Kulttuuritalo, Helsinki, Finland 14 December 2006  

The first "Christmas Is Heavy" -concerts were held in December 2005, when Dio, Uriah Heep and Asia played a couple of gigs here in Finland. This year the headliner was the one and only Yngwie Malmsteen, with American all-female hard rock band Vixen and local heroes Kilpi as support acts. The bands played two gigs together, one in Helsinki and another one in Oulu. We checked out the first gig in Helsinki, at Kulttuuritalo ("House Of Culture"). The venue doesn't necessarily look or sound like a good place to hold a rock concert, and indeed it's mostly used for classical or easy listening concerts. Still, it worked quite well as a rock venue too, even though some rockers probably thought it was too civilized...

Around 1200 fans had gathered to the gig, and the venue seemed quite full. The representative for the organizer EASTWAY was quite pleased with the turnout, and hinted that they’ll be arranging quite a few interesting concerts next year. Furthermore, I must say that Eastway took excellent care of us media people, making sure that we knew where to be and when. Everything worked out very smoothly.

Kilpi were the first band on stage. These experienced rockers have gained a lot of airplay over the last couple of years, and have released three fairly successful albums. I've seen them a couple of times before on their "home turf" in the south-western Finland, where they have a real hard-core following. The reaction in Helsinki wasn't quite as enthusiastic, although their biggest hits "Sielut Iskee Tulta" and "Nerokasta Ikävää" did raise a few extra cheers from the crowd. It seemed to reflect on the band that most of the audience wasn't much into it. That's not to say that they played a bad gig, Kilpi is too fine-tuned a machine for that. Maybe "workmanlike" would be a good term for their gig.

The setlist: Laske Kuolleet Ja Rukoile, Nerokasta Ikävää, Varjoista Valoihin, Ihminen, Lihaa ja Verta, Sielut Iskee Tulta, Kaaoksen Kuningas.

The Vixen of today may only contain one member of the line-up that released the bands' two major albums ("Vixen", 1988 and "Rev It Up", 1990), but they seemed to receive a warm welcome. Orginal guitarist Jan Kuehnemund has been keeping the band's name alive for the last few years, with later additions Jenna Sanz-Agero (vocals), Kat Kraft (drums) and Lynn Louise Lowrey (Bass) helping out. It's a bit funny that during the late nineties, Vixen released one album ("Tangerine") and toured with NO members of the current line-up... Anyway, Kuehnemund did form the band originally, so she is entitled to the Vixen monicker. And no, they didn't play anything from "Tangerine"! That might have been too weird.

The Vixen set was well put together, with emphasis on their biggest hits and a couple of tracks from their new album "Live And Learn" thrown in. Classic stuff like "Love Made Me", "Hard 16", "Cryin", "Love Is A Killer" and "Edge Of A Broken Heart" were warmly received, and the new tracks in between didn't sound too bad either. They even managed to get the crowd to sing along to "I Want You To Rock Me", which was spiced up with a bit of "We Will Rock You".

Vocalist Jenna Sanz-Agero proved to be a worthy replacement to Janet Gardner, with warm and a bit less high-pitched voice. Drummer Kat Kraft and guitarist Jan Kuehnemund were good, but the real firecracker of the band was the bass player Lynn Louise Lowrey, who was one lively fox, headbanging all over the stage. The girl was like a little blond tornado at times! Helping out to fill the sound there was Chris Fayz, who played the keyboards and some additional guitar.

Yngwie Malmsteen... he certainly is a character that even most non-rock fans recognize. He is the idol of thousands of guitarists and has a decent sized legion of fans who are indeed fanatical about him. I rate some of his early albums very high, but haven't been that much into his recent material. I wasn't expecting to hear many of my favourite songs as they are from those "commercial" albums of his, which he doesn't seem to keep in high esteem. As it turned out, the setlist was pretty much the same he has had on this tour, with lots of instrumentals and solo spots. It was clearly aimed for the worshippers of the Guitar God Yngwie Malmsteen, not that much for the fans of the Songwriter Yngwie Malmsteen. I didn't get to hear my favourite songs, but I would have settled for more SONGS in general... I know I'm in the minority though, so I believe Yngwie gave his die-hard fans what they wanted.

