Mai Äss or Freak Kitchen in Estonia, 15-17.05.2014
Table of Contents
2. Freak Guitar Clinic at Philly Joe's, 16:00 15.05
3. Freak Guitar Clinic at Tallinn English College, (early) morning, 11:00 16.05
4. Hetero and Freak Kitchen at Võru Kannel, Võru, 20:00 16.05
5. Toomas Vanem and Freak Kitchen at Tapper, Tallinn, 20:00 17.05
1. Foreword ^
"Holy shit!" doesn't even begin to describe my initial reaction when I found out that Freak Kitchen was coming to Estonia, and not only for a concert in Tallinn, but for one in - here you should imagine the back end of nowhere - Võru as well, with two Freak Guitar Clinics to boot. That in itself was promising to be phenomenal and anybody missing out on the action was either stupid, ignorant, or unbelievably unfortunate (and should probably never consider gambling a source of steady income).
In a way, I knew what to expect. 4 years ago I "chanced" to see Freak Kitchen live 3 times in one year. What can you do, sometimes things just fall into place the right side up. And while I knew not what Mattias does in his guitar clinics, or whether I should even think of attending with my guitar skills (for the record, the only guitar skills I have are that of listening and rocking out), I wasn't planning on skipping anything. Thus, when the day came, I was pretty much grinning widely and wildly in anticipation of the coming adventure of music, during which I met great people, became an unofficial official photographer of the events and, albeit briefly, part of the road-crew.
2. Freak Guitar Clinic at Philly Joe's, 16:00 15.05 ^
So, when on Thursday afternoon at about 4 o'clock I stepped into Philly Joe's jazz club, I was expecting anxiously to see huge masses of guitar and non-guitar nuts packing the place. Well, what a disappointment that was. It wasn't just a bit naïve of me hoping that people here would recognise the talent that Mattias IA Eklundh is. I should know better. I live here. It's probably wise to give up all hope of things ever improving in this regard.
Thing is, one of the most talented and original guitar players in the world is not just doing a show with his band, but actually giving a guitar clinic in Tallinn. A man whose sound and technique are recognised all over the world, people queue up by hundreds if not thousands... Ah, man, who am I preaching to now? The point is, there were 29 of us there, I'm not sure if it was with or without the barkeep. But, 29! I feared that this measly number would set the trend for the events to come. However, then and there, even if I didn't know what was coming up, it still felt like in a moment, a magician would be showing the intricate workings of his very best tricks.
Just look at those frets!
As I said, I've never been to a guitar clinic before. I don't know whether you have but I believe this will top pretty much anything. Basically, it's a one-man stand-up (or rather sit-down) improvisational comedy show with a guitar and verbal diarrhoea. If you've ever managed to talk to Devin Townsend, this guy here is worse in comparison (or better, it depends on your outlook). Yes, Mattias talks (almost) too much, often he talks shit and is bullshitting his audience, poking fun at anything and anyone. However, all the while he does bring valid thoughts across, including his philosophy and approach to music, rhythm, his Apple Horn guitars (just look at those frets!) and guitar playing. It's all about how to grow your own moustache, if you put it into his terms.
Structurally the clinic is an improvisational event. It doesn't necessarily mean that Mattias improvises his guitar solos but it does mean that what and how exactly he talks about it, is nowhere close to rehearsed. As he said, it, as well as the urgent need to take a piss, keeps him on the edge during the performance. He'll easily bring a new 8-string guitar he hasn't played much to the event and perform with it. Whether he screws up or not is irrelevant to him, and, to be honest, the audience as well. You have to be good to actually notice his blunders.
It appears that Mattias can easily tailor his guitar clinics to whatever audience is present. It can be light and (heh-heh) relatively low on technical details, as it was at Philly Joe's: a lot of jokes, anecdotal happenings from his travels, rhythm teachings, as well as guitar tricks. Or, I imagine, it can as well include really heavy technical stunts of (guitar-)neck-braking calibre. Whether pro or amateur, or no guitar player, this is an entertaining show. It's a glimpse at the inner workings of his freaky guitar mind and if the show ever comes your way, never, ever miss it. You'll have fun as well as actually learn a thing or two between your laughs. Not to mention that you can have a chat with him afterwards and get a picture or an autograph.
