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Petri Wessman's weblog

Dancing about architecture

It’s been a pretty amazing year for me, music-wise. I saw Imogen Heap live twice, saw Jane Siberry perform in a normal home living room and got to talk with her for a good bit afterwards, saw Arcade Fire live at Senaatintori… the list goes on. I’m not complaining at all, it’s nice that Helsinki is firmly on the map nowadays for musicians on tour. And now of course both The National and Rush are coming to play gigs in Helsinki in the early spring (yay!).

Still, the “most amazing performance of the year” prize goes (easily) to Joanna Newsom at Kulttuuritalo. I wasn’t sure of what to expect and had never seen her live before. Wow. She’s now pretty close to the top of my “must see this artist live again” list. Very quirky, with a weird voice and a blend of folk, classical and even jazz music, she sounds quite a bit like a young Kate Bush at times but the music is often quite different. Oh, and in this age of compact radio-friendly songs she goes for 7+ minute epics with dense and literate lyrics. Good for her. This is the reason I go see live shows. One show like this makes up for dozens of mediocre ones (not that there were too many of those this year).

I also have to include this even though it’s not from that evening (though it is from the same tour), simply because besides being a great song, “Good Intentions Paving Company” is perhaps the best song title ever.

The National coming to Helsinki

Today’s good news: The National, one of my favorite bands, are coming to Helsinki next March (3.3.) for their first “proper” Finnish gig – they’ve been here twice before at rock festivals (Ruisrock and Ankkarock). Missed them at Ruisrock, but they were awesome at Ankkarock.

I do love these guys, there’s just something about their music and Matt Berninger’s stage presence that captivates me. Matt’s songwriting has a Bohemian flair and the intricate lyrics are meant to encapsulate snapshots of a vanishing moment or feeling rather than being literal things (“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”, for instance). You won’t find songs of teenage angst and rebellion here, this is about middle-aged life in a complicated world, trying to keep your head together and dealing with relationships (failed ones, most often), alcohol, divorce, alienation, loss, and friends who are close to losing it. It’s not all dark; there is wry humor here, and often an air of hope. Oh, and they also rock.

I think this place is full of spies
I think they’re onto me
Didn’t anybody, didn’t anybody tell you
Didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room
I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses, I know

And so and now I’m sorry I missed you
I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain
It went the dull and wicked ordinary way

Tickets go on sale next Monday.

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Secret meeting in the basement of my brain

I’m put together beautifully
Big wet bottle in my fist, big wet rose in my teeth
I’m perfect piece of ass
Like every Californian
So tall I take over the street, with highbeams shining on my back
A wingspan unbelievable
I’m a festival, I’m a parade

And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me
And all the wine is all for me

– The National, “All the Wine”

So, there we were at Ankkarock, dead on our feet but with the sun shining and tons of people milling around. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling, but it was generally pretty good. Janka was having more than a bit of trouble keeping awake, but soldiered on. Me, I was starting to get more and more on top of things. You know that feeling you get, when you push past the first 10 or so times that your body tells you “you really need to sleep now”? There’s a weird sort of plateau, where you know that you’re dead tired and running on fumes… but you actually feel pretty good, and sort of just float along in a daze. I was getting there.

Anyway, the music. Eppu Normaali was…. Eppu Normaali. Absolutely no surprises there, but I wasn’t expecting any. Nostalgic Finnish poprock, with lyrics everyone knows by heart. High on the nostalgia factor, but otherwise… well, what can I say. It’s Eput. They are a Finnish pop/rock institution.

Next up was PMMP, and I was (very) positively surprised. In fact, they proved to be easily the second-best of the four bands I saw there. Now, it’s a band that a lot of people I know have been telling me is good for years, but I never got around to listening to their stuff much. I’ve heard some of their songs, and they are in the “pretty much ok” department. Also saw them for a short while at Provinssirock some years back, but didn’t stay to watch too long. Well, this time I did, and I have to say that they have (perhaps surprisingly) blossomed into a real, “serious” poprock band. Their stage presence was excellent, they had energy and humor, and the songs worked great in an outdoor festival environment like that. Still not sure how well they work on CD, but that live show did very much change my opinion about them. Perhaps because of their “bubblegum-pop girl band” beginnings, I have been a bit dismissive of them in the past. They’ve evolved, apparently. Good for them. They rocked.

At that point, Janka decided to head for home; she was just totally dead from lack of sleep (and still probably suffering from the food poisoning in addition), so staying to watch some more bands didn’t make much sense. I stayed on, since the band I actually came to see (National) was playing later in the evening.

I went an grabbed a long drink; dared to drink one even though I was dead tired and still needed to drive home, experience has shown me that I can handle one (specifically, one) in that state and that it’s actuall a good idea. It was, once again, it took the worst edge off the tired feeling and left me in a nice, mellow mood. The sunshine helped, too.

The next show was Volbeat. Some people had gushed a lot about their stage show, and I can understand why; these guys were pretty good and they have a huge number of Finnish fans (many of whom were there to cheer them on). Musically, it was heavy rock with some “Elvis” elements; I liked the fact that they had added some 60s/rockabilly/country elements to the mix, which is apparently one of their trademarks (they actually did one Johnny Cash cover). It works quite well – but on the other hand, the music is mostly fairly bog-standard heavy rock and gets a bit same-ish and slightly boring after a while. It’s not a band that I would probably specifically pay to see again, but I wouldn’t at all mind seeing them again at a festival or such sometime. It lacked a strong “hook” to really get me interested, but it was fun and energetic heavy rock’n’roll with some nice nonstandard elements thrown in. Definitely better than most of the “heavy” bands around nowadays, which at time seem cloned from one another.

