Sunday, 22 October 2017

Brother Firetribe - London Review

The Finnish AOR band Brother Firetribe have been a regular on my iPod since I first heard their second album Heart Full of Fire in either 2008 or 2009. At the time Nightwish were my favourite band, and I was excited to hear more from their guitarist Emppu Vuorinen. Brother Firetribe is very different from Nightwish however, and takes inspiration from all forms of 1980s melodic rock. Shades of Foreigner, Journey, and Survivor are found in Brother Firetribe's songs, and as a big fan of that type of music it was great to discover a modern band playing music as if it was still 1985. Nightwish's busy touring schedule has always restricted Brother Firetribe's live activities, but with 2017 being the band's fifteenth anniversary and the year in which their fourth album Sunbound was released it seemed fitting that a European tour should be scheduled to celebrate these facts. Most of the band's previous live shows have been in their native Finland and selected other mainland European locations. The UK has never been one of their main targets, and this visit to London's small Borderline venue was only their second ever concert here. They played the now-defunct Firefest in 2014, but this Borderline show was their first ever headline appearance in the UK. While not exactly being a hugely well-known band over here, I knew that the band's first headline appearance here would no doubt attract a decent amount of people. I got down to the Borderline not long before the doors opened and there was already a modest queue gathered. I had been to the Borderline once previously, and that was to see The Reasoning in 2011, but the venue seems to have undergone quite a refurbishment since and the place looked a lot smarter than I remembered. It was good that I got down relatively early, as it turned out this was a sold out show and over the course of the evening there were plenty of people crammed into the small venue. I had a good spot throughout the evening, and had good views and great sound throughout.

Opening the night were fellow Finns Shiraz Lane, who's sleazy, high-energy hair metal was just what was needed to get the night started. I had purchased the band's debut album For Crying Out Loud on hearing that they were the supports for this tour, and was not disappointed by their 40 minutes on stage. Wake Up, the first song from the album, got things underway before three new songs, including new single Harder to Breathe, were showcased. Out of these new songs, the first number Carnival Days really stood out. The song has a killer chorus, and is sure to be one of the highlights of the band's next album. On stage, the band were full of energy. Frontman Hannes Kett deserves special mention for an excellent vocal performance that showcased lots of high-pitched screams that cut across the band's bluesy, sleazy riffs with ease. Elsewhere, guitarist Jani Laine impressed with lots of excellent solos; but in truth the whole band worked together as a unit to work the crowd. There seemed to be quite a few fans in attendance and Shiraz Lane received a loud reception throughout their entire set. Songs from their debut album were played towards the end, including an excellent version of the single Mental Slavery, before an older number, Out There Somewhere, was played to bring their portion of the night to a close. I was impressed by the band, and I look forward to getting the chance to see them again sometime soon. The setlist was:

Wake Up
Carnival Days
Harder to Breathe
People Like Us
Begging for Mercy
For Crying Out Loud
Mental Slavery
Out There Somewhere

After a fairly quick changeover, Brother Firetribe came on stage to a synthy backdrop and launched into the short instrumental title track from their new album. As on the album, this segued into Help is on the Way and this introduced frontman Pekka Ansio Heino to the stage. He is a very dynamic and interactive frontman, often taking the time to clap hands with those in the front couple of rows, and overall just rallying the five-piece band though their high-energy set. As this is the tour promoting the Sunbound album, the songs from that album dominated the set, but all four of the band's albums were represented throughout which helped to create a balanced, career-spanning experience. What was clear from the off was just how up for this night the crowd was, and every song was sung back at the band with real force, which seemed to even catch the band off guard at times. I do not think they had quite expected the reception they would receive over here! The single Indelible Heroes followed, before they went back to their debut album for the keyboard-heavy One Single Breath. Despite sometimes being buried in the mix at rock shows Tomi Nikulainen's keyboards were high in the mix throughout. He really drove the band forward with his retro-style playing, with many of the songs being based around his riffs and leads. Vuorinen mostly sticks to crunchy rhythm patterns, but most songs contain a solo which allow him chances to show off. He has never been the flashiest of guitarist, with either this band or with Nightwish, but his infectious smile and tough rhythms make him an invaluable part of both and he really anchored the band along with Jason Flinck (bass guitar/vocals). An early highlight for me was For Better or for Worse, the lead single from 2014's Diamond in the Firepit, before the slightly dancey Shock provided a change of mood and pace. Runaways, from Heart Full of Fire, contains one of the band's best choruses so it was unsurprisingly very well received. There were parts during the song where the crowd could be heard above the band, which should give a clue on the atmosphere inside the Borderline at this point. Another real highlight of the night was Taste of a Champion from the new album which really is this decade's Eye of the Tiger. It is probably my favourite song that the band have ever done, and live it took on another edge. Heino is a great live singer, ably backed up throughout by Flinck, and his passion in the song's delivery really made it the song of the night. The set ended with another two anthems, with the Survivor-esque Give me Tonight and the pseudo power metal of Heart Full of Fire bringing the main set to a triumphant close. There were calls for more, and there time for one final number. I am Rock was the song chosen, and the tough guitar riffing and minimal keyboards make it one of the heaviest Brother Firetribe songs. It still has a strong chorus though, and Heino often encouraged the crowd to sing, who of course obliged. Despite plentiful calls for more from the crowd, this was the end as the venue had to get ready to become a nightclub in a short space of time. The setlist was:

Help is on the Way
Indelible Heroes
One Single Breath
Heart of the Matter
For Better or for Worse
Last Forever
Taste of a Champion
I'm on Fire
Give me Tonight
Heart Full of Fire
I am Rock

This was stunning debut headline show in the UK, and I hope that Brother Firetribe do not leave it another 15 years before coming again. It was a fairly short set, at around an hour and a quarter in total, and if I had any criticisms to make it would be that they could have easily fitted in a couple more songs - especially as there was a 50 minute gap between the doors opening and Shiraz Lane taking the stage. This seems a minor complaint however, as both bands really put on excellent shows that show there is plenty of excellent current melodic rock out there for those who are into that sort of thing.

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