Eppu Normaali, one of the most noteworthy and consistently popular music acts in Finland, reached the admirable age of 40 this year. To commemorate the occasion, they released a brand new documentary film, Eput, which was released in cinemas nationwide on December 2nd. Not only this, but they hosted a two night long celebration dubbed the “Superviikonloppu” [super weekend] at Espoo Metro Arena (ironically, a place to which the metro still does not yet go). The first night would consist of the movie’s premiere screening followed by a semi-acoustic performance from the band. The second night was to be a full concert by the band in part accompanied by the Tampere Symphony Orchestra with whom they had previously played at Ratina Stadium earlier this summer.
Though I had first heard of Eppu Normaali during what one might call their renaissance in the early 2000’s, what drew me to them was their work in the late 70s and early 80s. It was a child-like, playful take on punk rock. Their 1979 album, Maximum Jee&Jee, had lyrics ranging from something befitting a nursery rhyme like “Myrkkyä”, all the way to a song about murdering a noisy toddler in “Kuolleet Kakarat” (as the song loosely translated goes: “it is not criminal, haven’t you heard of post-abortion?”). Of course, a lot can happen in four decades and they gradually shifted to a more generally palatable, radio-friendly sound. I had only seen them once before at Ruisrock in 2009, and was curious to see them again.
I arrived at the venue with enough time to have a beer before the movie started. The arena was just over halfway filled with mostly middle to retirement -aged people, with only a handful of young folks in the mix. Clearly the largest demographic for this band was their peers, whom had been with them on this decades-long journey from the start. For one reason or another, the arena was very chilly and I never felt the need to relinquish my coat. Perhaps the venue had taken the term “ice hall” quite literally.
The film was shown on three screens, of which the middle one was the largest. I found the big screen worked best from floor level. As we are a music site I decided not to get into a proper movie review but briefly I’d say the movie was very enjoyable, centering around the two brothers, Martti and Mikko “Pantse” Syrjä, and chronicling the band’s progression from their humble beginnings leading all the way to the orchestra-accompanied anniversary show this summer. It had the band’s signature style and awkward humor to it and offered an in-depth look into the band’s thought processes. Overall, I’m very glad I saw it. I learned a lot and had a good time.
It was during the film that I noticed the acoustics in the venue were horrendous. Any louder sound would hit the back wall and bounce back forming a half second delay. During the film, this was mostly noticeable in any sections where drums were present or whenever any hard “S” or “P” sounds were spoken. The sound mix of the movie was otherwise impeccable.
After the movie there was a brief recess, after which the band started their acoustic set. They greeted the crowd with an extremely laid-back approach with everyone but Martti, the singer, sitting down. They were all dressed in very casual attire and even Martti mostly slowly meandered around the stage with one hand in his pocket for most of the set. It was obviously, by nature, not a rock concert but rather just an appearance for the true fans who were interested enough to come to an ice hall to watch a documentary.
They began with “Lainelautaileva lehmänmaha rock’n’roll”, a classic from my favorite, the aforementioned Maximum Jee&Jee. It worked beautifully with the setup, since it’s more of a classic rockabilly parody than a raunchy punk song. The next few songs set the low-key mood for the show just fine. After a while, famous jazz pianist Iiro Rantala joined them for a few songs, starting with another rock’n’roll type: “Minun aurinkolasit.” Iiro was soon replaced by another featuring artist: Eero “Safka” Pekkonen on the accordion. They were only around for two songs each (at first), which were modest hits apart from “Pimeyden tango” with Safka. This was followed by some of their more famous songs, including “Urheiluhullu”, for which Martti confidently showcased his admittedly still impressive biceps.
Though the sound had been coming in very clearly, the acoustic set would have been more at home in a club. All this time, the acoustics in the venue itself had been playing against them. From the floor, it seemed that unless there was enough noise to drown it out, all the drum sounds would come back to mess up the rhythm. This would seriously take me out of it occasionally, though not frequently enough to really ruin the whole show.
They had saved “Murheellisten laulujen maa” for the end of the first encore, with Iiro and Safka joining in once again. It’s one of Eppu’s biggest anthems and they did manage a fairly impressive sound for the setup. They even played a second encore with “Njet, Njet” which had the whole arena singing along.
I can’t say I’d have recommended the first night for people who aren’t all that familiar with Eppu’s music, but it was enjoyable as a special fan event. The atmosphere was subdued and calm but also welcoming; an entertaining movie, a few beers, and a refreshingly different concert. I admittedly felt anxious to see what songs they had saved for the second evening.
