16.9.2022 Spiritual Front @ On the Rocks, Helsinki

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It does not often happen that an Italian band comes to Finland for a bunch of live gigs, but here we are: SPIRITUAL FRONT had a small tour, three dates (Tampere, Helsinki, and Jyväskylä) in mid-September this year. We were eager to attend their show in Helsinki at On the Rocks and we were not at all disappointed. Actually, it was a full-fledged double show, since there were two different sets: the first consisted of nine covers of some of the most popular tunes of British post-punk band THE SMITHS, and the second of eleven original songs, which summarized the best of the band’s career in its entirety.

SPIRITUAL FRONT were founded in Rome in 1999, initially as a dark-folk solo project by singer Simone Salvatori, but eventually turned into a full lineup act. The band members describe their music as “nihilist suicide pop,” even though it is clearly not that easy to define their style; however, subgenres such as post-punk, neofolk, and experimental rock do give a vague idea of where they come from as artists. Case-in-point, THE SMITHS have clearly been a huge influence, so therefore they decided in around 2018 to start covering their songs, and this is what the first set was all about.

The gig started at 21:15 as scheduled, and a movie, Mamma Roma by iconic filmmaker and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini was shown as a background during the whole concert, a detail which surely added an undisputed and classy Italian vibe to the whole thing. An instrumental intro played as a soundtrack as the three performers came onto the stage and the singer appeared, nicely dressed and elegant as usual.

First song was “The Queen is Dead,” one of the most famous tunes THE SMITHS have ever written, which is also the title of their third album, a classic release from way back in 1986. Some people in the audience were dancing, the atmosphere was lovely, and there was a sort of nostalgic vibe. Simone greeted and thanked the audience and told us about their upcoming album, called “The Queen is not Dead,” and a guy answered “Oh, the irony!”… Well, this summarizes perfectly how easy-going and friendly the situation was! The frontman also asked the people to come closer, right after second tune “Shoplifters of the World Unite,” where guitarist Francesco Conte provided top-notch backing vocals; this was in turn followed by “Ask,” whose chorus was happily performed by the attendants. The joyful attitude the band showed towards their audience was equally as heartwarming as their classy approach on stage.

Panic” enhanced the party-like vibe in the room and the call-and-response with the people off stage between one song and another made us feel like we were one with the band while still partaking in an entertaining evening with comfortable friends. The set continued with “What Difference Does it Make,” followed by famous hit “Bigmouth Strikes Again.” The singer openly said, “it’s OUR concert,” meaning that it was a shared experience with us, and yes, we can confirm that there was a beautiful feeling of unity and communion. “This Charming Man,” followed by “Still Ill,” brought us to the end of the first set, whose closure was “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” introduced by Simone with, “even my mom knows this song.” We were singing together and sharing the magic with the band.

After a 10-minute break, the band members came back to the stage. They looked slightly different while playing their own music and the general feeling was quite a bit darker. “The Shining Circle” from their third album worked perfectly as an opening tune for this second set, followed by “Cold Love (In a Cold Coffin),” whose tango-like vibe warmed up the atmosphere. It is worth mentioning that the singer was playing an acoustic guitar during the second set, and there was a label on it that read, “This machine kills fatalists” – a clear yet slightly modified referral to Woodie Guthrie’s famous message on his guitar. They laughed when they failed the start of “I Walk the (Dead) Line” twice, proving how down-to-earth they are.

One thing that surprised us was their ability to play with their songs’ titles and lyrics in order to include references to Finland and Helsinki, making the show truly one-of-a-kind. For instance, the fifth song’s title became “Jesus Died in Helsinki” when the singer announced it, getting a lovely and warm reaction from the audience. It was of, course, their famous tune “Jesus Died in Las Vegas,” which is also known for being part of the soundtrack to the Las Vegas American TV series. The soft, charming, captivating twist in this particular tune had a great impact on the bystanders, in a crescendo one can hardly forget. Referrals to Helsinki and Tampere were also included in “Bastard Angel,” and in the meantime right before the band started playing “Disaffection,” a guy from the audience asked Simone to dedicate one song to a friend who recently died: the frontman went along with it, making the distance between us even shorter.

The amount of charisma the band members showed on stage was in a perfect balance with their friendliness. Bassist Daniele Raggi provided some magical backing vocals on “Pain is Love,” in which the energetic post-punk vibes did not go unnoticed, and also concerning the refined drum-work performed by Andrea Freda. “Children of the Black Light” was the closing tune and believe us, it was absolutely stunning, in part to the presence of drums on stage that were initially played by the singer, and then the whole band joined in, as if partaking in some sort of ritualistic outro. This second set was very intense and evocative – one of the best we have seen thus far.

In the end, we can openly say that SPIRITUAL FRONT succeeded in showing themselves to be both incredibly involved and talented with regard to both aspects of their sound. We are already looking forward to seeing them again.

Setlist

  1. The Queen is Dead
  2. Shoplifters of the World Unite
  3. Ask
  4. Panic
  5. What Difference Does it Make
  6. Bigmouth Strikes Again
  7. This Charming Man
  8. Still Ill
  9. There is a Light that Never goes Out
  10. The Shining Circle
  11. Cold Love (in a Cold Coffin)
  12. I Walk the (Dead) Line
  13. Darkroom Friendship
  14. Jesus Died in Las Vegas
  15. Disaffection
  16. Slave
  17. Pain is Love
  18. Bastard Angel
  19. Sad almost a Winner
  20. Children of the Black Light

Written by Licia Mapelli
Photos by Mirko Luparelli