3. Freak Guitar Clinic at Tallinn English College, (early) morning, 11:00 16.05 ^
The next morning was one of the most surprising experiences I've had in a long while. Mattias was going to do his guitar clinic at a high-school, namely Tallinn English College. There are two things surprising about this. First, that someone would want to organise such a thing. Second, that such a thing actually does take place. And, above all, it's a world-class performer doing it. For this all, Hannes Pikkat, the man behind the Mai Äss festival, deserves a special applause.
Freak Guitar Clinic at Tallinn English College
Poor kids, they didn't seem to know what they were up to. When the time came, they filed in through the doors, filling the hall back to front. You know how teenagers are: front rows are not to be occupied, sitting hands crossed on the chest, looking all sceptical, daring to be surprised. It's a challenge alright for a performer of any kind to be in front of a bunch of high-school teenagers, it's a critical audience if there ever was one. On top of that, the assembly hall of the English College is large and high, with echoes going all around. Pretty much as any assembly hall of older schools, primarily not meant to be concert halls, especially not one like that. So, it was a hard job to listen to Mattias speak, let alone listen to his playing.
Having seen the clinic the night before, there wasn't anything surprising or that much different going on. As I said, Mattias tailors his clinics to his audience, and likely most of these students aren't familiar with this kind of music. Nevertheless, Mattias - with his easygoing nature, restrained jokes bordering on dirty and vulgar, as well as rhythm exercises - did start to get through to these teenagers as they warmed up to him. What at the beginning looked like a crowd of sceptics - the first song earned what felt more like a polite applause rather than genuine thank you - soon turned into a crowd of wide-eyed smiling kids full of wonder. I bet they had never seen the guitar being played with a comb.
Sound aside, the event as such was a blast. I really envied these kids there. I mean, I wish we had something this awesome going on back in my day (for that matter, Mattias being Swede, my old school, the Gustav Adolf Gymnasium, named after the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf who founded it, would've been a fitting choice as well). The idea of performing at schools, though, is marvellous. How else are you going to reach them with brain-dead media everywhere around them? How else do you tell them to go about growing their own moustache?
4. Hetero and Freak Kitchen at Võru Kannel, Võru, 20:00 16.05 ^
After the clinic at the English College, I was planning to kill a couple of hours in Tallinn, get lunch or something before undertaking a 250 km trip down to Võru. However, amps and guitars loaded in the van, and me having already tagged along to two freaky events, Hannes asked if I'd like to join him and the band at the half-way point to Tartu for a lunch at Põhjaka Manor at about 2 o'clock. Uh, yes? What kind of a question is that?
Things weren't that simple, though. Having agreed on 2 o'clock, we nevertheless almost missed each other, me being a bit late, them even more so. However, having finished a most excellent meal, I found them finishing up theirs in another room when I was about to pay. They were just to start on desserts, Chris melting at a chance of getting a rhubarb cake with his coffee. He knows his desserts, for sure. Being already behind schedule, though, it was quick going to Võru, with a small stop to pick up a bass amplifier in Tartu on the way as the one they had appeared to be not powerful enough. And that is where me and my small orange Volvo became useful. The bass amp was eventually loaded into my car and for the first time ever I became part of the road crew, even if only for 70 something kilometres.
The venue, Võru Kannel, is the cultural centre of the city. The concert itself was to taking place in the theatre hall with about 250-300 seats. Yes, it was going to be a seated gig. I was somewhat surprised but also impressed. For once it looked like the sound was going to be a non-issue. Arriving somewhat late, the Freak Kitchen sound check also went longer than anybody initially anticipated. It appears that it isn't all that easy to get the trio in balance on stage. Due to that the warm-up band Hetero got dealt a somewhat short hand and had to make do with a 5 minute check. Basically all they got around to was making sure all the cables were connected and the sound coming through before the people were let in the room.
Hetero - "I Put a Spell on You!"