The show started with the lights down, and bursts of notes from an electric guitar. Yep, it was the Yngwie-man hiding behind the wall of Marshalls, communicating with his worshippers, who roared after each burst of sound. Enter the band, and they kicked off the excellent "Rising Force" from the equally excellent "Odyssey" album. Yngwie himself easily stole the spotlight, playing the heck out of his stratocaster and generally showcasing endless amounts of energy. He went through the "Book Of Rock Guitarist Poses" from cover to cover in three minutes or so. What's more, his level of energy didn't seem to go down during the gig at all. Vocalist Dougie White tried his best to keep up with Yngwie, but it didn't help that his vocals were inaudible, at least in front of the stage!

Yngwie and the band continued with "Demon Driver" from "Eclipse", another favourite album of mine. Then it was time for "Badinerie", the first instrumental of the evening. For Dougie White it meant time for a cup of tea or something... he had time for a large tea actually, as Mr. Malmsteen continued with "Cracking The Whip" from his latest album "Unleash The Fury", and provided vocals by himself. Yngwie isn't a bad singer, but he could've just let Dougie take care of the singing and give him some more room. Oddly enough, Yngwie's microphone seemed to work just fine.

After a couple of more songs from "Unleash The Fury", the atmosphere had calmed down a bit. Sure, the front rows were eagerly watching every move Yngwie made, keeping an eye on the dozens of guitar picks he threw to the crowd, as if to feed the fire. For us "casual" rock fans the instrumental-heavy middle part of the gig proved to be a bit of challenge. Even though Yngwie is an entertaining performer and his skills are out of this world, at least I would prefer a set that wasn’t half instrumental/solo stuff. When he was starting his second solo part, I overheard someone saying that "oh, it's gonna be a looooong night"... In between the fretboard magic there was one of the highlights of the gig, the beautiful ballad "Dreaming (Tell Me)". Yngwie's playing was almost understated in it, if that word can be used about him...

When the set was halfway through, we moved towards the seated part of the venue, and found places for us. Quite a lot of people had chosen to sit down and watch the show from a distance, and it was a curious sight to see. There were the "pupils", who were watching Yngwie's tricks and licks quite intensively, and there were the "casual fans", who clapped politely between songs. And then there was the dude in one of the back rows who actually managed to sleep in his seat! He must have had earplugs, as the amps were turned up to ten, possibly even eleven... I don't think that the House of Culture has witnessed many performers as ungodly loud as Malmsteen.

After Patrik Johansson's drum solo, Yngwie and the guys finally chose to play one the hits - the brilliant "You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget". The crowd responded accordingly, and the vibe instantly got better. Keyboardist Derek Sheridian had chosen a bit different keyboard sound for the song, so it took me a few seconds to recognize it though. It was followed by another "golden oldie", a track called "Hiroshima Mon Amour" from Alcatrazz, the band Malmsteen was in before embarking on a solo career. "Locked And Loaded" closed the main set, to be followed by 3 encores, "Black Star" from Yngwie's first album, "Cherokee Warrior" featuring Yngwie on vocals again, and finally the excellent "I'll See The Light, Tonight".

Conclusion... would I go to see these bands again? Kilpi – I’ve seen them a few times already, but why not. Vixen - yeah, for sure. Malmsteen then - as interesting as it was, I believe I've seen enough of the Yngwie Malmsteen Experience. Unless... he teams up with Joe Lynn Turner again, comes up with an album of "Odyssey's" class and concentrates a bit more on songs.

Report and additional photos by Kimmo Toivonen,
Photos by Mira Suutari-Toivonen

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