1. Lainelautailevan lehmänmahan rock’n’roll
2. Kuunvartalo yöllä
3. Teen sinusta muusia
4. Poltan loppuun tupakin
5. Balladi kaiken turhuudesta
6. Minun aurinkolasit
7. Hiljaa huomiseen
8. Kun jatsia kuunneltiin
9. Pimeyden tango
11. Joka päivä ja joka ikinen yö
12. Puhtoinen lähiöni
14. Linnunradan laidalla
15. Kitara, taivas ja tähdet
16. Kaikki häipyy, on vain nyt
17. Murheellisten laulujen maa
18. Njet, Njet
The promise of one of the biggest Finnish bands accompanied by a full orchestra had enticed a larger crowd than the night before; the venue was considerably more packed than on Friday. The age range had also gotten more diverse. This was obviously the main event to which Friday had only been the build-up.
They started with a surprisingly obscure song, “Asustelaulu.” It was a pretty weak and lethargic way to start off a grand evening such as this. The second track “Tien päällä taas” was more appropriate. More mid-80s classics such as “Suomi-ilmiö”, “Vuonna ’85”, and “Akun tehdas” soon followed, giving the show a better groove. The first surprise guest of the night was Eppu’s original bass player, Mikko Saarela, who came in to sing “James Dean” and switched to bass for “Pidetään ikävää.” He had clearly come to have fun and his attitude was contagious. Most important of all, he had a shirt that said “Sorry ladies, I’m in the Night’s Watch.” I would come to miss him as the show went on.
After a few hits such as “Joka päivä ja joka ikinen yö” and “Tahroja paperilla”, the famous Tampere Symphony Orchestra emerged behind them. They began playing the classic “Nyt reppuni jupiset riimisi rupiset” with the orchestra triumphantly joining in on the first chorus. Further accented by Las Vegas -style stage lights and flashy graphics, the show picked up in a big way. I instantly felt like I was seeing something special about which I could brag to my friends later.
The pageantry only carried so far, as the following few songs made it quite clear that the orchestra sounded very muddy. It was buried under the undefined and mediocre sound of the five least talented people on stage. Of course, the act we all came to see was Eppu Normaali, so they had to be front-and-center, but they should have come up with a sound that gelled better. The orchestra came in a lot better in the predetermined instrumental breaks for songs like “Hipit rautaa” and “Lensin matalalla 2”, the latter of which had been built from the ground up to work with strings, which is why it alone worked so well. This was a good point to start the intermission.
The second set began with the orchestra playing a medley. After Eppu started to join in and the next song started, I realized I truly would have rather just watched the orchestra instead. “Hiljaa huomiseen” still worked pretty well with the orchestrations because it was a slow song with one defining melody on which they could build. The orchestra took breaks during a lot of the final set and only joined in on some parts of songs. The orchestra only added piano to “Murheellisten laulujen maa” for instance. This wasn’t turning out at all like I had been hoping.
For the last leg of the set, Eppu played some of their bigger hits to which people could sing along, including, “Baarikärpänen”, “Urheiluhullu”, “Kun olet poissa”, and “Vihreän joen rannalla (kauan sitten).” For “Baarikärpänen”, they let Pantse do the vocals. Made me miss Martti. They even finished the encores with “Njet, njet” once again. It was pure freshly squeezed Eppu. They were in their element and it honestly worked better than with the orchestra.
For me, that became the downfall of this whole enterprise. The segments with lots of orchestra and little-to-no Eppu were great, but then again, their absence didn’t hurt either. Perhaps both entities were destined to be apart. “Nyt reppuni jupiset riimisi rupiset” for instance was a total mess and even at their best, the strings were usually stuck playing the basslines like in “Hipit rautaa.” It was also a huge disappointment to me that they played several of their biggest hits on both nights when they had such an extensive history of beloved songs from which to choose. This left me feeling like I’d seen two versions of the same show instead of one ‘super weekend.’
I feel like Eppu agreed with me, as they were clearly not comfortable with this much extravagance. They were even wearing the same clothes as the night before. A group like Eppu Normaali is best suited for club or festival gigs. They are a humble punk band from the countryside who didn’t need all these big screens and flashing lights to win people’s hearts. I’m hoping this was indeed just a one-time anniversary spectacle, after which they can return to that which they do best.
2. Tien päällä taas
4. Vuonna ’85
5. Ei sankariainesta
6. Akun tehdas
7. James Dean
8, Pidetään Ikävää
9. Joka päivä ja joka ikinen yö
10. Puhtoinen lähiöni
11. Tahroja paperilla
12. Nyt reppuni jupiset riimisi rupiset
15. Hipit rautaa
16. Lensin matalalla 2
17. Musiikkia Rantalasta
18. Hiljaa huomiseen
19. Olin vain tuuli
20. Kun valot tulevat vastaan
21. Murheellisten laulujen maa
22. Pimeyden tango
23. Kun jatsia kuunneltiin
25. Viihteen kuningas
26. Näin kulutan aikaa
28. Kun olet poissa
29. Vihreän joen rannalla (kauan sitten)
30. Suolaista sadetta
31. Kitara, taivas ja tähdet
32. Linnunradan laidalla
33. Voi kuinka me sinua kaivataan
34. Kaikki häipyy, on vain nyt
35. Njet, njet
Photos: Bear W.