuosity left me staggering. Holy moly, this stuff REALLY rocks! Throughout the gig I felt like the brothers were getting more out of their guitars, the arrangements felt “wider” somehow, in the sense that in many songs their sound was more massive than before.
VHB is usually defined as a prog rock band. This time around they are that, but they are really so much more. Some songs were stupendously complex prog pieces (even more so than on the earlier albums), some were delightfully straight forward rock pieces, some had a dash of pop in them, or a bit of country or a twist of funky jazzy stuff. My mind was officially blown and I was throwing all labels in the trash bin, as I don’t think this music should be labeled – it should be listened. You make of it what you will. But the brothers will throw so many notes at you that you’ll be struggling to cope with them for a while, it won’t be an easy listening album. It will demand your attention, it will not fade into the background, it will not be played in an elevator in a shopping mall. And I love that about the Von Hertzen Brothers. They aren’t going to underestimate their audiences. They never have, in my opinion. But the new album may be a whole new level of “Whoa!” for us.
It’s difficult to say, based on this one listen, what they’ll pick for the album. I’m definitely hoping that the bassist brother Jonne’s songs make the cut. His pieces were a fascinating trip to a slightly different kind of place, a place where there’s bass delay and lots of bass distortion! I hope the song that was cut out of their previous album makes it. It had a Nine Lives sound to it, but with added power. I wish the Superhero song makes it, as it was a rather fun piece, kinda reminded me of Always Been Right.
Ok, honestly? I want a frigging 16 track album! No cuts!
Yeah, the gig was well worth traveling to Helsinki on a midweek evening, traveling back to Turku by bus in the middle of the night (lightly dozing off while sitting cramped in my seat), getting home at 4 am on a Wednesday morning, sleeping for 3 hours and going to work.
Final thoughts on this matter? I can’t wait for the album and even though I will be packing my DSLR this Saturday when I go on a cruise ship to see VHB play there (old songs), I will make an effort to enjoy more concerts without a camera in the future. You should do that, too!