Published on 3rd October 2022
Von Hertzen Brothers / For Absent Friends
Poppodium De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, the Netherlands
Thursday, 29th September 2022
On a cool, dark autumn night, Poppodium Boerderij once again sets the stage for a performance by the Finnish band Von Hertzen Brothers (VHB). Again, because these musicians played here previously during the Progdreams Festival in 2019. At the time, they were already able to attract a considerable number of fans. With their recent, well-received album Red Alert in the Blue Forest under their belt, Mikko, Kie and Jonne Von Hertzen are coming back to the Netherlands for two shows, the one at De Boerderij being the focal point.
Support act is Dutch band For Absent Friends (FAF), who recently released a new album, Disappear, of which some songs were played, alongside older work. They are mainly known as a Genesis tribute band, alongside their own work, and the set was well received by the audience, who were, however, clearly mostly anticipating the headline act from Finland.
Von Hertzen Brothers start with two songs from the new album, Day of Reckoning (in this universe, we’re all just codes and numbers) and Blue Forest (the one with the smoking gun). The energy literally oozes from the stage and everyone is in high spirits. Frozen Butterflies comes from the penultimate studio album, War is Over from 2017. The brand new, acoustically tinged All of A Sudden, You’re Gone, written by guitarist Kie, is bloodcurdlingly beautiful.
Nirvana-esque sounds appear in I Came For You. Here Mikko’s voice has a suspiciously high Cobain content, while You Don’t Know My Name is the VHB version of a punk song, in the style of the Ramones. You really can’t deny their versatility. The extremely topical Jerusalem, about war and refugees, is followed by Long Lost Sailor in which I think I detect U2 influences.
Dutch a foreign language? Look who’s talking, Finnish is one of those languages that cannot be traced back to anything. “The land of ice and ice hockey”, said a proud Mikko during the announcement of Flowers and Rust, the song with which VHB broke through in Europe, thanks to a Prog Award for Best Anthem in 2013. Audience participation is requested during Let Thy Will Be Done, and the request was granted. After Sunday Child comes Peace Patrol; a ripping sax solo provided added value on the studio version, this time it is a raging keyboard solo by Robert Engstrand which serves as the highlight of this heavy song from the latest album. You may know Engstrand from folk-metal band Turisas, and in 1998 he was keyboardist on the American leg of The Flower Kings’ tour. The band briefly leaves the stage to return for the surprising encore Prospect for Escape, the lead vocals of frontman Mikko sounding passionate before the curtain falls.
Wow, what power, what an energy! But also the tremendous joy in playing, coupled with a certain ‘looseness’, destined only for artists who feel good about themselves. And they did, this particular evening. Only an estimated 150 visitors on this cool and dark weekday – those who stayed at home were proven wrong, once again, as those present enjoyed the energetic Finns. This was underlined by loud clapping and singing, as if double the number were present. This, in turn, acted as a catalyst and spurred the band on to put even more energy into their performance, especially guitarist Kie, wearing a red woollen cap, who regularly put a big smile on my face with his fanatical guitar playing. He seemed to merge with his old battered Fender Strat and frequently jumped onto the keyboard stage to duel with Robert Engstrand.
Singer/guitarist Mikko was visibly in his element this evening, despite the fact that his voice was not in 100% working order. Mind you, it isn’t easy, those high-pitched notes and complex harmony vocals. The latter, for me, are the band’s trademark; often three-part and sometimes even four-part, the band presented itself as some kind of modern rock version of California based Venice, not entirely coincidentally also consisting of brothers/family. Although musically not comparable, at times VHB reminded me of Lazuli; the intensity, the sheer joy of playing, the mutual (family) bond, the unique, sometimes inimitable music and the socially engaged lyrics which underlined this comparison.
I am a late adopter of the music of VHB, having only followed them for a few years with more than average interest. Their latest album, the aforementioned Red Alert in the Blue Forest, was the deciding factor for me, an absolute belter that contains everything that makes the music of these musicians so unique. The fact remains that there’s a back catalogue of approximately twenty years, and the audience also wants to hear the success songs from the past. But in my modest opinion, they could have sufficed with an integral rendition of this truly excellent album. So no sensitive acoustic ballad like Anil or the fairground sound of Pirates of the Raseborgian, unfortunately. After a raging set of almost two hours, it’s all over. Completely worn out, the brothers gratefully thank the frenzied audience. The show in Zoetermeer is a prelude to a mini tour which saw them play at Progpower Europe in Baarlo the following night, after which ten shows will follow in their home country, in October. At the beginning of February it will be the turn of the United Kingdom. I wish them every bit of success – they thoroughly deserve it.
Day of Reckoning
All of A Sudden, You’re Gone
I Came for You
You Don’t Know My Name
Long Lost Sailor
Flowers and Rust
Let Thy Will Be Done
Prospect for Escape
Mikko Von Hertzen – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Kie Von Hertzen – Guitars, Vocals
Jonne Von Hertzen – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Sami Kuoppamäki – Drums
Robert Engstrand – Keyboards, Vocals
[Photos courtesy of Monica Duffels (Poppodium Boerderij)]