In the days leading up to the headlining show at Planet Rock’s Winter’s End Festival in Wales, and not having played live since October, the Von Hertzen Brothers arranged a pair of warm up shows in Manchester and in London. The London show drew a very healthy crowd, and the Garage was filling up nicely by the time the support, MARISA AND THE MOTHS took to the stage.
The obvious reference point to define the band is Halestorm, and that alt-rock, almost grungy sound is always there, filled out by Marisa Rodriguez’s voice and her guitar, but unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be the ideal gig to judge them. At the start her vocals were almost inaudible, and this was never really put right during the set. Also, and I don’t know if this was deliberate or designed, for a lot of the early part of the set the band were only visible as silhouettes, thanks to strong back lighting and a stage full of smoke. To date they’ve only released one album, plus a series of EPs, prior to their second album coming out later this year, and despite the circumstances the newer material did sound impressive, especially ‘Skin’ and ‘How Did You Get So Weak’, from the debut, and newer songs like ‘Pedestal’ and ‘If You Knew’. A band well worth seeing in future.
The VON HERTZEN BROTHERS last album, Red Alert in the Blue Forest, was an absolute belter, one of the best of 2022, but, good as it is, somehow it doesn’t quite capture the band at full throttle, something illustrated by the start of their set at the Garage. After the almost sinister sound effects of the intro tape, Miko Von Hertzen picked out the opening chords of the first track, ‘Day of Reckoning’, and the band absolutely steamed into the song proper, which encouraged the first bout of dancing and general leaping about, especially from a group of Finnish fans in front of the stage who’d travelled over just for the tour.
A lot of people find it quite difficult to categorise the band, something that Miko joked about at Winter’s End, suggesting that any journalists present just call them ‘Epic Rock’. It’s probably best just to say they’re a rock band who weave bits of Prog and Folk into their songs, and aren’t afraid to mess about with the form at any time, even within a song, and yes, it often does get epic. In this set they mostly concentrated on songs from their last three albums, but did delve into their past for a couple of songs from an earlier album, including a tremendous and highly relevant ‘Freedom Fighter’. It was also good to hear a couple of tracks from Nine Lives, ‘Flowers and Rust’, which was one of the first songs to get them recognition in the UK, and a brilliant ‘Insomnia’. I did miss ‘Coming Home’, though, left out for this brief tour, which is often a highlight of their shows.
The stage space at the Manchester gig was a little limited and it definitely seemed as if the band felt less confined on the comparatively spacious stage at the Garage, but there were the odd equipment issues in a couple of songs, including one of my favourite songs by any band in 2022, ‘All of a Sudden You’re Gone’, They didn’t let that affect their momentum, and while they may have started at a fast pace, they were also about to build up even more momentum. After a riotous ‘New Day Rising’, the band took something of a breather with the sad beauty of ‘All of a Sudden…’ and the haunting folk of ‘The Promise’, then it was all out for the finish as the band turned on the power again to finish the main set with a pair from the War is Over album, ‘Long Lost Sailor’ and a welcome return for ‘The Arsonist’, and the pace was kept up with the encores of ‘Sunday Child’ and a song that was introduced as ever more relevant for the world, ‘Peace Patrol’.
The Von Hertzens (the three brothers, Miko on guitar and lead vocals, Kie on guitar and occasional percussion, and Jonno on bass and synthesisers, plus keyboard wizard Robert Engstrand and the terrific Sami Kuoppamaki on drums) sometimes seem to be one of those bands that are genetically incapable of playing a bad set, and despite the technical issues, this was no exception. Sometimes that refusal to stay in the lane of a particular style might throw the listener off balance, but it’s best just to let them take you on the journey. They may be back to the UK later in the year, try to see them if you can.
Reviewed by Paul Quinton