AMORPHIS: Stream from the North Side – Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki, 03-04.06.2020 (English)

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COVID-19 may have happened at the worst possible moment for Amorphis, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. The three anniversary shows scheduled for Tavastia at Helsinki have been postponed twice already, and the North American tour on which Tales from the Thousand Lakes (1994) would’ve been played in its entirety has been canceled for now. As the fans’ wait grew longer, the band – like Sonata Arctica before them – put together two livestream shows on the SemiLive website, which were broadcasted from Helsinki‘s Kaapelitehdas for people living in different time zones on June 3rd and 4th, 2020, entitled Stream from the North Side.

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Follow the songs played during the livestreams as a playlist on Spotify:

The first livestream was directed at fans living in the Americas, and since this meant that Amorphis started at 3 o’clock in the morning in Finland, I settled for watching the recording a handful of hours later once I’d woken up. The show began with Laura Vähähyyppö‘s introduction, after which “The Bee” kicked things off, just like on the tour in support of Queen of Time (2018), which ended recently. After a 2-year world tour, you might’ve thought that the band would want to start with a different tune, but on the other hand, I still believe that “The Bee” is the best possible opener for an Amorphis show, thanks to the intro that gets you in the right mood. After “Heart of the Giant,” the band continued with a couple of tracks from Under the Red Cloud (2015) and by the time they got to “Silver Bride,” I wondered if they were going to pull a Rush and play the songs in a reverse chronological order in honor of the anniversary. However, with the “Karelia” intro tape the band leaped right into The Karelian Isthmus (1992), playing a tight version of the stream’s almost title-track “Sign from the North Side.” The raw guitar tones brought a certain primal edge into the song that was not present in the version heard on the Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes DVD 10 years ago.

As the retro tour highlighting Tales from the Thousand Lakes on the other side of the Atlantic had to wait for a better time, it was no surprise that Amorphis would play a healthy dose of material from this classic in the stream for the American fans. The record was indeed represented with three songs, out of which “Into Hiding” and “Drowned Maid” were played back-to-back and the former was the definite highlight of the set, thanks to its high energy and the extended ending. “Sampo,” which benefited from the atmospheric lights in its chorus, proved to be an evergreen that still holds up after 11 years, while the sheer power of “Bad Blood” translated all the way home. The band eased its collective foot off the pedal for a while with “Silent Waters” and “Wrong Direction,” until “House of Sleep” and “Black Winter Day” gave the set a hit-laden conclusion.

Amorphis are known as quite the road dogs and you could once again hear the years of experience in their playing, but performing for the first time in months and in the early morning with no live audience, the band was a little more vulnerable than normal. Lead guitarist Esa Holopainen didn’t quite nail the guitar solo in “Sacrifice” and while vocalist Tomi Joutsen was headbanging like there was no tomorrow in his typical fashion, the man’s growls sounded a little weaker than usual and he avoided long roars. However, the new situation was made slightly more relaxed by the fact that nearly all the members had their own mics, which allowed them to chitchat between the songs. The early performance time may have affected the quality of the humor though, as Joutsen kept inquiring from the guitar tandem and bassist Olli-Pekka Laine how expensive their instruments were, and at the end of the livestream Vähähyyppä jokingly apologized for the band’s restless banter.

Setlist #1:
1. The Bee
2. Heart of the Giant
3. Sacrifice
4. The Four Wise Ones
5. Silver Bride
Karelia (intro)
6. Sign from the North Side
7. Into Hiding
8. Drowned Maid
9. On Rich and Poor
10. Sampo
11. Bad Blood
12. Silent Waters
13. Wrong Direction
14. House of Sleep
15. Black Winter Day

The second stream – directed at European audiences – began at 21:00 Finnish time, so this time I managed to catch it live. The first song was “The Bee” once again, but the song sounded much more confident, especially when it came to Joutsen‘s growls. Right afterwards, the band offered a bit of a surprise in the form of the title-track of Under the Red Cloud, which was played without its intro and for the first time since the tour in support of said album. An even more pleasant surprise, however, was “Towards and Against,” which is one of the band’s top cuts and was played for the first time with the current lineup. I nearly didn’t recognize “The Wanderer” at first due to the fact that it had been transposed to a lower key, but this change was clearly a welcome one, as the chorus has sometimes given Joutsen a hard time in the past, but he sang it effortlessly here. There were some subtler changes in the songs as well: keyboardist Santeri Kallio had updated his sounds on “Hopeless Days” and rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari spiced up the final chorus of “The Wanderer” with some thrashy riffage.

“Sign from the North Side” and “Into Hiding” were unleashed once more, although this time Joutsen was so excited that in the former song he forgot to growl a few lines. The most memorable moment of the second stream ended up being “Against Widows,” in which Koivusaari surprisingly growled the whole verse by himself and Holopainen let loose in the guitar solo. After this, there was a minor bump in the road when “Black Winter Day” didn’t totally come into its own in the middle of the set and the traditionally foolproof live song “Death of a King” somehow sounded a little rough, although Holopainen‘s little Kingston Wall teaser at the end was worth a grin. Then it was time for a few more staples that had been heard in the previous set, and finally the melancholic classic, “My Kantele,” wrapped up the duo of stream performances beautifully.

Amorphis’ playing was right off the bat more confident than during the first show and Joutsen‘s possible vocal problems were gone. The band members also interacted a little more boldly with each other, although their regular spots were still at a safe distance from each other. Technical difficulties couldn’t be avoided though, as Koivusaari‘s guitar was a little out of tune in the second third of the set, and the stream – viewed by over 3000 people – crashed at least in this address a couple of times towards the end. However, SemiLive deserves kudos for getting the issues fixed quickly each time, as you didn’t even have to refresh the page yourself.

Setlist #2:
1. The Bee
2. Under the Red Cloud
3. Sky is Mine
4. Towards and Against
5. The Wanderer
6. Hopeless Days
Karelia (intro)
7. Sign from the North Side
8. Into Hiding
9. Against Widows
10. Black Winter Day
11. Death of a King
12. Silver Bride
13. Wrong Direction
14. House of Sleep
15. My Kantele

I’ve seen Amorphis live more often than any other band, but watching the sextet play via cameras naturally was a very different experience. For example, I’ve never really noticed just how entertaining drummer Jan Rechberger‘s expressions are while he’s playing – the man visibly loves his job! It’s hard to choose one stream over the other because both had their own strengths and the atmospheres and song picks were so different. It would be easy to nitpick about certain missing tracks, but the whole package of twenty-three different songs managed to satisfy. All-in-all, Stream from the North Side offered an interesting look at seasoned performers operating slightly outside their comfort zone.

Amorphis have toured Finland so much over the years that it’s become easy to take the band for granted, but while watching the streams, for the first time in ages I found myself longing to see the band in the flesh again, especially when the traditional crowd participation breaks in “House of Sleep” and “Death of a King” were left out. When “My Kantele” was coming to a close, the mood was even slightly wistful because, in the still-lingering state of uncertainty, it can’t be known for sure when Amorphis will next play live. At least Tomi Joutsen left the door open for another stream, so hopefully the band will seize the opportunity if the audience limitations for indoors events continue.

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