“Does it deserve to be measured against the classics? Yes... and no. ‘Warts and all’ is admirable, but some warts could do with a little concealer”: Von Hertzen Brothers’ Live at Tavastia

The Finnish siblings have more than earned the right to indulge themselves – but debut live album delivers mixed results

Von Hertzen Brothers - Live at Tavastia
(Image: © Von Hertzen Brothers)

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The live album ain’t what it used to be. The days of the in-concert record as monumental cultural artefact are long gone, this once essential rite of musical passage replaced in recent times by the glut of live-in-front-of-no-one lockdown releases spawned by the pandemic – financially necessary, for sure, but unlikely to prop up any Greatest Live Albums Of All Time lists.

Respect to the Von Hertzen Brothers for upholding tradition. They opted to record their first-ever live album in front of a living, breathing, presumably sweaty audience in February 2023 at Helsinki’s historic Tavastia club, a 700-capacity venue that occupies pretty much the same place in the Finnish musical firmament as the Marquee once did in the British equivalent.

For a bunch of native sons schooled to the great live albums of the 70s, the resulting 13-track record feels as much like a personal document as a statement of intent, something underlined by the fact that all the between-song banter is in Finnish (and why wouldn’t it be?).

So does Live At Tavastia deserve to be measured against the classics? Yes... and no. Musically, the Von Hertzen Brothers – lead vocalist/guitarist Mikko, guitarist Kie and bassist Jonne, joined here by keyboard player Robert Engstrand and drummer Sami Kuoppamäki – have always been tighter than a moose’s chufter in a howling blizzard, and this is no exception. 

Day Of Reckoning, Jerusalem, Flowers And Rust and the magnificent, 10-minute Peace Patrol are muscular and sinuous, walking the line between power and grace, even if the astounding saxophone break that kicked the latter track to another level on record is absent, its part replicated a less impactful though doubtless cheaper keyboard line.

And the web of vocal harmonies the brothers spin remains superhumanly impressive, their voices wrapping their way around each other in the way that only siblings can.

But Live At Tavastia ultimately falls short of greatness. There’s a rawness and closeness to the sound that doesn’t deliver the grandeur their music deserves. The point of live albums isn’t to replicate the gleam of an expensive studio, but some polish wouldn’t have gone amiss, not least when it comes to Mikko’s vocals.

The boy can sing, no question, but there are moments when he audibly strains for the big notes without nailing them. ‘Warts and all’ is admirable, but some of those warts could do with a little concealer occasionally.

Well into their third decade as a band, the VHB have more than earned the right to indulge themselves in a little self- congratulation in the shape of a live album. But ultimately, they’re left standing on the shoulders of giants.

Live at Tavastia is on sale now in multiple formats.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.