Värttinä at the Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis MN, January 14 2007

(This was posted as a comment to my review of the Värttinä show in Philadelphia, and the Digital Doc and I both agreed this merited its own post. -smg58)

Reviewed by Scott Tisdel

Varttina at Minneapolis, 1/14/07

Wow! What an awesome show!

First of of all, I want to thank the members of Värttinä and their management for this abbreviated U.S. tour. It is not easy (nor cheap) to schlepp nine musicians and all their gear across the Atlantic, and your efforts are much appreciated. I felt very fortunate to be able to attend the Minneapolis show, even though I had to drive 370 miles from Milwaukee, WI! (Värttinä also played Chicago the night before, which is closer, but I couldn't make that date.) I hope the members of Värttinä were happy with what they saw in Minneapolis-- A sold-out house (by my estimate, around 800), who obviously loved what they heard, and responded with great enthusiasm. Perhaps this will encourage Värttinä to plan more extensive U.S. tours in the future, perhaps to support their Lord of the Rings CD, which hopefully is in the works.

As for the actual show, I had a few minor quibbles, so I'll get those out of the way first. I was pleased to see 8 of the nine 9 current members of Värttinä on this tour. The missing member however, drummer Jaska Lukkarinen, is extremely important to the group. By far the best drummer that Värttinä has had, Lukkarinen manages to tread a fine line, providing an strong, propulsive beat, but light enough to give "space" to the acoustic instruments. His replacement was quite good (his name was announced, but I didn't catch it), but he tended towards a heavier, straight rock beat for too many of the songs. There was also a 10 minute drum solo, which was OK, but I find drum solos tedious under almost any circumstances. It did give the other members a break in the 1 hr & 45 min show, but I would have rather heard a solo guitar, accordion, or violin solo. I hope that Lukkarinen has not left the group-- His musicianship and inventiveness would be sorely missed.

Was also a bit disappointed that both Antto Varilo (guitar) and Hannu Rantanen (bass), chose not to play acoustic instruments, but electronic "imitations" of acoustic instruments. I can certainly understand this, given the long trip (and the brutality of baggage handlers!) but the sound suffered. Rantanen's bass, in particular, was boomy and indistinct.

But, as I said, these are minor quibbles in a truly wonderful show. The set list was as follows:

1) Itkin (Ilmatar)
2) Tauti (Iki)
3) Linnunmieli (Ilmatar)
4) Lumotar (Miero)
5) Eerama (Miero)
6) Maialeena (Miero)
7) Pajatus
8) Aijo (Ilmatar)

9) Drum solo
10) Vihi (Iki) (Instrumental)
11) Hoptsoi (Seleniko) (Instr.)

12) Miero (Miero)
13) Mierontie (Miero)
14) Maaria (Miero)
15) Synti (Miero)
15) Laulutytto (Vihma)
16) Riena (Miero)

17) Nahkaruoska (Iki)
18) Seelinnikoi (Seleniko)

The fact that Värttinä, in their 24th year, can still put on a great show almost entirely of new material, rather than recycled past glories, says a lot about the group. And why not?-- I believe that Miero, from 2006, is their strongest album yet. (One can read my lengthy review of Miero on Amazon.com.) Also interesting was the inclusion of one song not from any album, Pajatus. This is a fantastic song, and its abscence from the albums is puzzling. (It does, however, appear on the "Archive Live" DVD, in a concert from 2003.)

So naturally, with a program like this, I was in heaven! Värttinä is every bit as impressive live. The three "front-women" (Susan Aho, Mari Kaasinen, Joanna Virtanen) were charming, beautiful, energetic, and yes, sexy, often "acting out" the lyrics so that the meaning was clear even to an English-speaking audience. And boy, can they sing!! They were just as polished and gorgeous as they are on their studio albums. The band, too, is fantastic, with wonderful moments from everyone (I especially love Janne Lappalainen's soprano sax!). Slight differences in the songs from the studio versions were interesting: An effective "segue" between Itkin and Tauti, a new longer ending to Eerama, an abbreviated "curse section" of Aijo, and slightly different tempos occasionally (especially the faster tempo of Linnunmieli, a big improvement). It was also nice to see a couple of questions I had about Miero answered: The male singer in the song Miero, for instance, is fiddler Lassi Logren (beautiful-- I hope we hear him again), and the strange, staccato bass notes at the beginning of Synti is actually the accordion (courtesy of Markku Lepisto). The songs from Miero are full of such original touches, which of course is why they are so wonderful.

After the show, the entire band mingled with the crowd and signed CDs (the line to buy them was long!). The three women signed my copy of "Archive Live", and even graciously agreed to have my daughter take their picture. (You can find many more pictures of this concert at BritishRockisAlwaysTop.Blogspot.com). They were just as charming away from the footlights, especially considering that this was their third concert in 24 hours, with an arduous day of travel in between. All in all, a truly memorable concert experience, and one can only hope that this will not be Värttinä's last visit to the states.

Thank you Värttinä!!

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