The last time we saw Mikko, Kie and Jonne (AKA progressively minded rockers, and actual siblings, the Von Hertzen Brothers) was at Helsinki rock spot Tavastia, just as their sixth record New Day Rising hit Number One in the Finnish charts.
The enthralled crowd lapped up every note of their career-spanning set – a long set at that, unafraid of lengthy proggy freak-outs, on top of the hard-hitting, arena-courting rock of New Day Rising. Great stuff for a home crowd that’s long held the Von Hertzens close to its collective heart; enough to make all but one of their previous records top the national charts.
In the UK, our relationship with them is a little different – in so far as many of us only really got to know them circa 2013’s Nine Lives, (before promptly digging out the back catalogue). With so much material to choose from, and a beefy latest album to promote, what kind of set would they opt for here?
Tufnell Park Dome feels eerily familiar as you enter – the school hall decor, curtains and stage give the odd sense that you’re arriving at a GCSE-era disco. Or about to sit an exam. All of which is blasted away as the Von Hertzens tear into a triumphant New Day Rising and You Don’t Know My Name. Quietly elegant in different variations on the black jacket n’ trousers look, they’re an understatedly attractive bunch; with strapping, beaming frontman Mikko looking every inch the rock star. So much about this set screams ‘reaching for the big time’, from the heightened physicality of the brothers (there’s a lot of head-throwing and use of multiple stage levels) to the pounding notes of Muse, Biffy Clyro and Radiohead. And in newbie Trouble they have a Soundgarden-meets-Led Zeppelin statement of intent – their Kashmir, almost, with it’s commanding Eastern edges and harmonies.
A prog-free zone, however, this is not. Dream Theater and Flower Kings T-shirts pepper the crowd, and the likes of Flowers And Rust point to the theatrical grandeur of Flying Colors. For a weird minute, a personal favourite of ours Coming Home sounds ready to slide into Bananas by seasoned Welsh proggers Man (it doesn’t, of course).
Crucially, the sprawling, progressive highlights of their earlier years go down brilliantly. Penultimate number Miracle is divine – a soaring feast of delicate touches, woozy heaviness and Flower Kings-esque melodic sensibilities – and the mighty likes of Let Thy Will Be Done remind us that, even at their proggiest, the Von Hertzens have always been about the rock.
It’ll be genuinely interesting to see how they fare on the big second stage at Download this year.