November...'Tis the season to be jolly and head to the big Christian Youth gathering called "Maata Näkyvissä". Roughly ten thousand young people invade the halls and corridors of the Ice Hockey hall and the nearby conference center, in order to hear some top Christian music. This event's become something of a November tradition for me and Mira, even though we really don't fit the description of "young and christian". Well, rock'n roll keeps us young ;-) and while we're not that religious, we've always got time for good Christian music. "Maata Näkyvissä" isn't a normal rock festival as such, as there are workshops and other events for the folks to check out and take part in. We concentrated on the music, and checked out two concert-type of things, the saturday's main concert and friday's metal/rock concert.
I arrived to the Friday's "gig" when it was already well underway, and the first band of the three had finished their set. MEHIDA were about to start their set, and there was some anticipation in the air, as the announcer said that they'll be playing with some "hired hands", one being a stand-in singer known from the TV. Apparently Thomas Wikström was otherwise occupied, on a tour with Therion to be exact. Don't know for sure, but I guess there was a stand-in drummer as well.
As the band kicked off their set, the mysterious TV star singer was revealed - it was Christian Palin. Besides having sung with Adagio, Random Eyes and a few other bands, his biggest claim to mainstream fame is his appearance in the X-Factor finals. For those who weren't aware of his past other than the X-Factor, it may have come as a surprise that he could handle the complex Mehida songs really well. His X-Factor performances were more over-the-top, with lots of running around the stage and not that much controlled singing, but here he concentrated on his delivery. I was impressed.
I haven't quite warmed up to the Mehida material, it seems a bit too progressive and complicated. They have some "easier", more melodic songs but not a lot of those were played, instead they concentrated on the more meandering, introspective and metallic material. That didn't bother the fans in the front rows, who banged their head and shook their fists in the air... religiously. Would you believe that a not a lot of "devil's horns" were in the air?
The other band of Friday's set was DUST EATER DOGS, local nineties' band doing a warmly welcomed comeback. I hadn't heard a single note of their music (at least knowingly), and I doubt that I'll be listening to them too much in the future either, but they were quite entertaining on stage. Their music is a peculiar mixture of retro riff rock and modern day hardcore elements, and their lyrics aren't really full-on bible bashing, which is a good thing. I mean, they have a song about Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee! A rather catchy track it was too, with oriental flavours and a bouncy beat.
The band was pretty energetic on stage, apart from the keyboard player, who sat next to his keys for the first couple of songs and read a book nonchalantly. It was part of the act I believe, as he did stand up eventually and danced around the stage...
On Saturday, there were two bands performing we wanted to catch: HB and The Newsboys. HB have made a name for themselves as the leading Christian Metal band in Finland, and this gig was the third one from them I've seen at Maata Näkyvissä. They took no prisoners with the first few songs of their set, the crowd was really into it and I was really fairly awestruck. "Hanki Elämä", "Perkeleitä", "Herralle Kiitos" and the token english track "Jesus Metal Explosion" sounded exceptionally good.
As usual on these Christian gigs, the flow of the show was interrupted by a lengthy speech. Although the crowd seemed to appreciate the spoken words, the momentum was lost the following songs didn't seem to have the same impact as the earlier ones. A group of dancers joined the band on stage for one song, but that performance only managed to look a bit strange.
In between HB and The Newsboys there was a short performance by an eurodance type of an act which we delibrately missed. The dance-pop continued with The Newsboys' intro, which was actually the Daft Punk song "One More Time" with additional the added countdown of "four minutes to Newsboys" and so on. The crowd was bouncing along happily.
The Newsboys might not be too familiar to most of our readers, but in the CCM world they're iconic. The latest album "Born Again" entered the Billboard Top 200 at #4, and they've got a considerable back catalogue too, including Grammy award winning songs and a lot of hits. It's kind of funny - a chart-topping American band played in Turku and nobody really knew about it! Okay, the 10.000 in attendance did know about it, and enjoyed every minute of it.
Once the countdown was over, The Newsboys surprised many by starting their show with "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas, which soon turned into one of their own songs, "Something Beautiful". The band's new singer Michael Tait (ex-DC Talk) proved to be a real entertainer, and he had a good contact with the audience. Another member of the band who had a very visual style was the very animated drummer Duncan Phillips. Guitarist Jody Davis and keyboard player Jeff Frankenstein were somewhat more understated.
I must admit that I didn't really know any of the band's songs before this gig. I thought the band played a "greatest hits" type of a set since all the songs got a great reception, but having now done my research I've learned that more than half of the tracks were from the band's latest album. They all sounded like hits to me, with big choruses and sharp hooks. The Newsboys have a very "crossover" pop/rock sound, danceable beats mixed with edgy guitars and catchy melodies, so it's no wonder they're a big name - they're likely to appear to both pop and rock fans. After the gig I've listened to their material, and on stage they're a bit rougher and less processed than on their albums, although I'm quite sure that not everything we heard was played or sung by the performers on seen on stage.
Despite there being some spoken word segments in the Newsboys show, they were kept quite short and didn't ruin the flow of the show. All in all, the band was very entertaining and I quite enjoyed the gig even though the songs were unfamiliar to me.
More info on the event can be found here: http://maatanakyvissa.fi/in-english.