Hetero is a local band. When I say local, I mean local to Võru in this case. The band started over 30 years ago and was one of the few bands not from Tallinn to begin making a name for themselves in Soviet times outside of Estonia. They never made it big, though, what with getting banned and what not, by just being at the wrong place at the wrong time, you know. A small chat with their bass player can only scratch the colourful surface of their adventures from those times.
Being from another generation, I've never heard these guys live before. The brief talk, though, raised hopes high and the band didn't disappoint. Their mix of hard rock and heavy metal came off powerfully from stage. I can't say it's something of anything particularly surprising in musical terms, but I can see how in their own time the good melodies, solid playing and excellent vocals could pave the way for them. Their guitarist has awesome bluesy solos but their singer is a gem. It was a surprising moment to hear "I Put a Spell on You" live. Sure, he ain't no Screamin' Jay Hawkins but I'll be damned if their rendition of the song wasn't enjoyable. Chris and Björn couldn't praise his voice enough later at the pub (even if not for this particular song).
After the 15 minute recess Freak Kitchen hit the stage. It was good. More than that, it was great. It was spectacular. As some put it later, it was the best show the walls of the cultural centre had heard in 100 years (yes, though the building is new, the site dates back to 1881). In fact, some said Freak Kitchen was the best concert in Võru for a long, long while. Because, you see, Freak Kitchen is the band that does that. They hit the stage and win the crowd over. I've seen it done by them before. Võru was when I saw it happen again.
Freak Kitchen albums are great for rocking out. They are not overly complicated if you wrap your head around guitar wizardry, but at the same time they are far from simple hard rock, either musically or lyrically. Live, though, their music comes even more alive and is just plain fantastic. The half-empty/half-full venue soon learned how easygoing the band is and how they give pretty much everything on stage and how nothing can stop the out-pour of energy.
Björn Fryklund rocking out
What started bumpy with a broken monitor and poor sound balance on stage (the hall end was fine), went on into Björn jokingly singing Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" during the guitar change, transcended into verbal diarrhoea by Mattias, moved on to prove that Chris can't tell a joke about tomatoes even if his life depended on it, dived into philosophical musings with the moral being that you pity and spare the slow tomato, and ended up with Mattias making faces and flapping his cheeks (mind that you take this particular expression literally, at face value). All that was interspersed with driving tunes that eventually got enough people up from their seats to rock out in front of the stage. It was like a high-precision bomb delivered through a key hole. Quick and messy.
The show ended on a high and everybody seemed happy. Though the audience was small, I'm pretty sure they will desperately want this band to come again for a visit. The band to their credit and as is their custom came out for a chat and photos with the audience later on. I, on the other hand, was pouring tea down in preparation of my return trip that night which turned out not to happen as an invitation to the local pub seemed lucrative enough to check myself in at the hotel and see the band drown Vana Tallinn as well as local hard spirits.
5. Toomas Vanem and Freak Kitchen at Tapper, Tallinn, 20:00 17.05 ^
While the spirits drowned weren't large in numbers, it was still amazing to see Chris do the face-splitting smile the next morning. It must be the hard seasoning. The morning was beautiful as we walked into a small café for breakfast. It appeared that even the weatherman was enjoying the visit of the Swedes so far. The trip back went by rather uneventfully with a lunch break at the same Põhjaka Manor and another round of rhubarb cake (which also later gave me a quirky idea for a present).
To tell the truth, the size of the Võru audience somewhat surprised me in a positive sense and was giving hope that Tallinn would therefore sport a lot of attendees. However, again, those hopes were crushed. 10 minutes before the warm-up band you could count people pretty much at a glance. While it was slowly improving it wasn't doing so by enough.
The evening was kicked off by Toomas Vanem LTD with music off his fresh new album. Toomas Vanem is a very good guitar player. The reference is needed but I've heard he's been voted quite high on some guitar-lists. I can confirm, though, that the man knows his way around the guitar strings. And while it's often hard to have a memorable instrumental guitar album, his new one appears to be of the better variety. I'm not sure whether it was intentional ordering of the songs but the farther he got into his set the heavier his music seemed to go and the more interesting it became. Not to mention that Mattias joined in on the last song. His album is definitely worth a spin if instrumental guitar music is your thing.
