Midwinter Firefest - February 21st, 2015 - Pakkahuone, Tampere, Finland

The name of this event raised a few eyebrows when it was announced. Only a couple of months after the final Firefest some obnoxious Finns are stealing the name for their own event?! What the hell? Well, this fest being also the Birthday of Poppamies, a company marketing all kinds of hot sauces and stuff, the name does make sense. Then again, having booked two of the most popular acts of the last ”real” Firefest, I don’t believe that the organizers weren’t aware of it.

Anyway, there weren’t any protesters outside the venue and the internet feedback has been fairly mild, so I guess the name wasn’t such a big deal after all. Most of us rock fans were just happy to see three fine melodic rock bands sharing the stage.

FREE SPIRIT were the latest addition to the line-up, added a few weeks before the event. Their music style matched that of the two more well-known bands - plenty of big choruses and catchy melodies. As usual, the venue wasn’t particularly full when the openers started their set, but by the time they finished, there was a decent crowd enjoying their songs.

Free Spirit played a good set of songs mainly from their latest album ”All The Shades Of Darkened Light”. Starting with the keyboard-laden ”Nights In Paradise”, the band made it clear that they could compete with the bigger names when it comes to hooks and melodies. Other songs from the latest album included the video tracks ”Hysteria”, ”Fever” and ”Carry On”, and as far as I remember, ”Living Tattoo”, ”Ever Come True” and ”Dew Of The Rose” were also played. A few tracks from the first album ”Pale Sister Of Light” were also in the set list, at least the title track and ”Strangers”.

The band was fairly ”spirited” on stage, with vocalist Pasi Alho throwing the usual lead singer shapes. ”He’s like the lovechild of Jon Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger and Pate Mustajärvi”, said our photographer… .Guitarists Vesa Yli-Mäenpää and Marko Haapamäki occupied the other frontline positions and provided good backing vocals. Drummer Pasi Koivumäki and keysman Timo Alho added some showmanship to their playing too. Bass player Sami Hämäläinen comes from the John McCoy’s school of stable bass players though, standing on stage like a rock and keeping it steady.

The band probably made a few new friends with their catchy songs, even though there were no signs of hysteria, apart from a song of theirs by that name.

Ever since their triumphant return at South Park Festival last year, the rock fans of Tampere area have been hungry for more Brother Firetribe. The place seemed quite packed from where I was standing, and indeed the Tribe was welcomed back very warmly. The set opener was ”Breakout” from the first album ”False Metal”, and it set the pace quite well. The shaky start we witnessed at last year’s Firefest (UK) was thankfully not experienced again, we could actually hear all instruments loud and clearly!

BFT is always a good live band and they radiate positive energy. Emppu’s effortless guitar playing, Pekka’s great vocals and funny between-song banter and sure-fire hits like ”I Am Rock”, ”I’m On Fire”, ”One Single Breath” and ”Heart Full Of Fire” in the setlist were the main ingredients of a very good show. Still, I felt that they weren’t quite reaching the level they’re capable of. I can’t say what was missing, nothing much really… all I know that a week later in Turku they did reach the ultimate level, but that’s another story (stay tuned for a review!).

Another winner of last summer’s South Park Festival was H.E.A.T., and they deservedly got the headlining slot of Midwinter Firefest. Having seen them four times during the last three years, I knew that they’d do what they always do - totally own the stage and steal the show. Not surprisingly, that’s what they did. The band is currently totally unbeatable at their game, and I can only pity every band that has to follow them on next summer’s festivals. If they can still come up with a new album that can rival their previous two albums, they’ll soon be one of the biggest bands of the genre. Mark my words. Anyway, back to the show…

The band’s setlist hasn’t changed much over the last year or so, they still start with the powerful opening duo of their last album ”Tear Down The Walls”, ”The Point Of No Return” and ”A Shot At Redemption”. Why change a winning formula… Vocalist Erik Grönwall had again been pumped full of caffeine or something, as he bounced all over the stage like a hyperactive squirrel. He’s really the most lively frontman I’ve ever seen, always on the move yet never missing a note. Okay, maybe a note or two but those weren’t among the important ones :).

Now that there’s only one guitarist in the band, Eric Rivers has taken a bigger role. Not only musically but also when it comes to the showmanship. Bass player Jimmy Jay and keyboard player Jona Tee were lively as well, but mostly concentrating on the stability of the music and adding some superb backing vocals. Drummer Crash is an entertaining yet solid drummer and his solo slot was fun… only in Tampere one would ask the crowd to chant ”mustamakkara” ( a local dish, ”black sausage”) and actually get a very loud response.

As the show was the last one of this leg of the tour, the band didn’t end with ”Living On The Run” as they usually do. They played an extra song for us, ”Laughing At Tomorrow”. I am not a huge fan of the studio version of it, but it works perfectly as a live track with its’ immensely catchy sing-along chorus. ”Tear Down The Walls” is another one of theirs that has come really alive in a live setting.

Over the last weeks I had managed to convince a friend of mine (Hi Risto!) to come to see the band for the first time, and I was eager to hear what he thought of the show afterwards. The slightly shocked smile on his face told me everything I needed to know… he wasn’t going to hold me responsible for wasting a perfectly good saturday night!

With around 800 tickets sold, this event was a success, and hopefully it won't be a one-off. Till next time...

Review by Kimmo Toivonen
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen

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