Hailing from Heinola, Apulanta have solidified their position in the canon of Finnish rock with numerous hits for a quarter of a century already. Although products and projects like the Biolanta fertilizer and the Apulandia museum have certainly made a punk rocker or two scratch their heads, and opinions on the band’s music and its evolution may be divided, I’m sure everyone can applaud the fact that Apulanta have become a household name on their own terms without the support of major labels. Two years ago, the three-piece played twice at the sold out Barona Arena in Espoo, and now it was Jäähalli’s turn to host an Apulanta show in Helsinki. The spectacle titled Tuplapyssyt was held on January 20th and 21st, 2017, and Musicalypse was present on the first night.
I’ve never been a fan of Apulanta – let alone music with punk leanings – but Toni Wirtanen has the ability to write tunes that get stuck in your head, and most of the band’s singles have indeed become familiar to me over the years through radio airplay. “Jumala” and “Koneeseen kadonnut” – to name but a few – were hits when I was a child, and they bring memories to my mind from that time. Since I was in for a long concert, I decided to do my homework and check out songs from Apulanta’s compilations that I hadn’t heard before. Although I came to the conclusion that the hits were the highlights, some decent songs stood out among the less popular tunes.
For a Friday night in January, Jäähalli was rather full – I don’t know whether the show was sold out like Saturday, but I doubt many more listeners would’ve fit in. Although Apulanta is traditionally seen as music for teenagers, there were lots of middle-aged people present – perhaps they were older fans who’d followed the band since the 90s or jumped aboard after seeing Toni Wirtanen on TV in Vain Elämää? The massive stage set was like an underwater world with its jellyfish and seaweed props. After a thunderous intro, the string section on stage started playing the familiar melody of “Käännä se pois”, after which the band joined in. Besides the string ensemble, extra help was present in form of guitarist Pauli Hauta-aho and keyboardist Antti Pitkäjärvi, so this was definitely no ordinary trio gig. Unfortunately, the strings were overpowered by the band during the louder sections, but when they were audible they were a brilliant addition.
In the first part of the show, Apulanta performed some rarely-played songs – Sipe Santapukki [drums] claimed that “Kadut” had never been played live, while according to Wirtanen’s memory it’d been over 10 years since the last performance of the song. Either way, the song was received well, and Hauta-aho played a fine solo on it. “Vauriot” was a positive surprise, as I find it one of Apulanta’s most interesting songs, thanks to its shuffle beat and keyboards. Wirtanen’s range wasn’t quite enough for the last chorus after the modulation, but it didn’t kill the mood either. However, it wasn’t until “Teit meistä kauniin” – the title-track of the Apulanta film directed by ex-bassist Tuukka Temonen – that the crowd really came alive, and the energy level in the hall went up visibly. After that, the string ensemble was replaced by dancers and a harp player – yes, you read that correctly! – for “Kaupungissa”, until a curtain was closed in front of the stage and the harp player got the spotlight all to herself. I’d never expected to hear a harp solo live – let alone at an Apulanta concert – so the experience was interesting, because the unintroduced lady got some special sounds out of her instrument with the help of effect pedals.
Next up was a female choir dressed in black cloaks, and Toni Wirtanen himself stepped forward to perform “Armo” with the choir as a stripped-down yet effective a cappella version. Who claimed punk rockers couldn’t get artsy? Upon the choir’s exit, the curtain opened, and the classic “Mitä kuuluu” opened the second part of the show accompanied by bombs. The stage set had been changed completely during the break, and Santapukki, along with his drum set, was up on the top of a mountain of sorts – later on he said that for once the upper seats in the venue weren’t a worse place to watch the show from. At this point in the set, the focus was on more upbeat songs, out of which “Viivakoodit” in particular raised the spirits and encouraged people to sing along. Soon it was time for another solo number when Ville Mäkinen grabbed an upright bass and played it mercilessly, throwing in a snippet of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. He held on to the instrument for the following two punk crushers, “Paha, paha asia” and “Terä”, the former of which also included a fun little solo battle between Wirtanen and Hauta-aho.
