XL's Final Performance from Helsinki

Anthony Shaw By

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Tavastia Club
Helsinki, Finland
November 2004

The lights are cold, the gear transported, the stage swept, but still those themes swirl in and out of conscious awareness. The morning after the night before feeling, accentuated by the drabness of a November morning beyond my window, but vivid because of the quality (and quantity) of the sensory input.

Listeners familiar with XL's music will know that auditory senses are but one of the band's strengths, and obviously listening live is a consummate experience to be relished long in recollection. As ever Valo (the Light) Virtanen was mainly responsible for the power of these visual images, using the range of Tavastia Club's lighting desk to flood the stage and the audience with an overflowing spectrum of colours and effects: synchronised pulsating strobes, dimmed or stark primary hues, mingling shades and contrasting focal spots. As Jack Black's band proves at the end of School of Rock a modern concert audience expects as much of a show of visual arts as feats of musical excellence.

Needless to say the latter was well in evidence too last night. Although time on stage together this year can be counted on a few fingers alone, experience together as a 4-piece goes back 12 years to preparations for the first album Xlent. The addition of locally renowned DJ Bunuel for the 2002 album Surreal brought an element of vocal spontaneity that previously had been limited to the wry observations offered between pieces by keyboardist Arto Takalo. While Takalo as usual took charge of the battery of pre-prepared rhythms and washes (in addition to his main role with midified vibes), Bunuel mostly operated with backing sounds and effects, but he also was responsible for the only distinct vocal delivery to the audience on "Toledo", albeit through a megaphone! To a connoisseur of lyrically focussed live music this is something of a challenge, but is characteristic of a style that emphasises the purely musical craft that is XL's signature. Rhythms ebb and flow behind riffs that repeat to the point of saturation, but emerge like butterflies to blend with the dazzling lightshow. Only occasionally did Takalo and his counterfoil on guitar, experimentalist Jarmo Saari, take flight on their own, the former with nimble hammers across his pads, and the latter with sounds sourced from his guitar but remodelled though sequencers and boxes, in addition to screeches and howls from his digital version of 1930's electronica, the theramin. All these qualities, in addition to the stolid pounding basslines from Tuire Koski and gated drum sounds of Tomi Salavuo, were featured on a classic selection largely from the last two albums including "Hitta någon att tycka om," "Glam," "Kobalt" and many others.

It is just this array of tradition and experimentation that XL has harnessed over the last decade, creating a full frontal style, less reflective than pro-active, and putting together a show to rival the best on the stadium circuit in terms of depth and expanse of sound and musicality. What a pity they are not moving on to greater heights of popularity, their final tour over the next few weeks being limited to clubs in central Finland.

Visit XM on the web at www.xlfinland.com .


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