Lastly (for me) was the band I had actually come to see, The National. They have risen to become one of my favorite bands nowadays. Some of the things in their music are things that typically attract me in music: complex, multilayered obscure lyrics, strange tempo changes, strong melodies, and a strong sense of dark, wry sarcastic humor. Some other bits go in the “if I could describe it, it wouldn’t be art” department. For some reason, their music resonates in ways that few bands manage to pull of (for me). Don’t get me wrong; I have a pretty wide taste in music and The National are far from being “the thing that I listen to, period”. But they are one of the bands frequently found on my playlist nowadays, together with Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers and other bands in that sort of “headspace”.

So anyway, I’ve never seen these guys live (sadly missed their previous first visit to Finland a year ago) and had pretty huge expectations from this gig. Now, generally that’s a bad thing, especially for “just a festival gig”; it’s setting yourself up for disappointment. But I couldn’t help it, I was looking forward to this a lot, and the sun was shining and I had a pleasant sleep deprivation plus one long drink buzz going on.

They were awesome, actually better than I had expected. The guys in the band seemed happily bemused by the happy and loud audience reception, and people were singing along to most of the songs, and in general the feeling was just fantastic. Things started off with Matt Berninger shuffling on stage, wearing a scruffy suit with a bottle of white wine stashed in the pocket, and then launching into the first song, “Start a War”. When people around you sing along (loudly) to obscure lyrics like “and so and now I’m sorry I missed you, I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain”, you know you’re in good company. Great setlist… they only missed one of my personal favorites (“Friend of Mine”) and had nice variations on many of the songs. There was an “extra” guy on stage playing keyboards and violin… and any band that features a violin or fiddle on stage gets an extra point from me. They closed down with “Mr. November”, which had Matt climbing down to hug some fans while singing the “I used to be carried in the arms of cheerleaders” end refrain. It was great, everyone was grinning and having fun.

Awesome high note to end a heavy-duty con weekend on. Someone has already uploaded the first song from the gig on YouTube, so here you go:

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Summer scheduling

Looks like I need to start scheduling my summer right about now, a lot of things need decisions round this time. For example, I just heard that The National are coming to Ankkarock… and of course Ropecon is on the same weekend. Gah. I really want to see The National, they were one of the best “new finds” of last year for me. Good news is that they are performing on Sunday. I’ll probably be able to combo the con Sunday with a rock festival. Somehow. It might involve beer.

In addition, a friend’s paintball weekend thingy lands on top of Provinssirock. Probably choosing the paintball there… sure, it would be nice to see Placebo (again) and Nick Cave, but now that (another) friend no longer lives nearby that would be a pretty expensive trip – I think I’ll opt for the cheaper “run in the woods and get shot” option. Oh, and of course there’s a KMFDM club gig on that same weekend. Already have tickets for that, but not yet sure how I’ll combo everything.

Oh, and we’re planning of maybe visiting Iceland in August, and continuing from there to Burning Man (once again!). Still in the planning stages, but that one will eat up both our vacation time and a chunk of cash. Why Iceland? Because we can. And because it should be less horribly expensive now, due to their financial crash. Sucks for them, good for us.

Having fun takes work, I tell you.

Missed you

Standing at the punch table swallowing punch
can’t pay attention to the sound of anyone
a little more stupid, a little more scared
every minute more unprepared

I wanna hurry home to you
put on a slow, dumb show for you
and crack you up

You know I dreamed about you
for twenty-nine years before I saw you
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for
for twenty-nine years

– The National, “Slow Show”

It struck me again, while I was wandering around Prague feeling at times pretty drawn out and out of synch with everything, how happy I am for having married Janka. Though she’d possibly deny it and find the notion funny, she provides stability and a centerpoint at times when I’m feeling not at all stable myself, without restricting me in any way. I can’t begin to express how much that means to me… and even though I was blessed with very cool traveling companions on the Prague trip, I do wish I could have had her along with me on the road. Thanks, love, for being… you. And for being there for me when I need it.

Slow Show captures a vignette of this, without quite being a traditional love song.

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Black Cab Sessions

Even though I’m still a bit pissed off about Björk’s cancelled gig, stumbling on the Black Cab Sessions did brighten up the day a bit. Cool idea, some guys in London decided they’d try to pursuade visiting bands they liked to sing a song in the back of a cab. Nobody gets any money (except the cab driver), and everyone does it for fun (or because it’s weird, or for publicity, or whatever).

They have actually managed to snare in some bands I like a lot. The National (see below) is brillant and moody, and The New Pornographers, Death Cab For Cutie and My Morning Jacket are all great.

Not to mention poetry in motion, in the form of Benjamin Zephaniah. Whoah.

As an aside, The Bleeding Heart Show has been running through my head all week. Love that song. I’ll have to get the album, and some of Neko Case’s solo stuff too.

We have arrived
too late to play
the bleeding heart show

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