The line-up was expanded with one man when Santapukki was joined by a percussionist in the heights. The nu metalish “Ruhtinaat” marked a return to the early 2000s, and “Ravistettava ennen käyttöä” made the crowd shout. During the B-side “Amerika” – which Wirtanen jokingly introduced as “a song that shouldn’t exist” – there were twerking dancers on stage. Maybe this was supposed to balance out the choir and harp player? Santapukki and the percussionist were responsible for the third and last solo spot of the night. Drum solos have a bad reputation in the world of rock, but this one was interesting thanks to the “call and response” style alternation.
As the Finnish press has already pointed out elsewhere, the legendary javelin thrower Seppo Räty glided over the audience in his chariot, greeting them. The role of Zeus fit Räty like a glove, since he seems to have the reputation of a god of sorts anyway. While “Hiekka” was played, there were performers dressed in some kind of union suits on stage, and they waved flags with the “A” from Apulanta’s logo during “Mä nauran tälle.” Additionally, “Jumala” received some extra backing vocals from the “Armo” choir in its middle eight. The last part of the main set culminated in a series of hits, during which the audience sang along loudly. However, you could tell the intensity had started to take a bit of a toll when Wirtanen started skipping more and more high notes towards the end. The climax was “Pahempi toistaan”, which made the crowd jump up and down, and Pitkäjärvi got down from his keyboard stand to join the guitarists, playing a keytar. Now I have to admit that both this tune and “Vasten mun kasvojani” include some of the most bad-ass riffage ever heard in Finnish rock music!
The set had been pretty high-energy after the first part, but the encore started calmly with Apulanta’s most famous song in the past few years, “Valot pimeyksien reunoilla,” during which smartphone screens glowed in the audience and couples danced. This cheesy ballad filled with fortune cookie philosophy was made to be played at an ice hall, but its placement in the encore was very unflattering, since “Ilona?” in all its youthful innocence, was a much more impactful slow song. Finally the night was topped off with “Anna mulle piiskaa,” and the 2-hour 40-minute show had come to an end.
Doing absolutely anything truly seems to be Apulanta’s philosophy. The band had enough guts and humor to get corny and break all the traditions of Finnish rock with nearly Spinal Tap-level extravaganza that would’ve made Tuomas Holopainen blush. However, a certain kind of theatricality in rock has always attracted yours truly, so Apulanta’s show with all the lasers, spotlights, and pyros was magnificent – you don’t get to see this in Finland every day. Afterwards, while looking at the setlist, I noticed that only five of the songs had been released in the past 5 years. In my opinion these post-Kuutio (2008) songs fell short, and the audience seemed to prefer the 10-to-20-year-old hits as well. On the other hand, this shows that Apulanta are like the Finnish Metallica – their position in the frontline of rock is so permanent that they can play big shows even without new material. Banter such as “this song used to be #1 too” made it obvious that Apulanta are aware and proud of their achievements, but when Toni Wirtanen knelt and bowed before the audience at the end, you could sense a genuine gratitude to the fans as well. On a final note, in the current musical climate it’s relieving to notice that big shows aren’t pop and hip-hop acts’ privilege in Finland, and that good old rock bands are still in demand.
1. Käännä se pois
6. Pala siitä
7. Tuhka ja veri
8. Teit meistä kauniin
11. Mitä kuuluu12. Silti onnellinen
15. Paha, paha asia
18. Ravistettava ennen käyttöä
21. Mä nauran tälle
22. Sun kohdalla
23. Mitä vaan
24. Koneeseen kadonnut
25. Vasten mun kasvojani
26. Viisaus ei asu meissä
28. Pahempi toistaan
29. Valot pimeyksien reunoilla
32. Anna mulle piiskaa
Photos: Kirsti Leinonen