The former Kiuas vocalist, Ilja Jalkanen, has given up on the metal world and decided to stick to something he’s more passionate about – blues. Since saying his farewells to the Kiuas gang, he has gone on to perform troubadour shows here and there around Finland with nothing but his acoustic guitar and his voice. He recently played an hour and a half show in Helsinki’s Praha on February 13th, 2014.
Praha is one of the finer drinking establishments in Helsinki… that is, if you’re into heavy music. That alone might have made it a rather surprising venue for this blues-focused troubadour gig; however, chances are that Ilja knows the place pretty well, having so many contacts in the metal world. It wasn’t the optimal locale for a show, seeing as how it’s a rather long and narrow bar, but nevertheless, he had everything set up as best as one could hope.
The gig got off to a fairly late start, and he proceeded to lay down some mumbly blues and smooth guitar. Amongst his first few tracks were covers of “Hoochie-Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters, and a few songs by Tom Waits. He laughed a bit about having had fucking bad sound from his guitar before, even after reading the manual, and only now was he getting it to sound the way he wanted it to.
One thing that’s really fun about his shows is the way that he takes songs and makes them his own. When he stepped into “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton, it was clearly recognizable, but he doesn’t follow the constraints of the original particularly tightly, and instead allows himself do what he wants musically and manages to make a great song great in his own way. He even managed to make Clapton’s “After Midnight” feel sexy somehow.
There was a short break before he came back to play “Red Rooster,” which soon became “Punakukko” and the lyrics changed to Finnish. He also did a version of Clapton’s “Crossroads” with Finnish lyrics, along with a few others that I couldn’t name. Now, my Finnish isn’t fluent enough to follow live music, but I did note that a few others in the crowd were getting a good laugh out of his wording. Other songs to follow included a Finnish track with lyrics that seemed to have something to do with Mary and her little lamb, “The House of the Rising Sun,” and the bizarrely-included version of Prince’s “Kiss” sung in rather impressive falsetto.
It’s also worthwhile to pay attention to what he’s saying to the people in the crowd. There were a couple of young men up near his territory who looked like they were stopping before heading off to the club. Loosely translated, his comment to them was something along the lines of, “If you go to the club looking for pussy, you’ll end up with pizza dribbling down your shirt, all your money gone, and you’ll be wishing you had just stayed in the bar listening to the troubadour.” He followed that up by saying, “Never sit in the front row at a comedy show.”
All-in-all, his performance is really entertaining. He’s easy-going, talks to and laughs with the crowd, teases people, pokes fun at himself, and is generally friendly and enthusiastic. Yet, throughout all of the fun and games that come from his shows, the one thing that really stands out is just how phenomenal his voice is. He was, in my opinion, one of the best vocalists to show up in metal in ages and I was pretty crushed to see him go. He’s great on the guitar as well and his playing is really solid and funky. If there is one downside to his shows, it’s just that some of the music could stand to have another guitar backing him up. It’s a pretty minor complaint though, and really, I’d probably come out to watch him even if the show was just him standing there singing without any instruments at all.
But hell, where else can you go out and see a guy with skill like that singing some of your old favorite songs from your childhood for free? As for me, I’ll probably be down at Dubliner to watch him again on the 27th, and I’ll be keeping an eye on his Facebook page for more shows to follow. I strongly suggest you do the same!