Mattias IA Eklundh
Then it was the Freak Kitchen time. Again. And again it was a powerful blast of a small bomb going off. Was it different from Võru? Yes, and no. As a relatively small venue, Tapper club is the proper setting for this band. A proper rock gig has got to be standing up so you can enjoy the hell out of it. This at least was different and to some extent it showed. The energy flowed between the band and the audience both ways, and seemed to power the band as well as the audience. At least in front of the stage people enjoyed it very much and it looked like it formed a better connection between the performers and the listeners.
The set list, however, was pretty much the same. "Nobody's Laughing" and "Speak When Spoken To" traded places, and that probably only because the latter one seemed like a better candidate to return the courtesy to Toomas Vanem and bring him on stage with the band. In general, the gig routine was also the same. Which is obviously why we call it a routine. The joking and fooling around is not repeated word for word but there's only so much variation you can create. Nevertheless, things like Björn doing Sinatra and Mattias verbally abusing the microphone privileges don't get old too fast, and are definitely an entertainment on their own if you've never seen it before.
The most amusing interlude, however, included Björn doing a drum solo to which Chris said it's being done the wrong way. He said you have got to do something and then say "Hey!" and get the "Hey!" back at you from the crowd. While it's a routine for many a rock band, it turned out, that this one was really spontaneous and the first time for Björn in over 13 years in the band. What more, Chris got dared into delivering the drum solo as well, the one he called minimalistic. Yes, you can guess it, a single tick. To be fair, his bass solo was also a variation on the same theme. The cheers were wild, though.
Tallinn set list:
1. Blind (Appetizer)
2. Porno Daddy (Move)
3. God Save the Spleen (Land of the Freaks)
4. Nobody's Laughing (Move)
5. Teargas Jazz (Land of the Freaks)
6. Chest Pain Waltz (Organic)
7. The Only Way (Land of the Freaks)
8. Murder Groupie (Land of the Freaks)
9. Speak When Spoken To (Organic)
10. Silence (Dead Soul Men)
11. Razor Flowers (Move)
12. Propaganda Pie (Move)
(In Võru 4 and 9 were switched around.)
6. Afterword ^
Freak Kitchen are a ridiculous band. To some extent they are ridiculously immature, but at the same time they are ridiculously good at what they to. They give pretty much everything on stage and that wins the crowd over. Even if it doesn't win you over completely, you'll have respect for them, for what they do, and how they do it. In a larger sense, they do it. What that it exactly is, though, you have to see and find out for yourself. It's kind of hard to describe. Hannes, the organiser, told me that he didn't really understand what I was talking about before this little adventure started. It's only after the two gigs that he saw what this it is that the band does, that understanding came to him.
When I saw Freak Kitchen the first time in Germany, I said that it's awesome going to gigs in out of the way places because only those who are interested show up. Estonia, is pretty much out of anyone's way in this regard. While I'm totally disappointed at the small number of attendees, I'm holding my hopes high. During the guitar clinic Mattias said that Freak Kitchen is not unlike herpes, they never quite go away. While it might seem an idle courtesy to say to the audience, there's more to that than mere words. The small audience welcomed them warmly. The gigs really rocked and, I figure, the word will now go around. With the new album being in the mix, the foundation has been laid for a return in the near future with even more energy.
This small three day adventure was awesome in the company of these freaky Swedes. And even though I didn't get around to doing an interview I was thinking of doing, I did get to deliver Chris a present he has likely never received before - rhubarb sticks. Mmm... rhubarb, with sugar... But I digress from my closing words. It really is a small miracle that the band came for such an extensive visit for which I can only sincerely thank Hannes Pikkat. I do hope Chris, Björn and Mattias will come back for another show soon. There can never be enough verbal microphone abuse, talks of a theoretical 42-piece ideal drum-kit, and slow tomato philosophy. Oh, and of course we must not forget the music. Music is everything.
PS. More images in the linked galleries
Written on 29.05.2014 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
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