November 15, 2003
You don’t have to be Sting to know about walking on the moon – any concertgoer will tell you that. But exiting from the concert hall with giant steps that carry you deep into the far reaches of the neo-artic night is an experience only to be had regularly above latitude 60°, and to do it on the back of a concert stunning in musicianship, visualisations and effects in your local municipal concert hall is a privilege currently possible only in southern Finland.
The band in question is one of many hot musical properties to threaten emergence onto a wider market from its distant enclave in northern Europe, XL by name and excellent in by nature. Categorisations fall by the wayside when the spirit is bounding across the concrete after a great evening’s entertainment, though for the sake of old Aristotle let’s call it art-rock, just as Genesis before the stadiums were filling under their aegis. XL comprise 4 musical graduates of Finland’s illustrious Sibelius Academy, playing their chosen drums, bass, guitar and vibraphone – by name Tomi Salesvuo, Tuure Koski, Jarmo Saari and Arto Takalo. To their level of musical dexterity is added a jobbing DJ, Bunuel, who goads, scolds and cajoles both band and audience with a variety of multi-lingual mutterings and imprecations, in addition to samples and varied audio effects. Tunes are highly structured, composed by Takalo and/or Saari, and typically involving these two in front stage dialogue over an intense rhythmic backing. Evolution can be tranquil or cathartic, style tends to the grandiose, though delicacy is woven into the structures to relieve the onslaught. The pieces are composed ‘with an ear to pop sensibility’ and what the musicians can’t furbish instantly is added from clips and pre-recordings.
Tonight’s concert in Louhisali, in Helsinki’s suburb Espoo, was attended also by the founding father of Finnish jazz-rock himself, Pekka Pohjola, bassist of Wigwam in the mid ‘70s and writer of much of their material. Their dedication of the piece “Amor” is a sign of the respect shown by these musicians for a man who pioneered his own amalgam of rock tonalities and jazz motifs throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. The echo of Seppo Tyyni’s guitar and the melodies of Jukka Gustavsson’s organ ring in the ears of XL’s current audience.
But this is music for the twenty-first century, with a midified vibraphone laying out the progressions in skitters or swells, a guitar that often echoes these motifs in slightly spacey Telecaster tone, but then shrieks, coughs, and retches then back to the others. The rhythm section hugs and hounds their frontmen through their repertoire of newest pieces (album Visual released in September this year on Pohjola Records, reviewed in AAJ), steps backstage while Saari plays a short, looped and instantly multilayered version of his one-man musical soundscape Solu, and then returns to join in penultimate album Surreal’s title track and “Sir Real,” and to finish the evening with a medley of pieces from earlier albums Xlent (“Kaipaus – Longing” and “Eero”) and Jukola (“Young Blood”, and “Milou II”) and a final hint of Visual– a rich night’s entertainment indeed.
A pictorial taste of the evening is available at their website www.xlfinland.com .