Touchstone/Von Hertzen Brothers–The Duchess, 19/10/13

Photos included in this posting were taken by Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

It was almost a tough choice. For the first time I can remember, there were three gigs that I wanted to attend – a favourite York band, a favourite near-local band and a touring prog double-header. Of course, it was fairly inevitable that I would go with my genre of choice but my rationale was that I would be seeing the York band a few days later on another date of their tour and that the near-local band not only play here regularly but pretty much fill the venue every time. It’s debatable whether the prog bands could be said to need my support any more than the others, or whether me attending that gig will do anything to encourage them (or any other touring band) to return here but, given recent events, I want to do all I can to make sure York at least has a chance to attract bands of this ilk.

Thankfully, The Duchess, although not full, was graced with a reasonably large crowd. Although I have to admit it wasn’t clear to me which of the bands on the bill the majority were there to support.

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Touchstone

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Touchstone played here twice in 2012. The last time was almost exactly a year ago, another double-header in which they were last on the bill, so it is perhaps fitting that it is they who took to the stage first tonight, as a thunderous backing track blared out. The band were promoting their fourth album, Oceans Of Time and launched straight into Flux, the first single from it. By the second track it seemed that vocalist Kim Seviour was warming to her performance more quickly than the previous times I had seen the band. She looked comfortable on stage and her vocals were the best I had heard. From chatting to her afterwards, it seems that this was probably down to her using in-ear monitors during this tour. Adam Hodgson’s guitar provided an incredible opening to Corridors, a hard-rocker from the previous album that showcased those vocals, while Fragments with its staccato and occasionally high-pitched delivery upped the game again. For a band perhaps closer to prog-metal than prog-rock, Spirit Of The Age started with an unusually gentle guitar sound but soon became harder. Kim used a variety of vocal “trickery”  – close to the mic, further away, high, low, normal, shouted – before a brilliant instrumental section took over during a track that was spoiled slightly by a short loss of vocals. (It wouldn’t be a Duchess gig if there wasn’t some problem with the sound…)

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Kim Seviour

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A powerful drum line provided the opening for Shadow’s End and, after the first vocal salvo, Henry Rogers drumming morphed into an almost military beat. It’s an epic track and, after the trouser-leg twitching produced by the drums, it wasn’t long before Moo’s bass caused the floor to vibrate. There was a playfulness to Kim’s performance of Through The Night – the lyric “Raise a glass” saw her lifting aloft Moo’s can of lager. Moo himself seemed to be having issues with his monitors, eventually removing them (with an accompanying profanity and a muttered, “this should be interesting…”) after a roadie seemed to fail to get them to work. The same roadie could be seen looking on worriedly during Oceans Of Time as Moo danced around, with the discarded ear-plugs narrowly avoiding being stood on before eventually being unplugged and moved to a place of safety. Contact saw Kim at her sultry best, singing lines directly to Moo and Hodgson. The song unexpectedly faded away to nothing, with the only clues that it had finished being Moo opening a new can and Rob Cottingham, quiet in the background until now, thanking the crowd. To end their set, the band returned to their second album for Strange Days, only the second song of the set not from the new album, and it saw Kim once again being, in equal parts, sultry and playful. It has been another powerhouse performance from the band and they seem to get better with each tour. My only complaint, apart from the set being too short, if that I struggled to pick out Rob’s keyboards. Whether that was down to me or the sound mix is debatable. 

I hadn’t heard anything by Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers before tonight (not that that has ever stopped me seeing a band) but knew that their latest album, Nine Lives, was getting good reviews. Appropriately, they opened their set with the opening track from that album. Insomniac featured a guitar riff reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and shouty, energetic vocals with Kie, one of the three brothers who make up the band’s front line, also beating out percussion on his guitar. The brothers multi-task, with Kie taking up vocal duties for Coming Home, while Mikko and Jonne took a turn at bashing snare drums towards the back of the stage. Kie’s deeper, faster vocals somehow gave the song  more of a pop-rock feel than the opener. Angel’s Eyes, from the Stars Aligned album, saw Mikko playing while balanced precariously on one of the floor speakers. There was a faint Middle Eastern sound to the song which was only added to by the finger-cymbals used by bass-player Jonne. Before Always Been Right Mikko explained how the band had travelled down from Glasgow the night before and spent the day looking round York. “We wanted to visit the Viking museum,” he explained, drawing the crowd’s attention to Mikko Kaakkuriniemi, the band’s drummer, “but there was a huge queue. Didn’t they know who we were? We went to an Indian restaurant and the market instead…” Eventually the song saw Kie performing with such energy that he appeared to be convulsing, while the hauntingly atmospheric and very different Separate Forevers saw him bent almost double over his guitar.

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Von Hertzen Brothers

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It seemed that a lot of the crowd were much more familiar with the brothers’ output than I was and the introduction of Flowers And Rust was greeted with a huge cheer. The track had recently won the “Anthem” award at this year’s Progressive Music Awards and it was easy to see why. Juha Kuoppala, with keyboards on two sides, produced a lovely backdrop to the quieter first half of the song, with Jonne adding a “tinny” sound from a mini-keyboard before the heavier ending. Gloria saw the band telling a story of childhood days and playing around, its triple harmony punctuated by individual vocal sections. It was lighter than the previous songs but no less energetic with an almost insane instrumental section. Kiss A Wish came from Approach, the band’s Grammy winning second album. It opened with a typical prog section from Kuoppala’s Moog, then the guitars came in and you got the feeling that it was going to build to something special. It did – a stunning instrumental section that saw sweat droplets flying before the track eventually slowed right down again towards the end. With the set drawing to a close, both Mikko and Kie jumped onto speakers, leaning over the crowd while duelling the lead into Let Thy Will Be Done. Back on stage, Kie took time off guitar duties to play snare drum again, this time with a tambourine rather than a drumstick. By the end of the set the whole band looked exhausted, such had been the energy poured into the performance and, as they left the stage,  I thought an encore was looking doubtful. However, they were soon back on and the crowd were shouting requests. Mikko told the crowd that they would be coming back and suggested that they “do like Helsinki and play an album a night”, an idea that went down well with the crowd. The evening finished with another atmospheric and moody track in Prospect For Escape, the quietist and most traditional prog track (if there is such a thing) of the night and I, for one, fervently hope that the band will be back in York some day.

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Mikko Von Hertzen

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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