SWALLOW THE SUN’s acoustic concert at Suvilahti TBA in Helsinki that was held on 13 August 2020 – apart from being one of the few live gigs of this weird summer – had a bit of a different line-up this time around. Juha Raivio, the main guitarist and composer, is currently stuck in Sweden due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The headlining tour in the United States has been postponed to 2021 for the same reason; as such the band decided to set up some acoustic shows with a slightly different line-up, with Juho Räihä covering his standard role as a guitar player, Juuso Raatikainen (who usually plays the drums) as a bassplayer, and Jaani Peuhu (normally on keyboards) playing several instruments, including xylophone and kantele among the others, with his well-known, hyper-creative and engaging attitude.
The set began at 20:00 with the audience is sitting at some tables in front of the stage, as arranged per the social distancing rules, but the atmosphere was nevertheless warm and cozy. Suvilahti is the same location where Tuska Festival is held every year, save this one of course, and I immediately felt a weird mixture of good vibes and heavy nostalgia, soon to be healed by the upcoming gig.
When singer Mikko Kotamäki announced ”New Moon” as an opening tune, I thought it was a brave choice to put such a classic song as the first one for an acoustic set. The musical arrangement this time saw Jaani Peuhu on guitar and backing vocals. These two seem to be perfectly at their ease even in a non-standard line up, which says a lot about their high level of professionalism and passion as musicians.
The following song, ”Pray for the Winds to Come,” sees Jaani on percussion and again on backing vocals. Since the studio version is acoustic itself, the slight variations ended up with being even more interesting, especially to anyone who’s particularly familiar with the band’s trademark sound.
Mikko announced ”Autumn Fire” and Jaani grabbed the guitar and the countdown began, ”1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…” as an intro to this tune from ”Songs from the North,” a triple album that strengthened the status of SWALLOW THE SUN as the band that, more than any other, represents and expresses ”Finnishness” in its peculiar connection with nature and the passing of the seasons.
The gig continues with ”Firelights,” taken from the band’s most recent album, ”When a Shadow is Forced into the Light.” This acoustic version sounds, in a good way, basic, to the bone, and pure. The beauty of the lyrics finds its way through Mikko’s voice and the essentiality of the musical arrangement highlighted the ability of this band to evoke deep emotions and inner landscapes, where the audience feels together-as-one with the band on stage. Jaani played both percussion and xylophone, while delivering some high quality backing vocals, proving that his eclectic reputation is well-earned. ”Away” again sees Jaani on xylophone, which perfectly blends in the lullaby-like structure of the song. The whole tune seems to literally cradle the audience in a flow of soft melancholy, gently leading to the following song, ”Songs from the North.”
The gig goes on with a cover of NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, ”Mermaids,” which is not new to the band’s acoustic sets, but sounds even better thanks again to Jaani’s presence. The following tune,”Heart of a Cold White Land,” celebrates the ethereal beauty of the Finnish landscapes, while ”Falling World” took us back to the band’s old days; taken from the fourth album, the song sounds quite challenging for an unplugged set, but needless to say, the result was really good, also thanks to the massive structure given by Juuso on bass and Juho on acoustic guitar.
”Stone Wings,” taken from the latest release, is probably the song I personally considered the most intense in this performance. Without its usual dark, heavy features provided by the electric instruments, Mikko and Jaani’s voices give a further level of pathos to the beautiful yet painful lyrics of this song. The following track, ”Here on the Black Earth,” as far as I remember, is the band’s favorite when it comes to the latest album. The experimental approach is quite clear even in an acoustic version, as the bassline sustains the whole structure and the lack of rough vocals part is well countervailed by Mikko’s multifaceted skills. This guy’s versatility always leaves me stunned. The guitar solo played by Juho gave me goosebumps, and I don’t think I was the only one.
The next to last song is ”Before the Summer Dies” which fits perfectly into the real-world context – summer’s almost gone and a concert like this should not be taken for granted. The closer was then a cover of ANATHEMA‘s ”Forgotten Hopes.” Not new in the band’s acoustic setlists but this time enriched by the backing vocals, it worked as a cherry on top of a memorable gig, giving us hope for a future where music will always be there, even while humanity is dealing with a pandemic.
Written by Licia Mapelli
- New Moon
- Pray for the Winds to Come
- Autumn Fire
- Songs from the North
- Mermaids (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds cover)
- Heart of a Cold White Land
- Falling World
- Stone Wings
- Here on the Black Earth
- Before the Summer Dies
- Forgotten Hopes (Anathema cover)